Consciousness-raising for Ageism while Fighting Other “isms”

This guest post is by Mica Wilson, a marketing and communications professional living in New Rochelle, NY, who has over 30 years of experience in corporate and non-profit organizations. Mica loves to travel around the world gaining perspective on other people’s cultures and struggles, especially those of women and girls. She is currently developing a cross-generational podcast that provides advice and insights for professional women. Please send any questions or comments to Mica at DameTalk4 [at] gmail [dot] com.

On any given day I may experience various forms of prejudice, or “isms”. I am Black, a woman, and looking for a job at 55. I have been inspired to share my personal story after reading Who me, ageist?” A guide to starting a consciousness-raising group around age bias: by Ashton Applewhite. I hope that what I share will motivate those in “power” to join the ageism movement. I define “power”, as those who can make decisions about who they hire, the stories that get told to us through the media, and the policies that are put in place to protect vulnerable and marginalized people. I call out those in power because they have the ability to accelerate change.

Ageism is a unifier because it affects everyone. You face it as a young person when your thoughts and opinions are dismissed because you are “too young” to know anything. Or you may be considered “too old” to add value in the workplace or contribute to society. No matter your sex, race, religion, or sexual identity, you will face ageism. History has shown us there is strength in numbers. The civil rights movement would not have advanced in the same way without the support of non-Black people, and the women’s rights movement was a beneficiary. The ageism movement deserves the same momentum and support.

I must confess, I struggle with focusing on ageism because racism and sexism play such a dominant role in my everyday life. I’m affected by not just my personal experiences, but also by close friend’s experiences, and what I see on TV and read in the news every single day. The stories are rarely positive about people like me. Black man killed by police, Black man arrested then tied to a rope and forced to walk down the street with policemen on horses, Black women make 63 cents to every dollar white men make, there has never been a woman president, NYC has never had a woman mayor, and it goes on and on and on. Every day several stories in the news make me question my value and worth in America. So, when I apply for that job and get no response is it because of my skills, race, sex, or age? It doesn’t help that marketing and communications is considered a “young person’s game”. Whatever the answer is I have to continue living, working, and finding happiness like any other American.

As you get older, your network can make or break you in the job market. To be considered for an opportunity, at minimum you need to know someone who can send your resume directly to HR or a hiring manager. It’s nirvana if you know someone at a senior level who can make the hiring decision or influence it. In this scenario, who gets hurt the most? You got it, Black women. Our network generally does not include enough senior level men or women to help us get that job. When we do know someone, they aren’t always willing to put themselves out there for us. Of course, there are exceptions to that rule. In almost every job I’ve gotten, African-American women and men made sure I was considered for the position. Interestingly enough, they were all in my age group, which I believe speaks to how my support network was limited… Black women and men my age.

It’s important to me that anyone I interact with feels respected and heard. Therefore, when I am around younger people, I make sure our communication is a two-way street. I impart my wisdom to help them avoid some of the minefields I’ve been through. But I also learn from them, whether tech tips, new music, or their perspective on what’s happening in the world today. This allows me to not get stuck in my pre-conceived notions. I’m not a fan of today’s hip-hop, but my nieces introduced me to Lizzo. Yes, while there is some profanity in her music that I prefer not to hear, she is about empowering young women. Her recent call to action was for people to drop the ageism sh**t for the 2020 election. Her lyrics have a powerful message, she speaks out against ageism, she gets it. I have respect for her and I’m now a fan.

I will continue to do my part in the ageism movement. That means where I have influence, I will make sure you are heard and valued no matter how old you happen to be. To that end, I’ve started a podcast where four generations of women including a Millennial and a Gen Z have a seat at the table. Here is my ask to Millennials and Gen Z: join the ageism movement and make sure by the time you reach 50 you have done your part to raise the consciousness of those around you at work and home.  My request to those who are in a decision-making position or participate in the hiring process: ensure that your pool of candidates contains at least one person over 50. If you’re in marketing and communications and the candidate happens to be an African-American woman named Mica Wilson…you just hit the jackpot.

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