By JJ Abuelhawa, Assistant Director of Sales and Marketing at Aimbridge Hospitality, and member of HSMAI’s Rising Sales Leader Council
More than two-thirds of workers between the ages of 45 and 74 have reported seeing or experiencing ageism, according to a survey by AARP. HSMAI’s Rising Sales Leader Council along with several members of HSMAI’s Sales Advisory Board discussed the issue of age discrimination and the best ways to combat it on a recent call. Here are key takeaways from their discussion:
IS AGE THE CORE ISSUE?
While members on the call said that ageism is a problem, they also agreed that age itself isn’t always the main issue. Rather, it’s the willingness to adapt to changing times or the lack of desired skills that is more problematic. “I find myself thinking about the difference between age, experience, and wisdom,” one call participant said. “Not everyone older is wiser.”
“I think it’s mindset versus age,” another participant said. “The inability to change mindset to adapt to the changes is what makes you expendable. If that’s happening with age, at 70 or 40, if you’re unable to adapt to how the business changes, that’s what makes you expendable.”
One participant said that it is on everyone to make sure that they don’t unconsciously become stuck in their ways or unable to adapt to changes. “I think something that doesn’t get discussed is that these characteristics of older people are on us to overcome,” the participant said. “People who are older often slip into that unconsciously. One of the first steps is recognizing that you’re set in your ways. I don’t think that we often think that way about ourselves. We don’t self-critique, but we need to.”
An article that call participants read prior to the discussion focused on the idea of the “modern elder” — someone who is older and still approaches their job with curiosity and a willingness to learn from younger generations. “I love the concept of the modern elder,” one participant said. “I also feel like this is why we formed the Rising Sales Leader Council, because we wanted to be educated by the younger generation. We felt that in certain circles we are in, one thing that’s missing is that younger mindset. I think the idea of bringing the two generations together is a critical component for all of us to continue to develop.”
Having more modern elders could be key to reducing ageism, participants said. “If you have modern elders, that are legitimately serving in that role, that goes against ageism,” one participant said. “Whereas if you don’t have modern elders, there’s a greater tendency for ageism to exist. If you recognize ageism for what it is, then you have a chance. If you get into the stereotypes that elders are always slower or less agile, it becomes a slippery slope.”
Another tool against ageism and toward helping to bridge the generation gap is mentorship, as those who have been in the workforce longer have the benefit of experience to share. “I have had a lot of great mentoring, and am fortunate to have had that,” one participant said. Another participant added: “When COVID happened, I’d never gone through anything like that, but my elders had. They’d been through 9/11 and things that hit our industry hard. It’s nice to lean on people who have been in the industry longer and can give you a different perspective on how we can get through this.”
“It shocked me to learn that ageism one of the hardest discrimination cases to be proven in court,” one call participant said. “It makes me feel empowered to help instill change and knowledge on the topic.”
While it can be challenging to have conversations about perceived weaknesses with older team members, participants said it is important to address, just as you would with a younger team member. “If the person across from you was only 32 and you’d treat them differently than an older person when having this conversation, then that’s the problem,” one participant said.
“You have to stick to the point,” another participant said. “You have to be empathetic and respectful, but they have to hear what the issues and expectations are. No matter how uncomfortable you are, if you can’t deliver that information, you can’t expect a decent outcome.”
Another participant shared a time when she helped an older employee navigate new technology. “I had an older employee who was fantastic at selling but couldn’t figure out how to put it into the system,” one participant said. “It helped me to take a step back and think differently on how to coach them, and how they have learned through their career, and it worked out. We had to have those hard conversations not looking at age but looking at how they learn.”
Other call participants said that if an employee doesn’t understand something after repeated coaching, it might not be worth it to keep them on if they don’t have other desirable skills. “If the person just isn’t getting there, then helping them figure out that they can’t do it might hopefully lead to them moving on to something they are better suited for,” one participant said. “We don’t have the ability to just move people around like we used to.”
“I don’t rule anyone out because of their age,” another participant said. “And I’m even more conscious of that now, but I do look for that wisdom. Wisdom is different than age, and we need to make sure we remain aware of that and not pigeonhole anyone in any way because of age or years of experience.”