Having started out in business at a fairly young age (21), I used to often face the inevitable question (from customers and suppliers alike) whether my competency was linked to my age. It came in a pretty simple form, the old “how old are you” question. In fact, I remember when James and I started Au Pair Link, we were conducting a host family interview when the parents stopped us half way through our sales pitch to ask us that very question (for the record, at the time I was 22 and James was 26).
James caught his breath faster than me, then quickly replied ‘I am unsure what that has to do with our service or what we are able to deliver to you’. From then on, I became acutely aware that our business wasn’t only judged by our service, but by our youth.
I find ageism in business extremely widespread and often socially accepted. For some reason, people tend to take objection to ageism toward an older generation, but for some reason when the older generation judges the young ones based on age, it’s OK. We get flooded with messages re generation ‘y, z and the millennials’ and we like to brand their behaviour to their age, rather than their personality.
Umm… right. Let me tell you, this is not an OK (or vaguely acceptable) approach. At My Food Bag, we employ a youthful, dynamic crew who are constantly thrown challenges and obstacles and they manage it like seasoned pros.
It doesn’t have anything to do with their age.
It’s all to do with their experience and ability to learn fast.
I was recently given a book which verbalised my utter distain for ageism. On the back it read, ‘I have been you. But you haven’t been me, yet … You should listen.’ When I read this, I wanted to explode. Not only is it incredibly patronising, but it assumes that I am identical to you, or if I’m not, that I should be. And the fact of the matter is that you are not me and you haven’t been me, and moreover, I’m quite happy being me (thanks very much).
Thankfully, we’re all individuals with our own set of ideas, experiences and exposure. So trying to make me listen to you just because you have age on your side, won’t make me any more likely to take your advice.
So does that mean that I’m a poor listener? My entire role centres around listening. I spend my days listening to our customers, to our team, to our suppliers. I don’t manage many day-to-day tasks, I simply spend my days listening.
I see my job as very simple – to listen and to act. Nowadays, the action is even simpler as it’s executed through coaching. But I don’t listen to people because they’re older than me, I listen to them because I value their opinion.
What does listening mean to me? Well, I listen to people who understand and talk to our customers, suppliers and team members. I listen to people who are solution-focused and understand the needs of all parties at play. I listen to these people because I enjoy their feedback and advice. And ultimately, I listen to them not because of their age, but because of their experience and ability to learn fast.