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Is ageism the last acceptable bastion of workplace prejudice?

The subtle and invisible bias against being older still has huge consequences for women in the workplace, writes Angela Barnet

All week on The Spinoff we are delving into our relationship with the world of work in Aotearoa. For more Work Week stories, click here.

Margo Timmins, lead singer with the veteran band Cowboy Junkies, tells a story about a young male journalist, 20-ish, approaching her after a gig in Canada. She was in her early 50s and when they met he spluttered out: “I didn’t realise you were so old.” Timmins laughs, remembering how he was not only disappointed but visibly upset. How dare she be old! And how is it possible that she still be talented and command presence on stage? Admittedly, Timmins’ job as a band-fronting touring musician is associated with youth, but ageism is rife in many fields.

And when sexism and ageism combine, it’s a potent combination. Add to the mix any other marginalisation – ethnicity, gender identification, sexual orientation – and being older and non-male just gets even harder. It all becomes a subtle concoction of microaggressions – tiny slights and oversights – that might not seem like much individually, but over time can add up to death (or unemployment, or less pay) by a thousand cuts.

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