Defy Ageism in the Workplace with “Younger”

June 29, 2017

Turn frothy fun into a tool to fight discrimination. Season 4 returned June 28th at 10:00 PM ET and explores relationships, workplace drama, and ageism.

Photo Credit: TV Land

You’re a 40-year-old woman whose marriage just ended and you need to get back into the workforce after raising your daughter, but that’s easier said than done. Especially if you want a job in the publishing industry, which idolizes the young. So what do you do? You lie about your age, of course.

At least that’s what you do if you’re Liza Miller, the protagonist of TV Land’s Younger, which returned for its fourth season on June 28.

Liza, played to perfection by Sutton Foster, can pass for the 26-year-old she claims to be. Which is the double-edged sword of this show (and, as it turns out, Foster’s life). A woman of a certain age who can pass for a younger woman can use her youthful qualities to her advantage — but why should she have to?

Younger (a show we love so much we’ve written about it before) may seem like nothing but a hilarious romp, yet it’s so much more. It’s a wise and witty look at ageism in the modern workplace. At every turn, Liza must face facts about the way women are perceived as they age.

According to AARP, 64 percent of older workers say that they have either witnessed or personally experienced ageism in the workplace, and 58 percent of workers believe that ageism begins when workers reach the age of 50. Ageism is very real, and Younger reminds viewers of that every single week.

Even though she’s living a lie, Liza is rewarded for her “youth.” She not only lands a coveted job, but also captivates a 20-something boyfriend and befriends her colleague, Kelsey, also in her 20s. She even captures the romantic attention of her charming boss, Charles, which her 40-something editor, Diana, couldn’t manage despite her best efforts, although he’s her age. Younger frequently underscores the reality for many women, especially as they age: Having it all is much harder than it seems, something the new season is exploring more deeply than ever.

As Season 4 begins (spoilers ahead!), Liza must decide whether to come clean to more of the people in her new life and is facing the consequences of her honesty. This increasingly dynamic, insightful storyline provides excellent creative fodder for organizations seeking to amplify the issue of ageism in the workplace.

Although we love a good story for its entertainment value, we know it’s most effective as a communication tool if it’s tied to one of AndACTION’s strategic aims. Here are some ways to leverage this storyline. Be sure to tag the show in social media posts and use relevant hashtags.

Spotlight a problem. Although Liza finds a way around her problem by lying, most people can’t lie about their age to land a job (falsified identity documents, anyone?). Even more important, age should never be a factor when considering someone’s professional abilities. Live-tweet episodes when they air (Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET) and use #YoungerTV to start a conversation that asks people to share and discuss their real-life experiences with ageism in the workplace.

Challenge stereotypes. Why does someone like Liza — who is willing to take an entry-level job and salary for an opportunity — have to lie about her age? Because stereotypes about hiring older workers exist. In fact, in the pilot episode a potential employer essentially tells Liza she’s too old. Yet Liza defies every stereotype about what a 40-year-old woman looks and acts like. She’s perceived as young and hip because, frankly, she IS young and hip. Create memes or gifs that pull from past episodes to highlight all the ways Liza defies stereotypes.

Create a social norm. What, exactly, does it mean to be “a woman of a certain age”? Younger proves that it’s not what people think. Liza — and her best friend and contemporary, Maggie — are adventurous and bold, both in their professional and personal lives. There’s no reason for women who are 40+ to be confined by society’s perceptions of them. Invite your networks to submit stories of how they’ve broken down the barriers of what the world expects people to be as they age. Post them to your blog, releasing them just ahead of new episodes or in anticipation of the season finale in August.

Aging is a fact of life, but ageism in the workplace doesn’t have to be. Younger provides a perfect opportunity to use the power of pop culture to get more people thinking — and talking — about ageism and how to change the way the world sees older adults.

Do you want to implement an activism campaign that incorporates pop culture? Thanks to our generous donors, AndACTION can help philanthropic, nonprofit and other social good organizations arrange social media campaigns, Twitter chats, film screenings, pop culture pivots and many other meaningful activities to spark change. Our services are free of charge. For more information and support, please email us at info@andaction.org.

By Amy Lynn Smith for AndACTION