Dealing with age discrimination or ageism in dental hygiene is real – in fact, unfortunately, it’s real in every profession.
Ironically, as a coach, I hear about it on both ends. New hygienists feel they don’t get a fair shake because they don’t have much or any professional experience. And veteran hygienists feel they don’t get the green light because they are too experienced.
Interestingly, occurrences of age discrimination are only recognized by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in people over the age of 40. In other words, an employer can legally use age as a reason to hire a job seeker that is older than another job seeker, even if both are over the age of 40. Sorry new grads!
Age discrimination, however, can include other situations besides hiring, such as firing, compensation, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, trainings, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.
But today I will be sticking with hiring or job seeking situations only. Because there are things you can do to deal with ageism in dental hygiene hiring situations. But rather than tell you to do this or do that, I’ll just share some things to consider and you can decide what steps make the most sense for you.
Proving and Reporting It
Please first understand that ageism, like other forms of discrimination, can be extremely hard or impossible to prove. Sure, when someone says or writes about it openly, they should be reported. If you have evidence of ageism in dental hygiene, report it to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
However, many employers keep their thoughts and biases inward, and then proceed to openly base their decision on other superficial factors. And, I believe, there’s a separate category I call “subtle ageism” that I will talk more about below.
I am all for transparency and forcing people to hire fairly – no question about that. And, hopefully, karma or the legal system will catch up to employers who discriminate in any form. But beyond that, would you ever want to work for someone who discriminates based on the year you were born? If you sense someone discriminated against you based on age, consider it a blessing in disguise.
It’s a proven fact that people who discriminate in one way are often guilty of discriminating in other ways. The problem isn’t your age, the problem is that particular employer’s judgment, wisdom, and even common sense. They put superficial things ahead of ethics, and more meaningful objectives and goals.
Think about that. They put things that don’t matter ahead of things that do matter – even ahead of business prosperity. Is that the kind of employer you want to represent and refer patients you have built a relationship of trust to?
Now, let me touch on what I would characterize as “subtle ageism.” I believe this strikes at a much larger sub-section of employers. I believe most employers do care more about prosperity over discrimination. I believe most employers will hire someone who is experienced or in-experienced, and base it on who they feel is going to help prosper their practice.
Subtle ageism, to me, is the kind where an employer will unwittingly or subconsciously base hiring decisions on assumptions or stereotypes tied to age.
For example, they may really like the personality and skill set of a specific new graduate, but because they are young and inexperienced ASSUME they will not stay long-term with the practice. Another example: the employer may really like how skilled and friendly the hygienist with 30 years of experience, but because they are older, ASSUME they will demand a higher wage.
And thus, a more subtle form of ageism is born. And, this, I believe, is far more common than the more blatant form discussed earlier.
How to Deal with Subtle Ageism in Dental Hygiene
Again, I won’t tell you things you should do, but think about busting the myths in your own way. Because, honestly, there are lots of ways you can influence an employer’s thinking about your ability to fit in and be the perfect hygienist.
Evaluate Your E-mail Address
I admit I have an e-mail address I use that hints at my age (email@example.com). No, I am not 88 years old (ha!)! But I couldn’t get firstname.lastname@example.org at the time, so I added the year I graduated from high school. Oops! I just dated myself!
People do this, but if I’m worried about ageism in dental hygiene I would choose something else to give employers. End speculation by leaving numbers out. If you can’t get email@example.com then choose something that conveys a spirit of optimism or professionalism. For example, firstname.lastname@example.org or cindyRDH@gmail.com.
Your Work History
There’s no rule or requirement in resume writing for including an entire work history. In fact, it would be less favorable to include jobs that are irrelevant to dental hygiene. Consider leaving a few early-career jobs off – especially temp jobs when you are a 20 or 30-year veteran. All that matters is what you have done lately (last 10-20 years is plenty).
Leave High School in the Past
A lot of younger hygienists tend to include high school graduation in their education history. It takes up space and doesn’t mean much, no offense to those awesome years of your youth!
A second tip for new graduates is to add that first temp job to your resume as fast as you can. Your objective would be to put as much space between your professional life and school life as you possibly can when you first start out.
Postcards are a great equalizer for everyone – you don’t have to indicate anywhere on them your years of experience (unless you want to). So a new grad can show the confidence of a veteran, and a veteran can exude the tech-savvy perceived image of new grads.
Unlike your work experience, I believe (as do others) it’s okay to leave graduation years off your resume. Degrees and licensure matter more. The year you completed that first degree can be something used to calculate your age. Leave it on if you like, but leave it off if you are concerned about ageism in dental hygiene hiring situations.
Pictures can do a lot to show or hide your age. If you choose to include a picture on your resume, my best advice is to hire it out. Dress in interview-ready attire or a lab coat, and try to get several different poses to choose from. Tell the photographer the look you want – fun, serious, professional, experienced, or whatever you feel best exemplifies your brand. Good photographers will know how to help you achieve that.
I always suggest leaving hobbies off your resume, mostly because they do nothing to tell an employer about how great a hygienist you are. However, if you are concerned about your age being a problem for someone and you are actually quite active (exercise and such), then that’s something you could consider adding to counter a false assumption that you are older and slower.
Again, I don’t generally recommend including hobbies, but this is one possible exception to consider.
Technology is another area where younger people have an advantage because of the assumption that older hygienists grew up without computers. If you are older, you want to dispel that belief by communicating that you are tech-savvy and know your way around Dentrix, DEXIS, intraoral cameras, and other high-tech tools of the trade. List everything technical you can think of to get that point across.
It’s often assumed younger generations are glued to phones and posting things or taking pictures when they should be working. To combat that, don’t take your phone to your interview (don’t even let them see it while you are waiting). If given the chance, address the issue head-on about how you are productive with your time or something related.
Resume and Cover Letter Language
Finally, and most important of all, when I coach dental hygiene job seekers who are concerned about ageism in dental hygiene, I say “play to your strengths.” Don’t look at what you lack and fear it will keep you from finding a job, look at what you have as the key ingredient or value employers need to make their practice prosper. However, you have to be assertive in bringing those strengths to the forefront.
If you are young, use your resume and cover letter to communicate your enthusiasm and flexibility to learn how that office practices dentistry. Experienced hygienists might use them to communicate maturity and ability to effortlessly-influence patient compliance.
Whatever your unique advantages are, play to those strengths. Own them. Don’t ever let an employer walk away from your resume or interview not knowing your core strengths. That means repeating them over and over in different ways. Show them what YOU mean to THEM, and you will have fewer issues with ageism in dental hygiene hiring.
Certain movie scenes inspire me. So this week I want to share one of the most inspiring to me. And I think it plays into this topic of ageism a bit. It’s a scene from Rocky Balboa – the sixth and final movie of the Rocky series. Watch here as a much-older-Rocky tries to teach his son about never giving up. He’s a bit harsh – but he absolutely nails it!