Friday, May 10, 2013

Do You Age-Stereotype? A Small Rant

I've been in several conversations lately that really have me thinking about age stereotypes. Is it true that all those baby boomers still hanging on in those director's jobs are just doing nothing--just coasting towards retirement?  Are those Millenials just slackers who don't know how to work and are constantly just tweeting?  And what about those who fall in between those two generations--how do we characterize them?

I understand why these categories exist--it gives us a quick shorthand to understand our audiences or our colleagues.  But I've come to think they're not particularly useful--and in fact, may be particularly destructive in our efforts to work together.  Nina Simon's recent post about her museum's work in social bridging--bringing groups and people together--is something that we can all learn from.  And we might want to start that social bridging--that creative collaboration-- inside our own organizations.

Perhaps it's because I've spent my career either in small museums (where, as a young professional,  an ability to work with different generations wasn't ever optional) or as an independent professional, where coasting certainly isn't an option.

Do I know old fogeys of my own generation that are coasting towards retirement?  Absolutely.  Do I know young fogeys who are hiding in the basement coasting towards a fifty years from now retirement?  Yes, sad to say.  But at the same time, I know colleagues older than I am who are pushing towards new ideas and understandings and young colleagues who are elbowing their way into the field with new ideas in hand.  My own career has been enriched at every end of the spectrum--from senior citizen board members in my first director's job to my young colleagues in Ukraine who push museums forward despite some pretty serious hurdles.

So stop complaining about generations and get looking around.  Find the creative people in your organization or in your community and begin working with them--no matter what age.  Get going!


Anonymous said...

I could not agree more! I have always disliked generalizations based upon age categories.

Anonymous said...

" But at the same time, I know colleagues older than I am who are pushing towards new ideas and understandings and young colleagues who are elbowing their way into the field with new ideas in hand. "

I find this statement the exception as opposed to the norm...and I look to the Board of Directors as the over all strength of any organization. (As a hard nosed 'grant giver' - does the BoD want a title or are they leading and producing income?)

Linda Norris said...

Hi Anonymouses! Thanks for both your comments--I have to admit, I do use these generalizations sometimes, but struggle to make them be more than just that, a generalization. And #2--I hadn't necessarily thought about the Board of Directors when I wrote this, though of course absolutely true--and opens that eternal debate about boards and raising money. Will be interesting to see what happens as new generations move into board leadership roles--a quick google search turns up a multitude of posts/links about millenial giving, but they seem to disagree--so what will those new boards look like? But I do agree, boards need to take the lead in framing the kind of organization they lead (forward thinking, creative, or stuck in the mud). Another post to come perhaps! Thanks both for commenting!

Anonymous said...

There are more ominous results that go with age than stereotyping --age discrimination. I was laid off from my position several years ago and the others laid off at my institution were as old or older than I was at the time (57). Three months before I was laid off I went on a job interview at an academic institution and was told to my face by a dean a few years older than I was at the time that she wouldn't hire someone who would just arrive and retire. I aced the interview but they hired someone 10 yrs younger than me. I could go on with other similar stories from other colleagues.