Monday, February 15, 2010

Can I interest you in a Beatles-theme retirement home? Not on your fat budgie? Well, maybe news on age discrimination in the workplace will interest you, in the post below.

Age Discrimation

For boomers not quite ready for Beatles-themed retirement homes--or more relevantly, who will never be able to afford to retire--there's some news about the job market: about age-based discrimination and how the discriminations gained by age can prove value even in a "new media" job.

The statistics on age-based discrimination (up nearly a third in 2008, and double the claims for all other reasons, including race and gender) won't be too surprising to boomers. I spent almost ten years wondering why I didn't get jobs or assignments for which I was more than fully qualified, before I caught on. Then the Supreme Court made winning age discrimination suits harder, and then Congress tried to make it easier.

Maybe some successful suits will help, but it's hard to fight cultural bias. I was sure employers would see that I had the optimum blend of experience and skill in my fifties, but turning 50 turned out to be the effective end for anything but jobs that don't pay enough to tempt any but entry level youngsters.

In publishing it's worse, and apparently in television it's even worse than that. This weekend I got a notice of a class action suit against television companies for discrimination against writers older than 40.

But some boomers who manage to get reasonably good positions are proving the worth of the particular contributions they can make. Jim Gaines was much more of a big muckedy muck than I ever was in print media, and he got a chance to work for a new media company with much younger writers and editors. They had to teach him the technology, and I'm sure there are new habits of mind that he'll never learn. The experience he brings comes into play in perhaps unexpected ways. Since he's gone through highs and lows, triumphs and the agony of defeat, he keeps his head. He comforts the afflicted.

He also has a clear idea of the mission. He can discriminate between the wheat and the chaff, and cut to the essential: "Media will change as radically as technology allows, and right now the Internet is moving over the media landscape like a tsunami. But the job I learned to love when young was to tell stories, and the story has lost nothing in this transition."

Although anyone who has that kind of focus from the beginning and can keep it will likely be pretty successful, that's the kind of discrimination that can come with experience. It's worth having around, if that's what the people in charge care about. Most places don't. Most places are caught up in other agendas. The kind of place--the company, industry, agency, office, etc.--where those in charge really value diversity, and the insurance that different perspectives, points of view, experiences provide, will see the value of boomer participation. And maybe even pay them decently.

Otherwise we'll get the assignments we get now: stuff that for one reason or another nobody else can or will do, at least not at what it pays.