Returning to Work After 40 / Parents Pivot

Ageism is a concern for many in the workforce, but it can be especially demoralizing for -moms and parents who are returning to paid work after a pause. Returners already face nerves and uncertainty about their time away from work — encountering ageism can feel like yet another hurdle to overcome.

Parents, put your fears aside. We’re here to alleviate your concern with an honest look at the ways that those over 40 may encounter ageism, what you can do, and how you can help in changing the narrative. Anna McKay, founder of Parents Pivot, joined The Mom Project for a master class that takes a deep dive into ageism and tips for navigating it. Watch the entirety of Returning to Work After 40: Overcoming Ageism in Your Return to Work — and glean the highlights below.

Ageism in the workplace today

According to Anna McKay, ageism is common and spans races, ethnicities, gender, and sexual orientation. It is something that many of us may encounter as we age. Anna began to experience ageism when she started her coaching career in her 30s after ten years of working in Big Five accounting. 

“Ageism had nothing to do with my experience and abilities. It had everything to do with this person's perception of me.”  -Anna McKay

Those who are returning to the workforce, “returners,” are even more likely to be confronted with ageism. Of those who are long-term unemployed, 36% of them are over the age of 55.

In a Werklabs study, Experience Matters: Ageism & Work, The Mom Project found that 60% of survey respondents experienced ageism at some point in their professional lives, typically around age 40. Of these, 75% experienced it during their job search, and 53% experienced it in the workplace.

What can companies do about ageism?

Companies can play a huge role in changing the narrative surrounding workers over 40. Many companies focus on DE&I, but only 8% of companies include age as part of their DE&I strategy. Anna outlines specific steps that companies can take to reduce the occurrence of ageism.

  • Recognize the bias
  • Review hiring practices for bias - make sure job descriptions don’t have language that is biased; make sure you have multiple generations within the interview panel
  • Evaluate employment practices for ageism bias

What can we do about it?

The most important way that workers can combat ageism is to, first, understand the bias, and then demonstrate why it’s unfounded. To demonstrate, Anna provided several examples that her clients have heard from companies. The assumptions include:

“Her technology is outdated.”

Anna suggests showing them why they’re wrong by demonstrating your competency. This can be through unpaid work for people who have larger gaps.

“She won’t stick around a long time because this is a stepping stone job” or “He must be planning to retire soon.”

This is a particularly frustrating assumption, as there is no guarantee that someone will stay, regardless of age. Anna suggests going ahead and addressing your commitment to the job and staying right away.

“He won’t have the energy to keep up and be engaged in the work.”

Studies have shown that, in fact, employees over the age of 55 are likely to be more engaged than their younger peers, as well as offering lower turnover rates and greater levels of experience.

“Older workers don’t have relevant experience and won’t fit in with our culture.”

Diversity of thought and experience strengthens a team. Be sure to bring this up and discuss how you’ve kept your knowledge up to date.

How to address ageism in the hiring process?

There are several tangible things you can do to put yourself ahead and try to stop ageism before it starts. Here are Anna’s suggestions:

  • Use LinkedIn
  • Update your email - use Gmail instead of AOL
  • Remove older experience
  • Make a “skill set resume” instead of one that is chronological

In addition, returners offered feedback on how they’ve helped themselves feel more comfortable with the hiring process, with 60% saying it helped to earn certifications or take courses to get additional training and 61% acknowledging that it was helpful to remove graduation dates from their resumes.

Thoughts are so powerful - shift your mindset

Though ageism is driven by forces that are largely out of your control, one thing you do have control over is your mindset, something that Anna says is critical to how you perceive messages. Studies have shown that exposure to subliminal negative age stereotypes make people more likely to perform poorly on cognitive and physical tasks.

According to the World Health Organization’s Global Report on Ageism in 2021, those who have more positive self-perceptions of aging experienced greater functional health and greater longevity.

How do you view aging? Know your value. Shift your mindset from I don’t have to I do have. Understand that age-diverse teams can improve performance, but only if other team members are willing to learn.

Those over 40:

  • Are likely to communicate a lot more directly
  • Are likely to have a larger network
  • Have experience saving money for employers
  • Have experience solving problems

Combating ageism begins with awareness 

“Look for the companies that take a stand and are doing something about this bias.”

-Anna McKay

We can change the narrative, and our own awareness is a great place to start. If you’re a returner looking for work after 40, be mindful in your job search. Pay attention to language in the job description. Choose companies that feature age-diverse groups in their marketing materials. If you encounter an ageist remark in an interview, “respond with curiosity.”

Visit Parents Pivot to learn more about the great work Anna is doing.

Are you a returner ready to rejoin the workforce? Connect with inclusive employers and flexible opportunities with The Mom Project today!

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