The Ageism Spectrum
By Fredda Hurwitz
In December 2020, women accounted for 100% of the jobs lost. Neither age nor ability was a factor, just gender.
Why start with such a depressing statistic? Because you or someone you know may have been affected by choice or by default, and this shouldn’t be ignored.
Like many, I’m a single working mom who had to walk away from a full-time job in August to try and accommodate COVID’s impact: my 15-year-old son is neurodiverse. When COVID hit, his emotional, mental and physical needs increased exponentially, which a full-time job didn’t (and still doesn’t) allow for. Thankfully my 22-year-old daughter had not yet entered the work world – she’s still at university, albeit at a distance. But what about young people who had just entered the work force, college grad or not?
Were they able to find or keep their jobs? Are Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) talking about how to best support them? In my experience the answer is no, not really. This modern-day Lost Generation is struggling, and we need to help them. Jack Kerouac might not agree with me, but we’ll save that for another article.
OUR YOUNG WOMEN NEED US
Throughout my career I’ve had the immense joy of mentoring men and women, peers and clients, those new to the work world or celebrated experts in their field. Previously, conversations might have been about promotions or planning for a career change. However, recent chats, specifically with young women, have simply turned bleak.
They feel anchorless, worthless, with no one on their side to give them a much-needed pick-me-up. As a woman of a certain age, it may seem strange that I’m not advocating for that end of ageism in the work world, rather than focusing on the other end of the spectrum. I am and always will, trust me! But we must also support our young women. It’s simple – if we still experience imposter syndrome after YEARS of working, imagine how young women must feel? They have limited experience or proof points to be able to shout, “I did that!”, only made mildly more palatable thanks to a layer of intermittent confidence and bucketloads of youthful enthusiasm.
THE SHE-CESSION IS REAL
The she-cession describes the coronavirus-induced recession where women’s unemployment is higher than men’s (interestingly, it’s usually the opposite). No one is equipped to deal with a recession, but with women rarely as well supported, guided or encouraged the way men are, the she-cession is really taking its toll.
If we take a moment to think about these challenges and add them to the long overdue integration of DEI into the workplace, who could blame you for feeling as if it’s just one more overwhelming obstacle layered onto another? Yet it’s important that we also turn our focus on hiring and supporting young women, providing them a platform, and helping to set them up with life-long confidence and purpose as they continue their personal and professional journeys.
HELP BE THE CATALYST FOR CHANGE
Encourage women-only ERGs.
- In my previous agency, we had a terrific woman-only group that provided friendship, advice and when necessary, a safe outlet to vent. Showing support for an ERG that is focused specifically on young women would be a welcome change. HR professionals need to feel comfortable not being part of this group – it’s no secret that people don’t always speak freely when HR is in the room.
Beyond mentors, identify a “friend” from the outset.
- Pair an older/more experienced female colleague with a younger one to help provide a guiding hand. This relationship isn’t as formal or goal-oriented as a mentor, think of it like a big sister on tap to help out and ensure that their experience is as pain-free as possible. With a hybrid work environment likely to be the norm for the foreseeable future, this open approach to communication will become even more important.
Explain why it’s a “no”.
- This may seem counterintuitive and if you work for a big company, completely unrealistic, but if a young woman doesn’t get a job she interviewed for, let her know why. Take the time to use this as a learning opportunity so that she is better equipped for her next interview. Feedback is so important yet is often unavailable.
Keep the compassion going.
- COVID will eventually go away but so too may some of the lovely intangibles that companies embraced this past year. Don’t be that company! Keep those check-ins going, let your young female colleagues know their worth – don’t let them guess or hope or wait until a quarterly or worse, annual review. It’s never too soon to make people feel valued, but after the fact is always too late.
We might not be able to rewrite (her)story just yet, but perhaps we can make today just a little bit better for the next generation of female leaders.
Fredda Hurwitz is the Founder & Chief Nut of Gingernut Thinking, a woman-owned, DC-based, globally experienced brand strategy & marcomms consultancy for brands, agencies & non-profits.