Five or six years ago, I promised myself I’d never become one of those women who hides her age on Facebook. I don’t like when people pretend to be younger than they really are, because it feels like they’re buying into the idea that youth is the only thing that matters. If a woman dyes her hair or gets plastic surgery to feel better about herself, I have no problem with that. I’m only bothered when women do these things because they believe that youth and beauty are more valuable than knowledge and experience. I want to be the kind of woman who loves herself enough to wear her eye wrinkles with pride instead of using apps like Facetune to smooth the age lines away in every photo.
Breaking That Promise
So why’d I end up breaking that promise and hide my age on Facebook? It’s not about vanity. It’s about paying the bills. I realized that if the people hiring me know my age, and that number makes them doubt my qualifications, it could affect my income. A few years ago, I had an opportunity to write articles for a website I hadn’t written for before. I knew the site was aimed at people younger than me, but I felt comfortable writing for that audience. (I spent most of my freelance career writing for teens, so writing in a younger voice is second nature to me.)
I work remotely, and it never occurred to me to hide my age until the first time I met my editor in person. I was surprised at how young she looked. After we met, she added me on Facebook. At the time, I had Facebook set so that my friends could see my age, but the general public couldn’t. When I received my young editor’s friend request, my mouse hovered uncertainly over the “Confirm” button. I was tempted to click it and take my chances, but then I started wondering, “What if she stops assigning me stories after she sees my age?” I didn’t want to take that risk, so before I accepted her as a Facebook friend, I restricted my age settings even further. Now, only people on a short list of “Close Friends” can see my age.
Ageism is alive and well
I think of myself as a young person, so it was strange to consider the possibility that my age could hold me back from certain opportunities. I knew ageism was an issue for women in Hollywood—movies regularly pair a hot young actress with a love interest old enough to be her father—but in the real world, I thought age discrimination mainly affected senior citizens. It turns out, it’s far more common than I realized.
Age discrimination is especially prevalent in the tech industry. It’s been ten years since Mark Zuckerberg famously said in a speech at a venture capital conference, “Young people are just smarter.” The Facebook CEO may rethink that statement as he ages, but so far, the tech industry continues to value youth over experience. The good news is, they’re being called out on it. In the past four years, 90 age-discrimination lawsuits have been filed against major tech companies, including Hewlett Packard, Cisco, Apple, Google, and Facebook, according to USA Today.
In the United States, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects employees and job applicants who are 40 and older from age discrimination. The ADEA isn’t perfect—it doesn’t protect freelancers like me, and it doesn’t protect people under 40, who can also encounter ageism. Another problem? Age-discrimination claims are often hard to prove, because you’ll need evidence that the company’s actions were based specifically on your age and not on other issues.
Being “too young” is a thing too
Ageism in the workplace is often quite subtle, and you don’t have to be over 40 to feel its effects. Lauren K.*, 27, works in tech media, and she finds that people treat her with more respect when they don’t know her age. She told me, “I found it hard enough to be taken seriously as a woman in male-dominated workplace, but my age compounded the issue. As someone who ‘looks young,’ this has followed me from my time as a just-out-of-college newbie to now, when I’m supervising teams.”
“I found it hard enough to be taken seriously as a woman in male-dominated workplace, but my age compounded the issue.”
– Lauren K., 27
Lauren first hid her age when she was freelancing and clients started adding her on Facebook. She says, “I now make it a rule to not disclose my age to anyone I work with—over social media or in person—because I’ve seen what it does to my credibility. I would have perfectly normal working relationship with colleagues, and then if someone found out my age, things immediately changed—nobody would trust me, or they would point-blank tell me that my age made them question my authority.” The men she worked with, even those who were younger than her, didn’t seem to encounter those challenges.
Even knowing that ageism is a serious issue, I still hate the idea of hiding my age, because I’m not ashamed of it. I’m not trying to fool anyone. I see it this way: My real age is out there online if anyone tries hard enough to find it, but I don’t need to put it right in front of potential clients and editors. Finding steady freelance work isn’t easy, and if hiding my age makes it easier to get a new assignment once in a while, I’m going to keep doing it.
My real age is out there online if anyone tries hard enough to find it, but I don’t need to put it right in front of potential clients and editors.
You do you
If you decide to hide your age from your colleagues, Facebook isn’t the only place to make a change. If your resume or your LinkedIn profile show the year you graduated from college, consider hiding that, too. Employers can use your graduation date to make an approximate guess at your age, since most people get their undergraduate degree when they’re around 21 or 22. Include your school and major on your resume, but leave off the date. In a job interview, don’t mention your age or graduation year (and never say these five things in an interview either).
I dream of a day when people of every age are treated with respect and equality, whether they’re working in a cubicle or on a movie. Until that day comes, I’m glad we have a choice about whether that information is public. Hide your age if you find it helpful. I will, too.
*Name has been changed.
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