Diana Zimmerman is convinced that the $22,000 facelift she got in December will help her business. As the 62-year-old founder of CMS Communications International, a marketing and communications company out of Los Angeles, Zimmerman is tired of missing business opportunities because of her age.
“I’m selling to 35-year-olds," she says. "I can’t afford to look 62. We live in a youth-oriented society. Ageism is an incredibly real form of discrimination.”
The proof is in business lost, says Zimmerman. Recently, her company almost lost out on a $1 million bid. An insider told her that the client was worried about Zimmerman’s age. Other business has been lost to younger competitors, she notes.
“The facelift wasn’t something I wanted to do. It was strictly a business decision and now I look 20 years younger,” she says.
Zimmerman isn’t the only person who feels this way. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, 45-year-old Wendy Troupe is in the startup phase at her analytics software company, Terametric, and she is struggling to secure funding. She says most investors are looking for young, just-out-of-college entrepreneurs without the burden of family and mortgages.
Does she plan to get a facelift to help her chances?
“No, I don’t think so; I am, however, very conscious of how I come across to investors and I’m lucky because I generally look younger than I am,” she says.
Joey Sargent is a female entrepreneur who is surprised at the pressure she feels. A 45-year-old marketing expert, she spent most of her professional life at large companies and doesn’t remember ageism being part of the culture.
When she went out on her own in May 2010 and founded BrandSprout, a marketing consultancy in Milton, Georgia, the reality of such pointed discrimination began to set in.
Now, she says the presence of social media in the workplace is hurting her chances at landing new business. When going after SEO work, potential clients often think the younger the better. When they see her photo on Facebook or Twitter, they dismiss her as a viable candidate.
“I’m not ancient, but people still wonder whether I’m current. It is a tough balance. You want people to know you are with it, but also to know you are professional,” she says.
The discrimination is covert, but Sargent knows it's there. When she attends marketing conferences, for example, she sees mostly twenty-somethings.
“Sometimes I wonder if it is in my head, but then I know it is not," she says. "I suspect that I have lost business because of my age.”
Would she consider getting a facelift to help her business?
“I never say never. Particularly when you are getting into your 50s, you want to have a vibrant image and gravity is hard to overcome,” she says.
Reasons for discrimination
Ageism is a tough form of discrimination to explain. It's easy to blame the media and its limited portrayal of beauty. Think Kim Kardashian and supermodel-lookalike news anchors. But why does it matter in the business world?
Zimmerman says that our society equates youth with new and fresh ideas and enthusiasm. The younger you are, the thought is, the more effort you'll put into a business venture. She thinks that potential clients who are younger want to work with people who look like them.
It's the female gender that almost exclusively seems to face the problem. The older the George Clooneys and Sean Connerys of the world get, the more distinguished and trusted they become.
Betty Louise, CPCC, is a business coach and radio personality specializing in women’s empowerment. She says female ageism is engrained into our culture.
“It starts very young and women overall don’t feel very good about the way they look. Eighty percent of women don’t have a good body image and that spills over into the workplace,” she says.
What to do about it
Just because you don’t look like a 21-year-old doesn’t mean your business is doomed. Here are a few ways to fight through ageism.
Don’t be afraid to mingle
Sargent takes the if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them approach and it seems to be working. Instead of fearing the millennial generation (her competition), she involves herself in opportunities to mentor them, joins networking groups and goes to meet-ups where she may be the oldest in the room.
“I’ve joined informal mastermind groups and I try to attend events [that are] not part of my demographic norm," she says. "It is a really good way to see what that generation is talking about and to leverage that knowledge into my own business plans.”
Take care of yourself
You don’t necessarily need to go under the knife, but Sargent recommends eating healthy and exercising to maintain a well-groomed image.
“Your image is also your personal brand, so be aware of the brand you are giving off,” she says.
Project your inner beauty
Regardless of your age, potential clients pick up on your confidence. Project an air of inner beauty and self-worth, suggests Louise, and you won’t have a problem competing with younger companies.
How can you do this?
Louise recommends pausing to reflect on your day and pondering a personal dialogue. Plan to project a better image into the world, prospect more ideas that have gone away, and lastly, “pop it out there.”
She says, “Those are my five P’s to peace, passion and pleasure. All of us age, so don’t be afraid of it. The more tapped into yourself that you feel, the more business will come your way and the happier you'll be.”
How do you fight against ageism in the workplace?