This article was written by Next For Me member Diana Moreland. She was surprised to find after decades of working in tech that she was suddenly faced with the unspoken discrimination of being an ‘older’ worker.
I’ve been working since the 70s and have never had trouble getting or keeping a job. I have been in IT since the mid-80s and although I have tolerated sexism while working in a male-dominated field, it just never occurred to me that my age would affect my employability. But now, at 60 years old, I must face the reality that ageism has cost me my job. I am in that unenviable position of being too young to retire and too old to find a job easily. I had heard rumors that age discrimination was a real issue but always assumed that I would somehow be excluded from that experience. The first time I had any inkling that I might not be exempt from ageism was in 2011.
I had been working for a non-profit for almost 7 years. Due to federal and state budget cuts, the organization lost 49 per cent of its operating capital, and boom! 29 of us were suddenly without jobs, with no severance. These layoffs didn’t seem to be discriminatory in any way – the people that lost their jobs at that time were from many different demographics.
It took over a year for me to find a job. Granted, the country was just coming out of a bad economic period, but I had never had trouble finding a job in the past. I suspected that my age might be a factor but did not have any direct evidence. I finally found a position and started on my 55th birthday.
It was a great job and I was very successful there. I was promoted twice within 18 months of my start date and was getting fantastic performance reviews. Everything was going great – my 401k was growing, my supervisors were pleased, my direct reports were responding to me well and there were never any disciplinary or performance issues.
About 3 years in, the company brought in a new Senior VP of IT. Of course, there were changes made and at first, the “reductions” did not seem suspicious. Then I started noticing that the people that were being removed were primarily over the age of 50 and the people that were being hired were all under 40. There was a new Senior Manager position created in the hierarchy above me – suddenly, I had a new boss. He was 31 years old and had never worked
in IT before. He seemed a decent enough guy but he was almost 30 years younger than I was.
Fast forward about 6 months to the first performance review. Although I had always rated high at review time in the past, this time I was blasted with supposed performance issues for which I had never previously been held accountable and had nothing to do with the work I had been doing. All my successes, dedication, unpaid overtime and the like were completely ignored. It was the worst review of my entire professional life and I was completely demoralized. But, I was determined to resolve the issues perceived as problems by my new boss.
During the next 6 months, everything seemed to be going well. I was under the impression that my young boss was pleased with my performance. There were never any discipline issues and I seemed to be meeting the goals he had set for me. At the mid-year review, I was again taken by surprise. Not only did he blast me again, he put me on a Performance Improvement Plan. I had 10 days to write up the plan to address his specified performance concerns. After he accepted the plan, I had 30 days to work the plan. At the end of the PIP period, it would be decided if my performance was sufficient to allow me to keep my job.
I created the plan. He accepted it. I worked myself to death to meet and/or exceed all the requirements of the plan. At the end of the 30 days, he fired me anyway. He said it was for “performance”, which we all knew was only legal HR jargon to keep the company from being sued. During the whole PIP period, he gave me the impression that I was on track.
Interestingly enough, even though “performance” was the reason given on the separation notice, the company did not contest my unemployment claim. Several other older people have been terminated from that company since then, under similar circumstances.
So, here I am, 4 months later, working a contract job and struggling to keep the bills paid. For the second time in 7 years, I’m having to use what was in my 401k to pay for COBRA but it’s nearly gone. I’m still looking for a permanent position so I can get health insurance. After being in the workforce for almost 45 years, I find myself in a position of great uncertainty. Right now, I truly do not know what is next for me.
Diana Moreland has been repairing computers and teaching people how to use them since floppy disks were still floppy. She is a freelance writer who is passionate about fighting ageism and bettering the lives of the marginalized. She lives in North Georgia with her daughter, son-in-law, two dogs and three cats. She has convinced her entire family that she is both witty and delightful. Contact her on Twitter.
Photo by: Ahead Partnership