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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

It’s time to fight back against ageism in the workplace

Know that a person’s age doesn’t make one less skilled, but it equips and enables us to be creative and productive.

It’s time to fight back against ageism in the workplace
[Johann Walter Bantz/unsplash; insung yoon/unsplash]
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How many times have you asked someone to resend an email?

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You probably can’t quantify it because it’s something you ask your colleagues to do all the time. But when I turned 75 years old a few years back, I started to get eye rolls when I asked this question — or I’d see a side-eye glance from one colleague to another. The implication that the “old boss” was starting to lose it stung.

I came out of a brief retirement at 70 years old to start a teacher education institution. I don’t have anything physically wrong with me, and I never take sick leave. There’s no reason to suspect that I can’t think straight because I’m turning 80.

I’m not an anomaly. Ageism in the workplace is something too many of us face, and it’s something businesses across America need to address — because us “old people” aren’t going anywhere.

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The percentage of workers ages 65-plus has been steadily increasing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2026, the percentage of workers age 65 to 74 is projected to be more than 30%, up from 17.5% in 1996. Among workers ages 75-plus, that rate is expected to be almost 11% in 2026, a significant jump from 4.7% in 1996. Meanwhile, participation rates for workers ages 25 to 54 have dropped since 1996, as have rates for workers ages 16 to 19.

People 50 and over in the U.S. also represent over 40% of the economy’s GDP, according to AARP. That translates to about $8.3 trillion. In 2050, when Gen Z begins to join the 50-plus cohort, annual projected contributions will jump to $26.8 trillion.

After long careers, many executives now leverage their expansive networks and their professional and life experiences to start successful businesses later in life. The percentage of new enterprises started by people ages 55-64 grew from 14% in 1996 to 25.8% in 2018, according to a study by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

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While the media might make it seem like every successful entrepreneur launched a company in their twenties, the reality is that those who become entrepreneurs in their fifties succeed at roughly the same rate. The weak correlation between age and entrepreneurial success is hardly breaking news — just take a look at some of the world’s most recognizable brands and people. Martha Stewart launched Martha Stewart Living when she was nearly 50 years old. Harland David Sanders launched Kentucky Fried Chicken at the age of 65. Arianna Huffington founded The Huffington Post at 54 years old. And the list goes on.

Ageism is a serious issue in the workplace that is too often tolerated or unrecognized for what it is, and companies need to address it. Many organizations offer training to prevent and address things like sexual harassment and racial biases, but too often age discrimination is left out of those conversations. About 62% of all workers received no formal training related to age-based discrimination in the previous 12 months.

That’s a problem.

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If you’re running a company, take steps now to ensure your managers are sensitive to the issue of ageism. Not only does age discrimination negatively impact the careers and well-being of the employees experiencing it, but it also hurts businesses by negatively impacting morale and productivity. You may also see high rates of employee turnover and even lawsuits.

I don’t feel — and I don’t ever intend to be — “old.” My advice to chronologically older workers is this: Know that a person’s age doesn’t make one less skilled, but it equips and enables us to be creative and productive. There is no substitute for the wealth of knowledge and experience that only aging can bring.


Dr. Emily Feistritzer is a life long education entrepeneur and leader and is the founder and CEO of TeachNow, Inc. dba Moreland University