Age, Job Interviewing, and Leadership Oh My!

Hi All, so I need your honest feedback on the topic of females aging in the workplace.

I've been a finalist for at least 10 leadership roles over the past 4 years not landed one. I've had one of the best career coaches in the NW for 3+ years and I'm very trained at this point in all ways. I have a purpose and energy and excitement and long for growth. Im super healthy, look younger than my true years but I'm repeatedy pass up for younger men with less experience.

Some history; I've not had a straight path in one job BUT I HAVE worked in one industry across ALL of my experiences - fashion/apparel. I spent most of my career as a professional global photographer & journalist in storytelling and helped launch a lifestyle publication then in fashion which led to my becoming an Art Director helping launch a lifestyle brand and concept boutiques. I quit my AD role specifically due to sexual harassment but never made this public (its a personal choice). After years of interviewing and not landing several Art & Creative Director roles (one was even specificaly for a female focused brand which was given to a man, as they all were) - I was made an offer to become a Global Design Manager managing Licensee design marketing teams around the world at a sportswear brand. The team director was pretty good, but the team was toxic (in particular two people were emotionally abusive). I learned they had been reported many times prior to me being there yet Zero action had been taken. It's not how I would run things! About 6 mo later I reported both peoole+ examples to the director and 1 year later, with no shift, I requested to move to another team as a Content Producer. I was overqualified for that position but wanted to stay at the company and remain financially stable for my family.

Then, along with thousands, I was laid off during Covid BUT hired back 3 mo later this time for a Global Communications Manager contract position - which due to the times I accepted and I rather liked it and I saw this as a way to get closer to a pivot in my joirney trying to get into a leadership role where I have ownership again and can make a greater impact in the livea through Human-Centered Creative Management and Ops.

From the start of that job it was terribly mishandled and they let go of all the original hires but for me. The director lacked vision for the positions (the team) nor did they know how to implement my planning due to lack of resources and just corporate red tape in general which they had planned for. I made a beautiful editorially focused people first comms plan to set the company up for long term success based on their employees needs (and the research I was a part of collecting about employees, creative workflows, brand architecture and more. Just as I began rolling out the plan, they ended the project and let me go too.

Now I am here. I've been interviewing already and one was a leadership role again as Dir of Creative Ops. After several interviews & fulfilling a request to share a presentation about my take on Human-Centered Creative Ops, they set me up to do a 9 person panel interview with people whom I found out IN the meeting would be some of those whom the role manages (I had to pry the recruiter & creative director for ANY real info to help in success). They told me they thought Im better suited to a comms role like the one I was just in.... nothing more.

Its a BCorp and that's where I'd like to be, so I kept an open mind and went with the flow. Practice makes perfect. So after the hiring manager said they want me for the comms role, they didn't follow through on next steps - a red flag. I got an email a week+ later telling me they had other candidates with more comms experience they're moving forward with.

IDK why I'm writing here, but I'm convinced ageism plays a part in hiring (or not hiring) candidates. I've seen a lot of you here are youNYer than me. I'm now 50. Owning it.

What is your thinking on working with people who are older? Do you have bias based on stereotypes? Would you be willinf to talk more openly about your take on situations like mine? Women who hit a glass ceiling due to past systemic sexism and now are facing systemic ageism and defecting stereotypes of expectations of leadership behavior that I personally have led in the past. Where so middle aged women fit into your workplace.

iynna's profile thumbnail
First off, I am terribly sorry this is happening. I am in a younger age bracket so I cannot pretend to relate however I do know these behaviors exist and yes they suck. You do have a lot to offer that's for sure and people knew that when they shortlisted you. Here is a question I have, have you ever asked for specific feedback and have you ever received more than the "you are better suited to [insert different role]"? Not that they have to be honest about it but at least hear some form of reasoning. The one rational explanation I might have is that you are probably overqualified (read expensive $$) for those roles so they prefer hiring someone more junior that can also be in budget or underpaid. I would love to also hear the take of someone in the 45+ years old bracket as I am sure there is a lot more insights I am just not aware of!
ChristineTaylor's profile thumbnail
@iynna Thank you for the feedback. Yes I do ask for specific input from hiring managers and recruiters. I’ve honestly never had anyone ever reply to this ask - yet.With the modern workplace addressing all the isms excepting ageism - I’d love for this to become a more open topic on platforms such as Elpha. Younger women will be there one day too after all and we can all support each other!
ChristineTaylor's profile thumbnail
Also how this connects to tech is via Creative Operations which means sometimes I work closely with product & engineering teams to improve the creative workflow using tools.
Alexandra's profile thumbnail
I'm so sorry you are having this experience. Interviewing sucks. Interviewing as a woman sucks. Interviewing as a younger/older woman sucks. I experienced ageism when i first started out because being 24 meant i couldn't possibly be competent to work in the profession i was in at the time (Econ consultancy).I think from a certain level up, lots of hiring is done through internal referrals. You know someone on the inside who refers you for the position you're interested shows the hiring manager this is a person we can work with, they fit in etc. Everyone that I work with is around late 30s-early 40s. I wonder sometimes what happens to all tech workers once they get closer to 50. Only a handful make it to C or EVP level, so where does everyone else go?
ChristineTaylor's profile thumbnail
Ugh ageism for being young. Sorry to heat that was your experience! Personally I appreciate working with all ages and in fact see how important it is and I don’t feel uncomfortable at all if my manager is younger than me.Your question hits home. Precisely, where does everyone go - those who don’t make it up the chain get pushed out. Tech crosses in with every field especially Marketing/Advertising and it’s pretty unusual to see anyone over 50 there.So does this sit well with readers? I see it’s a completely overlooked resource shrouded by social assumptions. For instance, over 45 have a hard time with tech? For real?That stereotype doesn’t hold up within the crowds I run. The older the more expensive a worker - that really isn’t true. Companies pay what they pay for a job. I see corporations struggling with retainment, heritage knowledge and healthy communication to the point of widespread internal chaos within their operations. Along with ending overworking people, one way to help is to diversify teams in all ways, including maintaining a spectrum of generational knowledge at hand. I digress… but take this back to the question, “Where does everyone go?”, and where will you go if you don’t get the opportunity to climb?
ChristineTaylor's profile thumbnail
Oh p.s. - I get internal recommendations often too and agree that’s helpful!
michellekyu's profile thumbnail
I'm so sorry to hear that you're running into this and you feel it's associated with age. As a former HR professional, when I would hire people, I never really considered age as a thing (you never really know how old someone is until they explicitly say it). It was more about looking at what they bring to the table and their overall experience. I should mention age and mental maturity are two very different things! As a career coach, when I coach my clients around age - age is just a circumstance. We attach thoughts and create stories associated with our age, whether the thoughts are "we are too old" or "we are too young" or "we are over / under qualified". I had a client in his late 40s in tech and he kept referring himself as a "dinosaur", so of course associating those thoughts to his age are not helpful! Learning to control those thoughts and learning to reframe them in ways that serve you takes practice. For example, being older means you have more experience, are more tenured, have seen more things about how the business works, etc. Same reframe could apply for those who consider themselves too young - they are malleable, haven't acquired set practices and approaches yet, etc. All depends on how we look at it.
ChristineTaylor's profile thumbnail
Thank you for the reply! Yah I hear you. I don’t think I’m old and I’m super athletic and connected and engaged in the world too. But we do know bias is real. I don’t have a reference at this moment, but I believe many many studies have been done and we know ageism towards over 40 is a thing.I also have known many in HR and recruiting so your experience at be different, but I also hear that when it comes to selecting candidates for leadership roles there does end up being bias in the selection process which benefits men, and white men especially. Friends I have sat in fact it’s pretty easy to tell who is older just looking at a resume and often ‘culture’ is used as a way to discriminate and exclude those whom on paper seem not to fit in.I personally believe the entire system around selection is very flawed and as we see with our own eyes, it leads to lack of diversity in companies.
Of course hiring managers can’t/won’t tell you the truth. Even if they tell you they are. And it could be bc of your age, but there’s no way to know the truth. Hiring managers may not know what the real issue or forced to keep quiet otherwise they can open themselves to liability. I’m sorry this is happening, but if it’s any consolation, I’ve gone through this too.
Heatherly's profile thumbnail
Ageism is real and has been validated by peer-reviewed studies. It varies from industry to industry, I think, as does many -isms and prejudices. In the past non-male + age + color was definitely a mega -ism in tech industry (where most of my career has been) whereas male + age and even male + age + color was prevalent in leadership positions. There are many aspects to shifts - currently millennial / z-generation rising up + creative funding models + technology acceleration has led to exciting new business and products / solutions but also has created a bit of a new wave of ageism. I have peers that are white male over 50 that have found ageism at play with their promotions and salary bands. Being a woman in her 50s, I do believe we are rising up ourselves - we are the largest purchasing power cohort in N. America today, as an example. We often have more time to focus on work (children, significant others etc require less time and aging parents perhaps not yet requiring as much of our time) and we've been finally empowered by the fourth wave of feminism and our younger sisters. I don't work in the creative art / design space so hard to speak on that industry specifically. It sounds like you have done much diligence, self-aware improvement, and work to get where you are and go after your goals. I personally do NOT hide my age. I also no longer hide my interests in DEI, women's empowerment, and allyship for women+ of color and less privilege. I do this for two reasons - I was tired of not being myself at work AND I do think when we are up front, it can make it more challenging for others to practice prejudicial actions. I've put them on notice that yes, I'm 50 and a woman and I have a strong focus on diversity of our teams and equitable structures. If they are abusive or practice illegal behaviors, they should not be surprised when I challenge this. Your experience in interviewing and with the recruiter are red flags to me of a troubled culture. If you have the choice (and I recognize we don't always), I'd look first for a healthy culture company. It isn't a surprise when a company with bad cultural practices makes bad hiring decisions. :(I'd be happy to chat more.
ChristineTaylor's profile thumbnail
Absolutely yes on all accounts - thank you for sharing.
there is so much to unpack in your message but...i think you need to take a step back and write out your story, take it to the tiny details in a way that you talk when in interviews about the whys - keep it all upbeat, and also the what's as in what you want next. talk about why you stepped away- covid, bad culture etc.make sure you are finding out at the onset of the process what the process is and the steps and who the decision makers are. is the role new- why is it open what are the challenges. ask as if you are already in the job. don't let the recruiters or the interviewers drive your path- take the lead...these days most established and even non-established companies are hiring junior level talent in talent because they can and are often desperate to hire someone to help hire others....if you make it about age - it will be about age. and're young compared to me! don't let the process determine your fate
ChristineTaylor's profile thumbnail
Yes I do these things and thank you. Of course I keep it all upbeat, but here I’d like to be more honest by sharing a phrase a colleague pinned, ‘Toxic Optimism’. I see this is a very real thing.
NadineS's profile thumbnail
I'm so sorry this is happening. It's frustrating and can feel so disappointing. I spent another quarter on interviews finding a better fit myself recently. If it helps to frame companies that behave this way as filtering out the bad for you. If this is how they are behaving during the interview process, it most likely indicates how frustrating it would be like to work there. It's wonderful that you are focused on Human-Centered Creative Ops. It's so very needed. There is a growing voice for mindful design and I'm sure you will find a good fit. Personally, I removed some previous experience from my resume....companies that are no longer around and can't speak to my experience. I'm trying to filter further by screening for hiring managers that can have open and honest conversations and are interested in driving change. Otherwise, I have found that managers who are not comfortable with change work hard to maintain the status quo. Hope this helps.