Starting the Conversation on Workplace Ageism

Patti Temple Rocks

By Alyssa Damato

Many people envision workplace discrimination as issues relating to race, gender and sexual orientation…but how many would say age?

I’ll be the first to admit that ageism is not something I initially think of when it comes to diversity and inclusion. However, this reinforces the importance of why we should actively contribute to the ageism conversation.

If you are a young professional reading this, you may be wondering why this is relevant to you. You likely have not experienced age discrimination in your career and are far from it. The first time Patti Temple Rocks encountered it, she was not directly affected by it either, but her mentor, a woman in a high-ranking position at one of America’s largest global companies, was. At the time, Temple Rocks wasn’t even quite sure what was going on. It was a gut feeling that told her something wasn’t right.

“I remember when it was happening and my mentor’s boss, the CEO of our company, said ‘I think she’s been with us for a very long time and she’s just tired’, and I didn’t realize at the time but now understand that saying someone was tired was sort of a euphemism for saying they’re old.”

Now, years down the line, Temple Rocks serves as a spokesperson for those facing workplace ageism, as she herself has fallen prey to it.

“In my case, I don’t think it was intentional ageism, and it often isn’t, but I was put into a job that didn’t feel as purposeful or meaningful as anything I’d ever had up until then and it felt like a sideline job when I wasn’t ready to be moved out of the game.”

From serving as the Managing Director for the Chicago office of Golin to sitting on Leo Burnett’s Global Leadership Council and even creating an award-winning rebrand campaign as the Chief Brand and Reputation Officer for Dow Chemical, Temple Rocks has seemingly done it all, as she has made noise in the PR, advertising, corporate and start-up worlds.

The accomplishment she holds the most pride in, however, is her book “I’m Not Done: It’s Time to Talk About Ageism in the Workplace”. Once Temple Rocks started writing blog posts about her experience with ageism, she began to receive an overwhelming amount of feedback. That is how the idea to write a book came to life.

Currently serving as a Senior Partner at ICF Next, Temple Rocks is able to work flexibly — well, that is only if you count the time-sheet. When she isn’t in the office, she is still working around the clock and even dedicates every Monday to “ageism stuff”.

In order to prevent ageism, we need to be aware of the unconscious bias and other factors that allow it to exist. When speaking with Temple Rocks, three main points stood out.

1. Society has made it acceptable to take age less seriously

Have you ever found yourself jokingly calling someone a grandma or grandpa? Even when you go down the card aisle at a grocery store, there are cards making fun of people over the hill. Now close your eyes and try to picture a card making fun of someone for their race, gender or religion.

2. Victims are hesitant to speak up

Most people who face ageism are close to potentially retiring or doing something else with their life. They often remain quiet because they don’t want to rock the boat knowing they will most likely be looking for consulting or a referral from their company.

3. Lack of training

When companies send an employee for some sort of training, they tend not to send anyone over the age of 40 which is often based off an assumption that the employee want to learn anything new. Then, 10 years later in a performance review they say “well, you haven’t really kept up with social trends”.

Though ageism is never acceptable, Temple Rocks emphasizes that age should not be a right of passage either. Just because someone wants to work until they are 85, doesn’t give them the right to.

“You have to be good and you have to provide value. Nobody owes any of us a job, you have to earn it and earn it every day.”

Temple Rocks left me off with a challenge that I believe everyone should participate in. Whether you’re speaking with an aunt, uncle, your parents, your friend’s parents, etc., start the conversation about ageism. Odds are, you will hear stories of people who have been through it or are currently dealing with it.

Age is an asset that brings wisdom and experience to the table. As PR practitioners, we should always strive to promote the message that “It’s not OK to make assumptions about someone’s value to the workplace just because of how many birthdays they’ve had”.

Patti’s book, “I’m Not Done: It’s Time to Talk About Ageism in the Workplace,” is available through Amazon and other booksellers.

Alyssa Damato is a #PRADProud graduate student at DePaul University. When not plotting ways to become TikTok famous – is balancing campaign work, trying to be funny on Twitter and obsessively redesigning her resume on Photoshop.

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