Last night in our final #uxwriting class for this cycle, the topic of ageism came up. It’s actually (well, aging) is going to be the theme of the next Stockholm UX writing and CD meetup, but we need to be talking about it before then. For people who aren’t on a management track
Or who experience other forms of marginalization, it’s a career-killer, and it’s not on you. We all experience it when using products and services built by and for age categories that stop at 40, possibly 45. The way we conceive of older women at work is either as old bitches or
Boring lifers. I’m on my third career, and I’ve experienced it in the last two. It starts with jokes, but it doesn’t stop there. Ageism doesn’t only happen outright. It’s the suspicion that someone over 40 who hasn’t hit their stride yet must be defective. It’s being told you’re
Overqualified, underqualified, too expensive (a big one in Sweden, where salaries factor in your age), or job ads that require degrees that didn’t exist until a decade ago. Career switchers are often experts in learning fast and catching up, as well as teaching others, but the
Narrative “so simple your mom can use it” or workplaces that advertise culture focused on the young—boozy offsites, beer fridges, games consoles—say who belongs. Not that older women and older people can’t enjoy these things, but they’re the trappings of youth culture.
This is from an agency I used to work at, from our employee survey. I use it in talks because not only does it show who matters, I realized if I actually gave my age, I would de-anonymize myself. I was the ONLY non-management woman over 40. (We had many 20s so it’s not the same)
There’s a layer of Gen X who, like me, are on our third recession and never really recovered from the last one. Financially we are like millennials, but we aren’t desirable hires (resume algorithms might even filter us out using proxy factors) and we are much smaller in number.
I was born during the Ford presidency. Who even remembers that he was a president? Anyway, we are closer to retirement and a lot of us are terrified. What younger people need to know is that there is no basis in the discrimination against us, except saving companies money.
This recession is going to devastate millennials, especially the elder ones who also haven’t recovered from the 2008 crash. There are MANY more of them just because of the birth rate. But the good thing is that they’re also better at getting productively *mad* than we Gen Xers.
I’ve been thinking about the biggest lesson I took from my first non-uni teaching job, creating programs for people in long-term unemployment to address a “digital skills gap.” I learned quickly that the skill gap wasn’t the problem. In many ways, there isn’t one, it’s because
Companies are too cheap to look at transferable skills, so put training burdens on applicants. But also, people needed financial support and pastoral care, before they could be asked to twist themselves in knots to be told in coded language that they were too old to work there.
The solution in the short term is that people with hiring power, whether it’s contractors or FTE, need to look at job ads: what degrees and experience are required? It’s not just the types of study, it’s that a lot of us don’t have the “pedigree” younger workers sometimes have.
How are you prioritizing candidates? What does the culture look like? What previous work do you show off on your website? Whose values and experiences do these things center? This is especially important for women, BIPOC and people who maybe didn’t go to uni at “traditional” age.
We have experience across industries, and we’ve weathered a lot of digital landscape changes. The stated reasons older people can’t get hired are many, but the benefit for companies is that older workers have seen more bullshit in more places over longer periods of time
And they’re more likely to have lived experiences of working conditions that don’t actively suck. Which means the solution in the long term is that we need to recognize that age is always used against us, whether we are young or old, and build solidarity to fight for secure work,
Fair pay and conditions, as well as professional development. The millennials who turn 40 soon will find out firsthand, and it sucks and I’m sorry. Your education might already not match the job ads. You might still have a lot of debt and you can’t live on the salary they offer.
We are heading for disaster simply because there are so MANY millennials. But it’s also an opportunity because millennials are a pretty great generation and I won’t hear a word against them (or zoomers, who should rule the planet). The business case is that there is an aging
Population of digital natives and you’ll need to build for them, too (how many products are there for perimenopause or menopause, which all AFAB people experience?), and no longer will you be able to talk about digital culture as youth culture. And we’ll all have access needs.
One advantage of working in UX writing/content strategy is the number of visible leaders who are older women who create big tents and model compassionate leadership by constantly learning in public. But in our work environments, how many of us are age outliers? And...lonely?
I know men experience this, too, but I can only speak from what I’ve observed and experienced. The older you get, the more I’ve realized that if you don’t get the “right” experience early, the problem becomes compounded. There’s even a tier in some places where the ex-Big Tech
People have access to a whole other layer of jobs and experience. If you didn’t work in a prestige company in your 20s, those jobs are off-limits to you. In other words, if you were too old to get hired somewhere a decade ago, you’re too unqualified to work somewhere else now.
A lot of us, myself included, were hit incredibly hard by the recession and haven’t recovered. I see ppl leaving academia due to its precariousness and being told that they aren’t even capable of mid-level jobs, when they were running teaching and research projects on shoestrings
Ageism is fueled by a blunt, unyielding negative judgment of whatever you did before. Which is why it hits women harder: we already don’t get hired on our potential, but on our history. People whose resumes carry scars of poverty, violence, and struggle need a less painful way in
Anyway, this is a long-winded way of saying that having an age range in my UX writing class from early 20s to mid-50s, all women, was utterly inspiring and wonderful beyond words. I saw what was possible: mutual learning, validation, and support. A serious hype squad.
Their projects also showed that the bias toward *urban* life in design isn’t helpful. One student designed a click-and-collect grocery service that would use the public buses to deliver to bus stops in rural areas. I never would have thought of that! We need to fight really hard
Against the “what took you so long” attitude toward career switchers and late bloomers, and look how far people have come, often with limited resources or extra challenges. This affects us all, and if we don’t address it, we’ll end up with an even more severe elder poverty crisis
Anyway, we have to do this together and it has to include all the people who’ve been left out along the way, which means being even more conscious about how we bake bias and shitty thinking into our work and our conversations, and about the assumptions we carry about each other.
If we don’t, capitalism wins even more, and it’s already winning. If nothing else, we need to help make work (freelance, FTE, part-time) secure and sustainable in the long-term, PRIMARILY so retirement, welfare, and disability benefits can be accessible to all who need them.
I want to add that even though I understand the importance of business cases for better products, we should do this because it’s the right thing to do. And fulfilling work is important for many, but I want to stress: it’s also ageist and ableist for our work to be our worth. Kthx