Despite a global labor shortage, older workers often find themselves excluded and overlooked due to ageism in the workplace.
Ashton Applewhite, a speaker, author and activist, was recently honored by the United Nations and the World Health Organization as one of their Healthy Aging 50, a group of thought leaders from around the world. Applewhite joined the MGMA Insights podcast to share her thoughts on age bias and the benefits of mixed-age teams. She will be presenting, "Age Against the Machine: Ending Ageism in the Workplace," at the 2022 Medical Practice Excellence: Leaders Conference, Oct. 11 at 10am ET in Boston.
Editor’s note: The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What does age bias or ageism look like in the workplace?
A: It looks differently for people of color, it looks differently for women … it’s often, interestingly, the first form of discrimination white men encounter. It looks like not being invited to meetings. As you get older, it looks like not having trainings come your way ... not getting opportunities to travel. It looks like being sidelined. And then it looks like you are losing your job.
To be told that the thing that you love to do or that the thing you spent decades getting really good at now renders you useless or renders you without value … that’s crushing. A world of longer lives demands that we work longer, but there is (also) a global labor shortage. So, one solution is (to) hire those hundreds of thousands of older workers who are ready and willing and qualified to work.
Q: You also talk about the benefits of having mixed-age teams in an organization.
A: Older people do clearly have more experience. They tend to have more emotional resilience … maybe not get so frazzled, take a longer view of things. The main reason we want mixed-age teams is the same reason we want teams where people come from different backgrounds … the more diversity in the group, the more points of view you have in the room, (and) the better you can match your customer base.
Q: How do we help prevent age bias in the workplace?
A: The one thing that we are in charge of is our own attitudes toward age and aging. Think about where people sit in your company when you get to a meeting. Are there people of all ages at the table? And if not, why not? Diversity is better – diverse teams make better decisions, people in diverse organizations stay longer.
I think, thanks to the Black Lives Matter campaign, we learned a lot about what people of color encounter in terms of aggressions or bias comments that people may make ignorantly, or with the best of intentions. But that doesn’t let us off the hook.
Include all ages in planning and choosing events. You have to involve all stakeholders. Try to wipe that lens of ‘Oh, they’re that age, so they must be good at that, bad at this.’ Try to stop yourself and remove that lens. That’s the single most important thing that you can do.
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The MGMA Insights podcasts are produced by Daniel Williams, Rob Ketcham and Decklan McGee.
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You can still register for the Medical Practice Excellence: Leaders Conference in Boston, October 9-12, 2022, and for the Digital Experience (DX) November 8-10, 2022. Ashton Applewhite will present “Age Against the Machine: Ending Ageism in the Workplace,” on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022, at the Medical Practice Excellence: Leaders Conference.