Why waste talent because of the ‘silver ceiling’

In my early 50s, I was very busy at work and with family. In addition, I was working on a Master’s degree from a university 120 miles away from home.
But still I wanted to serve on the city council.
Our tiny city on the plains would be called a “village” in upstate New York, but here it is called a city. A wonderful small city dominated by a private college–a quiet, crime-free city where the citizens gather at the post office every day.
I had some agenda that I wanted to accomplish as a city council member, and I think I did some good. But as is often the case in public office, I also had some enemies.
So when I sought re-election, my case was “iffy.” Even my mother insisted she was not going to vote for me. She eventually reneged and grudgingly cast her vote in my favour, arguing I was much too busy to serve.
And she was right. At about the same time, I was working on my thesis and giving lots of speeches, some of which took me to distant cities. I served on a church committee that required flying to Canada occasionally, and on the board of the Health Systems Agency that regulated health care in a 26-county area.
And I was in demand for new jobs, committees, and boards.
I had read about the “glass ceiling”–a barrier that keeps women from rising past a certain point. A barrier that is transparent and therefore invisible until the person crashes into it.
In some ways, I had transcended the glass ceiling.
But that was a long time ago. Now years later, I have acquired more wisdom and more experience. I would make a wonderful employee and a helpful board member.
Unfortunately, I have encountered the “silver ceiling”–a barrier that keeps older people from rising past a certain point. A barrier that is transparent and therefore invisible until the person crashes into it.
And this barrier can not be broken!
Gerontologist Ken Dychtwald coined the phrase “silver ceiling.” In a report to the U.S. Senate Committee on Aging, Dychtwald said, “Old simply isn’t what it used to be.” We must “unhinge old age from the anachronistic marker of 65.”
In other words, we must get rid of the antiquated retirement age of 65.
Dychtwald noted the number of persons age 65 and older in the United States increased from three million to 33 million in the last century. But that number is expected to double to 66 million in the next 30 years.
With that many seniors, he said, we must smash the “silver ceiling” of age discrimination and make it easier for people to pursue meaningful roles in maturity. It must “become normal for 50-year-olds to go back to school and for 70-year-olds to reinvent themselves through new careers.”
Unfortunately, in today’s tight job market, people 50 or older are often the first to go. And charges of age discrimination filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are rising.
The “silver ceiling” is real. Just as we have acquired more wisdom and more experience, we no longer are sought after as talented employees or as wise board members.
Have you had “silver ceiling” experiences? What have you done to challenge this form of discrimination? For the sake of society, it is up to all of us to smash the “silver ceiling.”
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist.

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