Years ago, while interviewing candidates for a pastry cook position, I ended up hiring a woman older than me. She was fresh out of cooking school and was looking for her first job in order to build a resume. To me, it was a no brainer. I knew she would be reliable, committed and with sound judgment – what she might have lacked in stamina (kitchen work is physically demanding) she would make up in work ethics.
I never regretted the decision. When she left for a prestigious establishment much close to where she lived, after a couple of years of sticking to a commute not many people would have endured, she told me how grateful she was for the chance I had given her. Not many would had been willing to even consider an older worker at her first position. I am not sure I told her that, to me, she had seemed as the perfect choice. 20-year-olds cycled in and out, always looking for the next thing, sometimes calling in sick because of excessive partying the night before, always busy climbing the ladder. Not that I blame them, but when you are trying to build a stable environment, in addition to the verve, disruption and creativity of younger employees, you also need an element of calm and predictability.
The current job market, by and large, is not built for older workers. Within some industries, like Silicon Valley, they would never be considered and, if someone over 50 managed to get a foot in the door, he or she would probably feel out of place.
But, as the charming movie “The Intern” underscores, it is not impossible, it can actually be desirable, for younger and older employees to work side by side. That is, if both are willing to open their eyes and consider what the other has to offer.
In my field, culinary, I mainly work with younger cooks, who tend to be more iconoclastic, more inventive and more willing to tear down before rebuilding. If such attributes are not channelled, kept in check and placed within a proper context, they can lead to too much chaos and not enough consistence.
Conversely, an older cook might be set in her ways, unwilling to consider new techniques, but will provide the base for innovation by keeping ideas into the realm of the feasible (or edible, as the case may be).
My sister, who is 47, is currently looking for a job (not in the culinary field) and is lamenting having to brush up on interviewing skills and resume writing. “I just hate it. I can’t sell myself. I am just too honest in portraying who I am.” We talked at length about stock answers she can build on and I tried to keep her focussed on what she has to offer. And not just her expertise, her work ethics and her commitment.
As older women who have spent most of our lives in the workplace, we have acquired invaluable wisdom, we are not encumbered by the tight schedule of a family, and, provided we are not entrenched in the “they way things have always been done” syndrome, we can offer a nice counterbalance to younger views.
On our end, younger colleagues can re-energize us, force us to think more out of the box and mentor us in all things technology we might be shaky with.
With an aging population in the US, and, mainly in Europe, who, by choice or necessity is pushing retirement further and further away, many industries are compelled to rethink their hiring strategies. And among all the talk of diversity, age should be included too.
We are not quite there yet, and discrimination based on age is still alive and well, but I am optimistic things are changing in the right direction.
Do you have any evidence one way or another?