Inspiring Individual: Ashton Applewhite
Ashton Applewhite is an anti-ageism author and activist. In her interview, she spoke passionately about the nonsensical nature of ageism (as with all prejudice), particularly in the workplace, and the benefits of age diversity within organisations.
The World Health Organisation defines ageism as “the stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination against people on the basis of their age.” Ageism is not a well-known form of discrimination and was described by Ashton as “the least examined prejudice”. Derogatory remarks regarding age tend to pass in conversation, unchecked, in a way that similar comments about gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation generally do not.
As with all forms of discrimination, ageism prevents opportunities and adversely impacts those who are targeted. Although ageism can be directed at younger individuals too, Ashton explained that, “in our youth oriented society, older people bear the brunt of it.” According to the WHO, ageist attitudes lead to the “marginalisation of older people within our communities and have negative impacts on their health and well-being”.
But, how is it possible to be prejudiced towards something that most of us will become? Although “ageism seems especially senseless … no prejudice makes any sense”. Just like all prejudices, ageism is not based in fact, but in stereotypes.
“It's not that our fears aren't real. It's that they're so out of proportion to reality.”
Ageism in the Workplace
Ashton frustratedly explained the paradox that the greater experience held by older workers is perceived as less suitable for the workplace.
“Just as we need teams that have people of different races and ethnicities and sexual orientations, we absolutely need all ages, because … older people have seen and done a lot. And if you just think in terms of the absurdity, that experience should be a liability. That's just crazy.”
According to Ashton, part of the problem is in the way that ‘productivity’ is measured. She stressed that, in our “highly consumer, capitalist society” productivity is measured “in very narrow ways that have to do with wage earning.” The stereotypes that older people are “less motivated or can’t learn new things or are less creative” are untrue. Ashton highlighted that there is in fact research showing that “mixed age teams are the most effective for reasons that are intuitively obvious.”
Older people are the most diverse group of human beings on earth.
“As we move through life, different experiences shape us and make us ever more unique. And so that means that the older a person is, the less their age says about what they're capable of physically, cognitively, socially, what they're interested in, and the more flat out irrational, scientifically and factually erroneous it is to think … ‘the elderly”
Ashton recommended that we need to be examining our own prejudices in order to be asking employers to tackle ageism.
“[We need] to step off this hamster wheel of denial, and start thinking about where are the messages that older equals lesser that older equals ugly that older equals incompetent come from? Where do those messages come from? And what purpose do they serve?””
Contributors: Molly Adams
27 July 2020