EveryAGE Counts offers advise on calling out ageism

Why everyone needs to call out ageism

If you're over 50, it's an even-money bet you personally experienced ageism in the past year. But there's only a slim chance you did anything about it. Why?

This year, Australia's campaign against ageism, EveryAGE Counts, decided to investigate.

Our national poll of 1417 Australians found about half of over 50s experienced ageism in the past year, but 82 per cent of that group did not take any action in response.

Of those, 27 per cent said it was because it was hard to prove, 24 per cent said it was because they didn't know how to respond, and 22 per cent said it was because they weren't sure if it was really ageism.

This uncertainty did not come as a huge surprise. We know ageism thrives in the shadows of ambiguity.

What can start as a bit of a supposed joke, tends to morph into dismissive attitudes. This, in turn, mutates into situations where older people are actively prevented from accessing opportunities and rights they should be entitled to.

Older workers are given downgraded responsibilities based on their age as opposed to their ability. They get increasingly overlooked for promotions, cut off from training opportunities, and excluded from work social activities.

Older people in shops say they often feel invisible as retail workers look past them. When they go to the doctor they report being offered a limited range of treatment options based on their age. Older people seeking work are fobbed off with euphemisms like 'you might be overqualified,' or 'we're looking for an up-and-comer.'

What links most instances of ageism is how difficult they are to definitively confirm. Plausible deniability reigns supreme - comments are 'just jokes,' exclusions were based on other factors, stronger candidates just happen to be younger.

What links most instances of ageism is how difficult they are to definitively confirm.

Little wonder then that people lack confidence to respond. That's why this month we launched Australia's first Ageism Awareness Day under the banner of 'Ageism: Know it. Name it.'

We want people to feel emboldened about identifying ageism , and speaking out. So how can it be done?

Unfortunately, there's no tidy trick. But spreading knowledge about effective approaches is half the battle.

For example, in workplace situations, it can be hard to establish if you're really being discriminated against based on your age.

But if you're at a large workplace you could set up an 'affinity group' of older staff, to share experiences, support, and advice.

If you're not thinking about retiring, tell people. Many will assume that when you reach a certain age, so take every opportunity to affirm your role, skills, and contribution.

In retail situations, it can be hard to speak up in the moment so consider reflecting on what happened when you get home and writing an honest email about your experience to the retailer.

You may not be able to 'prove' it was ageism, but you can certainly relate your perspective.

Ageism can lead to older people not being presented with the full range of healthcare options and treatments.

'You're just getting old' or 'it's just a sign of ageing' may not be a satisfactory explanation to you. So don't be afraid to question advice or get a second opinion.

And if you're unable to make progress on any concern, states and territories have anti-discrimination authorities that can be contacted via phone or email.

But what about more day-to-day examples of what we might define as casual ageism?

If you encounter someone being ageist to you, you might be tempted to try and generate empathy and understanding by saying something like 'one day you'll be in my shoes.'

But studies have found this is generally an ineffective way to change behaviour because people find it very difficult to imagine themselves in the future.

You are probably better off describing how ageism affects you personally and asking them to stop. None of this is necessarily simple, but it's vital that we take on the struggle.

Ageism has real and devastating impacts. A report from the World Health Organisation found older people who held negative views about their own ageing will live seven-and-a-half years less, on average, than those with positive attitudes.

For those who decide to get more proactive, our research contains a silver lining of hope and positivity.

Of those over 50s who did act when they encountered ageism, 63 per cent said they found the result satisfying and 53 per cent said they thought it was effective.

Those are odds I think all of us should consider backing to help contribute to creating an ageism-free Australia.

  • Marlene Krasovitsky, campaign director, EveryAGE Counts.
This story Why everyone needs to call out ageism first appeared on The Canberra Times.