Confronting Ageism as a Gen Z Professional

Sam McLaren
7 min readSep 26, 2023

As I continue navigate the ‘professional landscape’ at work, I’ve come face to face with an important issue: ageism. In this blog, i want to dive into what ageism means, why it’s a significant topic, and how my generation (Gen Z or Zillenial depending on who you ask) can actively participate in reshaping these perceptions.

I’m going to talk about my experiences and speak to Mia from my team about her experiences. We are gonna break it down for you — the good, the bad, and the frustrating — and explore how our generation deals and can challenge this.

Defining Ageism:

Ageism, in the context of the workplace, refers to prejudice or discrimination against individuals based on their age. It involves making assumptions, holding stereotypes, or treating someone unfairly solely because of their age, whether they are considered too young or too old. Ageism can manifest in various ways, from hiring decisions and promotions to job assignments and interpersonal interactions.

Ageism can be a lot of different things and a lot of the morethe obvious ones, looking down on someone because they are younger then you and therefore ‘below’ you due to their lesser experience. Yes. This still happens to me now.

Even from people i actually have much more experience than in certain areas but because of my age that means nothing.

There are some examples that you might not even realise you are doing like presuming that because someone is young they are the expert on all the technology or that they should look after TikTok because that's for young people.

Some other big examples i found online are:

  • Treating a young worker differently to an older worker
  • Inappropriate language to describe a young worker

There is an example i found of a line manager referring to a colleague as a “kid”, and even described her as a “stroppy teenager”. Which is honestly absolutely horrendous but not actually surprising in my experience.

  • Imposing a job requirement that is too hard for young workers to meet

Now this happens A LOT. A requirement for a minimum number of years’ experience for a particular job may be indirectly discriminatory against a young person.

  • Dismissal of a young worker on the basis of age

Ageism not only affects individuals on a personal level but can also impact an organisation’s overall performance and culture.

You might hear lots of examples of ageism when looking towards older people but its not as common to discuss or challenge it for younger people.

Its something i have really just taken as part of the job and almost just shrugged it off as an ‘office culture’ quirk but when someone mentioned it to me the other day i reflected and no, it shouldn't be. It should be challenged and highlighted more often.

My experience of this:

I’ve been in office work for about 7 and a half years now. I started as an apprentice in IT and have worked my way up through various roles and departments.

When i first started as an apprentice i was expecting a tinge of infantilisation because coming into a big organisation as a 19 year old that was sorta expected. But what i thought would last a little while has lasted the entire time i have been working and appears in various different ways.

The way i am treated by people who knew me back when i started is very different to how i am treated by new faces. It’s almost like they still see that 19 year old guy who wanted to learn and experience everything rather than recognising the wealth of experience, knowledge, and professional respect I’ve garnered across a spectrum of roles and departments.

And if I'm honest i don't know the first step in challenging these people because i always thought my results and knowledge would speak for themselves rather then having to fight to be respected and heard.

Challenges and Stereotypes:

We’re the ones who grew up with smartphones practically glued to our hands, and some might say we’re the “always-on” generation.

From where I’m standing, it’s time to shed some light on this issue. These stereotypes about Gen Z (and even millennials) can be a bit off the mark and, honestly, kind of frustrating. Take the idea that we’re screen addicts who can’t hold a face-to-face conversation — seriously, we’re more than just emojis and hashtags.

A recent survey found that Gen Z is indeed tech-savvy, but we also value face-to-face communication. In fact, 75% of us believe that in-person collaboration is essential for a successful workplace.

Because we spend so much time on screens we value conversations face to face and collaborating and brainstorming together. So you can’t just presume that they want a 121 over text or virtually.

“We’re not just looking for jobs; we’re seeking opportunities to make a difference. Our passion drives us to challenge the status quo.”

The truth is, Gen Z brings a unique set of skills and perspectives to the workplace. We’re digital natives, which means we know how to harness technology to get things done. We’re socially conscious, and issues like diversity, equity, and sustainability matter to us.

We’re not just a bunch of TikTok enthusiasts; we’re the future of the workforce, and we’re ready to bring our innovative ideas and fresh perspectives to the table.

So let us.

A new perspective

I asked Mia who i have known for a while now and just started in my team about her experience and this is what she had to say:

Like Sam, I also joined the council as an apprentice straight from college when I’d just turned 18. While my friends went off to university with thousands of people a similar age, I found myself going into the world of work, where I wouldn’t meet anyone my age for the year and a half I was originally there! This didn’t bother me; I have always been ‘mature for my age’ and I had always wanted to go straight into employment. But while I found myself no longer relating to my friends who were living the uni lifestyle, I also couldn’t relate to my colleagues who were not only a lot further into their careers but also had children, were married, or were, in my eyes, ‘proper adults’. As you can imagine, this can feel quite lonely!

Navigating the world of work can be tricky at the best of times and that’s why I believe more needs to be done when welcoming colleagues into their first ‘proper’ job.

I believe it is common that when it comes to pay an organisations true colours are shown. Too many times have I seen DOE (dependant on experience). Some companies aren’t willing to give pay rises as you ‘lack experience’ but seem to then forget about this ‘lack of experience’ when expecting you to go above and beyond. If someone is able and willing to do the task at hand they should be paid and recognised for this whether they are 2 years or 20 years into their career. A job is a job, how well the employee can carry out the role is what matters.

As a now 20 year old with experience in both the private and public sector I feel I have learnt a hell of a lot! I am still very much early in my career but I have grown in confidence and now know my input is something to be valued. I not only bring to the table a ‘young person’s viewpoint’, something at times I have been made to feel is my only contribution, but I also bring a varied skillset, a voice for people who aren’t comfortable sharing their experience, a passion for social media and all things digital and a reminder that age and experience isn’t the only indicator of an expert.

How can things improve?

That’s a great question and not one that's easy to answer

Open Conversations: Start by talking openly about ageism with your colleagues and people you know. Talk about your experiences openly, write a blog do whatever feels right for you.

Challenge Ageism when you see it: Don’t hesitate to challenge age-related stereotypes when you come across them. Be vocal about discriminatory comments or actions. You might even be aware or some of the less talked about or more subtle ones after reading this!

Multigenerational Collaboration: Now this is easier said then done. Especially where i work. We should always be encouraging cross-generational teamwork and creating Diverse teams.

Diverse teams often produce innovative solutions.

The challenge is this is sometimes putting pride aside and letting someone you may deem less experienced or knowledgeable take a more leading role and use their own ideas to take something forward. You never liked it when you were first starting and people wouldn't give you a chance to show yourself so why would you make it harder now you've worked to get recognition?

What you can do right now:

As time moves on more of the workforce will be Gen Z, and the importance of asking and listening to young people will increase. Attracting younger generations into your work is a whole different blog but creating a respectful and productive work environment is a great first step.

Start the conversation in your workplace. Challenge stereotypes when you encounter them or even reflect on where you may have done this yourself. Embrace multigenerational collaboration and allow people to showcase their talent without needing 25 years of experience in a field.

Together, let’s break down the barriers of ageism and build a more inclusive, innovative, and respectful professional world.

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Sam McLaren

Working to promote Dorset as a place to live, work, and visit. DL100 member. Inspiringthefuture volunteer. TED Speaker #SamsBrightIdeas