Still Not Done: Fighting Ageism in the Workplace


By Lauren McGrath and Ella Tobias

Patti Temple Rocks has held a variety of titles throughout her 40 years in the communications field before ageism activist became a part of the list. But whatever title she’s holding – whether it’s writer, speaker, manager or mentor – what’s most important is that she’s still not done, and is fighting for people to have the power in making that decision.

Patti Temple Rocks

Temple Rocks has worked in public relations, advertising and marketing throughout her career, holding senior leadership positions in all three areas of communications. Describing herself a “pin ball” in the industry, her career began at Dow Chemical Company in the communicator development program where’d she come back more than two decades later as Chief Communications Officer. In between, she worked for PR agencies Golin and Lesnik (now KemperLesnik) running major accounts such as Burger King and Bacardi. She then ran her own business for 10 years before returning to Golin to run the McDonald’s account. After her return to Dow for almost four years, she then moved to Leo Burnett Worldwide to serve as Chief Reputation Officer before returning to Golin for the final time to manage the Chicago office.

Patti’s involvement with ageism started with a simple observation. After witnessing her boss, an executive woman with a long history at the company, be treated differently (and not in a good way) due to age bias, Temple Rocks said, “I had every intention of making sure that what happened to my friend and my boss never happened to me.” Despite the fact she was only in her mid-fifties at the time, Temple Rocks ended up experiencing what it felt like to be treated differently due to an incorrect (and ageist) assumption that she might be ready to stop working. As she told us, that couldn’t have been farther from the truth and the job she was offered did not feel like a substantive or needed role. In response to her initially turning down the job her boss asked, “How much longer do you want to work anyway?” and she knew it was time to move on. This common assumption that employees over 50 are looking to retire when they haven’t expressed it themselves is what Patti is working to eliminate.

For the first time in her career, she left not having another job lined up, prompting her to write to LinkedIn about her experience and including the hashtag #ImNotDone—which later became the title of her book. The post went viral and opened her eyes to how prevalent ageism is in the workplace and how nobody was talking about it. This led to her first book, I’m Not Done: It’s Time to Talk About Ageism in the Workplace, ranked as one of the nine books Every Professional Should Read in 2019 by INC Magazine. A second edition of the book, I’m STILL Not Done, came out last fall following the changes taking place in the world since 2019, such as the “Great Resignation” caused by the pandemic.

Statistics show that ageism is the most widely felt form of discrimination by far but is the least reported. A major step in fighting this discrimination is creating awareness about it. When asked what young professionals can do to help fight this stigma, Patti had straightforward yet effective advice:

  • It’s time to yell louder so people pay attention. The issue with ageism in the workplace, as is the case with many forms of discrimination, is that unaffected people are often unaware there’s a problem. The biggest thing young people can do is draw attention to it – after all, nothing can change if no one knows there needs to be one.
  • Ask questions. For many young people, especially those in their 20s just entering the workforce, age isn’t something they really think about or experienced – but it’s guaranteed that people in their lives have. Ask your loved ones if they’ve experienced discrimination and what that looked like for them – this might give you a different perspective on the issue when it’s happening to someone you know and love.
  • Don’t shy away from the subject with older generations that you work with. Many young people might find this one tricky, but Patti stresses that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask older generations at work about their years of experience – it shows you care and lets them know that they are still valued.
  • Push for employee resource groups within your organizations. Groups where different generations can come together to talk about the differences in generations can be huge for understanding and bridging people together. A group where the differences in generations can be discussed and celebrated can make the differences between them seem smaller.
  • Request internal mentorship programs. Cross-generational mentorship programs within companies can also be huge in breaking down barriers and breeding understanding. It’s also beneficial to everyone involved, as both generations can learn from one another and expand their perspectives (which, incidentally, is incredibly beneficial in the world of communications).

When asked what she believes to be the most important skills for success in the communications industry, she said empathy – which is beneficial in the field, as well as in DEI efforts. Empathy is essential in the work of communications, as success lies in getting people to feel something – which can only effectively be done if you can truly understand your audience. In the same way, Patti believes that empathy is a major factor in fighting discrimination of any kind, ageism included. DEI efforts aim to increase understanding and empathy, thereby reducing workplace discrimination.

Patti is an advocate for fighting ageism in the workplace because every age brings value to an organization – and who is it for someone else to tell a professional when they are done? There is value in all. Each generation brings its own unique perspective to the mix – as Patti said, “working together is where the magic happens.”

Lauren McGrath is a graduate student in DePaul University’s Public Relations and Advertising Program, graduating June of 2023. She works in PR doing media relations at Current Global, an IPG company.

Ella Tobias is a graduate student in DePaul University’s Public Relations and Advertising Program. Following her graduation from DePauw University in May as an English Writing major, Tobias is a full-time student studying to begin her professional career as a communications practitioner in the near future.


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