The Other Age Discrimination

Cropped portrait of an attractive young businesswoman working at her desk in the office

Dear DW,

I am 30 but look younger. I work in a large firm and colleagues ask me how old I am, or assume I am an intern. Worse, I find that I am given assignments that are not commensurate with my experience and skill set. How do you suggest
I handle this?

Signed,
Take Me Seriously

Dear Take Me Seriously,

This is a situation that frustrates many younger workers. Although a multigenerational workforce brings value to an organization, some people do not yet fully appreciate this. They can feel threatened. Interactions become unproductive.

Try a practical approach, says Oneida Blagg, executive officer of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Pierce College. “Network to find someone you trust, who has absolutely no connection to your organization, but who understands your industry. Tell them about the conversations that have taken place at work, how you have responded, and ask for feedback. They can probably even help you rehearse how to speak with authority.”
Next, schedule a sit-down with your supervisor and anyone else who gives you assignments. Explain your eagerness and qualifications for taking on more assignments with greater responsibility. Make sure to emphasize your experience.

When colleagues ask your age, unfortunately there’s not much you can do but smile and decide if you want to tell them or deflect the question. Most people are probably well meaning.

Finally, be sure to check your own biases and don’t assume victimhood. Focus on things you can control. Consider how you present yourself vis-à-vis the company’s culture. If most women wear conservative clothing and you wear sleeveless short dresses, that may add to the perception. You may be within your rights to dress as you do, but be aware that may contribute to the perception you are too green to handle certain assignments.

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