— Blair Kahora Cardinal & Nicole Lasorda
Vogue recently posted a story, I Don’t Look My Age and It’s Starting to Get Awkward, and it struck a chord with us; so much so, that we were talking about it for a couple of days. Our conversations always started a little something like this:
Blair: In college, I went skiing with a big group of friends, and the sales person gave me the “16 and under” price. I was 21 years old. And yes, I took it.
Nicole: Oh yeah, well, I went prom dress shopping with my sister and the sales associate said, “So, let’s find you two some dresses. You guys are going to have the best prom ever!” I was 33.
Blair: Ok, then there was the time a TSA officer offered me an escort through the airport. I was confused, and when I asked why I’d need one, she said, “We like to walk everyone under 13 to their gates.” I was 20.
Nicole: Well I was denied entry into a bar at 31 years old because the bouncer insisted my ID was fake.
We are both in our mid-to-late 30s and often get mistaken for early-to-mid 20s.
We’re no strangers to the chorus of “Appreciate it while you still can,” “You’ll love it when you’re older,” and our absolute favorite, “Wah, wah, wah! Must be a nice problem to have.”
The scenarios we described above are amusing, but when they trickle over into a professional backdrop, it’s not so funny. Ageism is one of those words most often associated with an older generation, but it also happens when you have a face that looks 10 to 15 years younger than it is. And no, it doesn’t help when you wear a sensible suit with heels, hide behind a pair of glasses, put on lipstick, get a “mom ‘do,” lower the tone of your voice, speak more slowly, sit up straight—you get the idea. Why? Because people can still see your face.
We’re Assistant Vice Presidents with added titles (Blair is also Director of Media Relations, Nicole is Co-Manager of Digital Strategy). We’ve got a serious amount of experience under our belts and run very successful campaigns for our clients. However, we often get looks of “You’re so young you couldn’t understand,” or worse.
We’re not going to give you tips on ways to appear older, because clearly we haven’t mastered that technique. Instead, we’re going to make some suggestions for everyone who actually looks their age:
- Some Jokes Aren’t Funny
Think twice before making a joke like, “Do you even know what a typewriter is?” or “I have socks older than you.” While said in jest, these backhanded comments serve only to undermine a person’s professional status. You’re not-so-secretly telling the person—and everyone else participating in the meeting—that you don’t think she’s experienced enough to lead your account.
- A Third-Party Enforcer
If a new business prospect or current client makes an ageist joke about one of your employees, we urge you to come to his rescue. Please correct the offender in a respectful and light-hearted manner. Maybe something like, “Well, Mary’s first job required her to fax pitches to newsrooms, something we haven’t done for about 12 years now!” You want them to know you brought your A team for show and tell anyway, right? We worry that if we do it ourselves with an “I look a lot younger than I am,” we will seem defensive or whiney, neither of which helps our cause.
- Communication is your Friend
If you (as a potential client) are genuinely concerned about whether or not a person is old enough to handle your account, we suggest you don’t announce it in the middle of the meeting. Try, instead, to discern how much experience the employee has through questions about the types of work she’s done. This will not only allow you discover an approximate age but also give you a chance to see how killer your new account rep really is. And remember, our agency brings the people best-suited for an account to a new business meeting, so there’s a reason we’re sitting across the table.
- We Lied
We said we were giving tips to those who look their age. But, for those of you like us, here’s a tip: Just keep doing what you’re doing. Keep rocking your game. By continuing to do your job well, you don’t need to look your age. In fact, when people lower their expectations it’s all the more opportunity for you to blow it out of the water.
We’re not complaining about our looks. Believe us, we know how lucky we are. We’ll take the junior discount to the senior discount any day. But we want to be taken seriously, just like everyone else. Put yourself in our totally fabulous shoes for a minute: what if every time you met a potential client she questioned your ability to do your job – not because you didn’t have a portfolio of great work to show, but simply because you looked too young to do it. Being undermined is definitely not a perk of the baby face.