It's not what I expected.
In 2017 I was acutely aware that I was working cheek to jowl with an entirely other generation. We had different ways of looking at things, but I didn't experience conflict. Mostly there were a lot of 'aha' moments and mostly they were good. What I remember most about that year and the year that followed was the incessant Millennial bashing and I seriously didn't get it. There was a time, maybe 2010 or 2011 when a parent walked their young adult child into an interview. Said parent was stopped at the door but that didn't stop said parent from making a few follow up calls after the interview. I chalked it up to an isolated case of lunacy and moved on which, in my experience to date, is exactly what it was.
Except my generation and a half just wouldn't let that sort of thing go. I heard worse. I saw worse. In 2012 when that generation hit the workforce full force, the gigantic corporation I worked for at the time located them in the basement, so they'd be free to express their individuality without making anyone uncomfortable. I walked past them now and then and I felt uncomfortable. Then I went to work somewhere else and forgot about it.
Back to 2017. I walked away from that client with two pieces of really important information:
- I had a lot to learn from them, from the way they approached a problem, to the way they communicated, to their work ethic, AND their sense of self preservation. I WILL be taking my vacation and how this team handles my absence is the team's problem, not mine. They were right. We worked it out and they came back with fresh brains and attitudes.
- They had a lot to learn from me and in those places where they struggled, they reached out and asked for guidance or just plain help. Please, get up to your elbows because we don't get it. Can you help?
Recently, maybe the last couple of years, I run across these articles about women in the workplace, specifically over fifty and I'm not going to say old or older because that defeats my point (but not theirs). Here are some of my takeaways:
- I used to be taken seriously and now no one sees me
- I used to be a presence in the room and now I can't make myself heard
Huh? Well, that sucks. I experience myself very differently. It is much easier these days to be seen and I couldn't hide out in a meeting if I tried. On the contrary, I have to remind myself to shut up and let things fall on the ground, or not. I need to remind myself to make space for younger people to lean in and discover their own value/contribution. I say, I'm turning this over to you now and I'm going to shut up and everyone laughs but I really do my best and I think I'm getting better at it. My team is definitely getting better at staring me down now and then.
Today, I am a technical project manager which has become an official thing. They call us TPMs and the delineation between PM and TPM is extreme. So is the salary or hourly rate. Sometimes I am a developer and now and then an architect, but I try to avoid that. My lateral growth is intentional and going down the rabbit hole of what I already know defeats the purpose.
All that to say I'm still growing, rapidly even, and I have become acutely aware of the age and generation gap. A lot more to learn.
I experienced no ageism until I did. And it wasn't what I expected.
Let's be clear. I keep my hardware UP TO DATE. I'm an LLC and LLCs billing Corp to Corp generally carry in their own equipment. I'm no longer the sort of contractor that sits with the team with a decent bill rate and no protection. I'm the sort of contractor with a higher bill rate that walks in the door, gets pointed at a situation and then left to it because that's part of what I do. I work this shit out. And my hardware is UP TO DATE. My skill sets are UP TO DATE. Same as my hardware, I take care of my internal systems, and this keeps me marketable. I develop my portfolio. My LinkedIn profile no longer shows a list of companies, jobs, and responsibilities (OK, dig down and below 2016 they're still there).
My portfolio reads like a small business with a client list, but no dates, just the beginning of Heather Jefferies LLC which is 2016:
- Client (industry)
That's it. That's all I need and honestly all I should be saying right now and it's super effective in terms of marketing. I'm at my current client for three primary reasons:
- I'm implementing a system that is an unknown to me, another platform entirely, in a part of Corporate America that is largely an unknown (to me). My CV/Portfolio just put on 20 pounds.
- It's a new vertical (type of business) and that alone bumped my value.
- I really like them.
It is odd to be supporting someone who is younger than my middle child. It's not an authority thing, it's a, holy crap, what even is this thing? We are separated by thirty years. This doesn't mean I'm antiquated. It means I see and know more and she is in rapid growth mode. It's super scary to be a woman in tech in rapid growth mode. I remember. I remind myself DAILY to leave her space to just be. I remind myself DAILY to take a breath before I respond to an URGENT I NEED YOU RIGHT NOW MESSAGE. In other words, this is a really cool time and place to be and I'm enjoying it immensely except for the parts that are maddening but that is everywhere.
The metaphor: Look at that old beat-up Mac up there. We can assume some things about that beat-up old Mac up there and we'd probably be right unless. Unless the contents beneath the shell were upgraded with the latest and greatest every six months. Except that's not what we do because those old shells don't have the external ports and hardware to support the new tech.
It started slow, or I caught on late. I can't really call it ageism although maybe it is. I have a hard time calling it a microaggression, although it might well be. It is illegal to ask someone's age, marital/parental status, sexual orientation, or a bunch of other things that are pretty damn obvious. It is illegal and I'm never asked but I do volunteer. I talk about my kids, but not to everyone. Same as my marital status and sometimes even my age if it forwards a conversation/relationship.
It's not what I say. It's how I present.
It's not attitude, posture, or behavior. It's how I physically present.
It started slow and the first time I snarled because it was a jab and had nothing to do with my job. Just an asshole asking if we'd finish this project before I retired. THAT was a micro (macro?) aggression. This is the same dude who answered: biology, when I jokingly asked (as if it wasn't obvious) why I was the only woman in the room. So I can't take him seriously. Because he's an ass.
But then, this: You can be my TPM for as long as you want to keep working.
If it was, you can be my TPM for as long as you want to keep working here would have been something entirely other.
Overheard, yeah, we can put Heather on anything, and she'll kick ass but let's avoid the long term projects. I don't want her retiring in the middle of it.
In the street, talking to a neighbor who's got to have at least ten years on me, maybe?
Are you still working?
What?! Shit, woman, I've got six to seven years left and maybe more and that's just to establish the financial stability that I'd like to take with me into my next career as small chicken farmer.
Also, there's this niggling fear of what might happen when the structure is gone. That's a real thing and it can end lives fast. We get what I think of as 'actual old' when we aren't growing and I'm one of those people who needs structure. My goal is to work out how to make structure later.
I read about, hear about men who continue to work into their eighties and nineties, and they look it too. I don't hear any questions about when they will retire because they're still doing a damn fine job. I don't need to go on.
What the fuck am I going to do about this?! I could fight it should I be part of an attrition wave but I won't be because Heather Jefferies LLC has to drum up her own business. It comes down to marketing.
I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to make a business investment. It took me awhile to swallow that pill because the sort of 'business' with which we might associate this investment is shameful. Shameful to me, anyway. Why would you do that, Heather? What the hell happened to aging gracefully? Embracing every stage of what it means to be a woman. Well I'll tell you what happened. The desire to keep Heather Jefferies LLC in business outweighs the ego of Heather Jefferies (the part that says, fuck you, I think not), AND outweighs the shame associated.
Where is the primary source of shame? (other than me)
MY OWN GODDAMN GENERATION.
My peer group says: huh? yeah, your body, do what you want with it.
Well alrighty then.
I'm still not happy about it but I get it about that computer shell. I woudn't trust it either.
do you all remember Logan's Run?