Older Women & Friends

Slaying the Ageism Dragon with Janine Vanderburg

November 30, 2023 Jane Leder
Older Women & Friends
Slaying the Ageism Dragon with Janine Vanderburg
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers


Janine Vanderburg is one of those women I’d want to be on my team. I don’t know if she can play pickleball, but I do know that her commitment to, as she says, “slaying the ageism dragon”  is vital—some might say all-consuming. She does a lot of great stuff, but it is “Changing The Narrative,” the organization she founded in 2018 that has been the leader in working to change how people think, talk, and act about ageism, that has garnered national recognition.  And that’s no easy task because the stereotypes about older people in this country run deep.  This episode is a rousing exploration of what makes Janine tick and how her childhood helped groom her to call out what’s “unfair” and to do something about it.

 

https://changingthenarrativeco.org/intergenerational-conversations/in-the-news/

https://medium.com/@janine_44604

https://www.ucdenver.edu/change-makers/people/janine-vanderburg

https://www.linkedin.com/in/janinevanderburg/

https://twitter.com/encore_janine?lang=en

https://encorenetwork.org/janine-vanderburg/

https://encore.org/janine-vanderburg/

https://www.facebook.com/janine.vanderburg/

 

 

 





Speaker 1:

Do you feel overlooked and invisible because you're an older woman? Have you had those age jump days when you look in the mirror and swear that you're looking at your mother? Do you feel the clock ticking and wonder whether you have enough time to check off all the items on your bucket list? Hello, I'm Jane Leder and I'm the host of Older Women and Friends, a podcast about and four older women that kick stereotypes to the curb. We older women are the keepers of stories, and guests on Older Women and Friends share their stories about love, loss, dreams, friendships. But let's not kid ourselves Aging can be a messy, complex affair, but older women have been around the block a few times and learned a thing or two, and this podcast celebrates their lessons. So put in your earbuds and join me on Older Women and Friends. Janine Vandenberg is one of those women whom I'd like to be on my team. I don't know if she can play pickleball, but I do know that her commitment to, as she says, slaying the ageism dragon is strong, very strong. She does a whole bunch of great stuff, but it is changing the narrative. The organization she founded in 2018 that has been the leader in working to change the way people think, act and talk about ageism and, believe me, that's no easy task because the stereotypes about older people in this country run deep. But rather than me rambling on, I'd like to welcome Janine and, in conversation, find out what makes her tick and how and why she got into the anti-ages and movement. Janine, welcome to Older Women and Friends.

Speaker 2:

Janine, thank you so much and I absolutely love that introduction. I think that's the best introduction anyone has done with me ever, so thank you.

Speaker 1:

So what's your childhood like?

Speaker 2:

Whoa, that's a big question. So my childhood was like and this may have been a predictor of how I end up in later life trying to slay the ageism dragon my parents probably would have said that I grew up saying it's not fair, it's not fair. I was the oldest of five children that my mom had in seven years. I grew up in an immigrant neighborhood in New Bedford, massachusetts, and the daughter of a mother in an immigrant family that sent the boys to school but not the girls. So my mother had always wanted to go to college. That was a really important turn. When she was age 60, she looked at my dad and said Ray, I'm going to college. And she did. And she graduated four years later, not only fluent in her native French and, of course, english, but also in Spanish and Portuguese, graduated magna cum laude. So I had this really powerful force of nature role model for the idea that it's not too late, dreams don't have an expiration date and we should pursue things that we think are right. My parents both also had a very strong, I think, sense of right and wrong, so I think I inherited that and outside of that, I think it was a typical childhood growing up in the 50s, early 60s.

Speaker 1:

Fabulous. I love asking that question because, ultimately, most of the guests come around to I think that may be the way I am today kind of response. And what was your experience with older people, either in your family, excluding your parents and grandparents, or people in the neighborhood?

Speaker 2:

So, again, grew up in an immigrant neighborhood in New Bedford, massachusetts. My family with French Canadian, there are the Portuguese, the Puerto Ricans, the Polish, et cetera, and everybody I grew up in. We've lived downstairs. My immediate family and I my grandparents lived upstairs. My other grandparents lived two blocks away. We had aunts and uncles all around everybody that I knew also very similar right. So when people talk intergenerationally now, like we have to do this much effort intergenerationally was my household, my block, my everything around me. So it always seemed weird to me when I find out that there were people who didn't grow up that way. That was the way I grew up, so I never thought of people as being older and younger. It was just these are people in the neighborhood, these are my friends, my parents' friends, my grandparents.

Speaker 1:

And we have to work so hard today, it seems, in terms of accomplishing what was so natural to many of us growing up, at least when we did grow up in the 40s, 50s and at this point we're spread all over the country, if not all over the world and to make these connections, what does it take, actually, for those of us who are those people who are not lucky enough to have friends of very different ages, either extremely older or younger?

Speaker 2:

So that's such a great question, jane, because I think part of it is like we actually need to make an effort, and part of it. I always think of things not individually, but how are they related to a larger system? And when you think of how things are organized now, how our housing patterns are organized right, we have, quote, senior living and we have places where older people are supposed to go and we're all supposed to hang out by ourselves, right? What's that about? I think in school there are very few opportunities, although that is starting to change with, I think, the movement to more intergenerational connection. But we hit like children go to school together and then youth go to school together, and then colleges and universities are starting to become more diverse and more, quote, age friendly, but we don't have a lot of opportunities. So I think it's kind of up to us to, I want to say, make the effort. I have never personally this is probably a controversial thing to say just understood the purpose of intergenerational connection, just for that. But I do see, I think of the kind of things that I'm passionate about, that I've been involved with things like political campaigns, where I tend to volunteer for local political campaigns, and so I'm constantly encountering younger people and older people who care about the same candidate, the same issue and that kind of thing. So I think, when things are organic, instead of setting up here is our quotes, and I'm putting senior in quotes here is our senior center, here is our youth center. Or even many towns and cities have things like commissions, and we have a commission on aging and we have a commission on youth, and why don't we just have intergenerational commission? So people who care about making your community better are working together towards that end.

Speaker 1:

So, talking about making the effort, I'm so curious to know whether it was a seminal personal experience or whether it was just a combination of experiences over the years that prompted you to get so involved in the anti-ages and movement and, secondarily, to actually found a very important organization.

Speaker 2:

The idea of reframing aging and changing our language and communications is important, but the root cause, what we were really dealing with, was ageism. I was on that path because I was always someone who had said it's not fair and we can do something about it. It's why I started my consulting firm. And my consulting firm was really started because it was very hard for women to raise a family and be in the traditional workforce. So I just said I'm starting my own thing and our first 25 employees were all women. Our initial password who? Was 25 smart women, but we believe we started consulting firm basically about recruiting really smart women but who wanted kind of some flexibility in their lives to be able to raise family or other pursuits, and so we did flexible and part-time hours long before that was popular. Since starting changing the narrative in 2018 and doing workshops and talking to especially older women all the time, the stories that I hear would drive me now. So the stories that I hear of women my age so I turned 70 this year and women my age who need to work, who face all the economic disadvantages that women of our generation faced. Right, we were paid less over a lifetime, we are more likely to have stepped out of the workforce, take care of children, take care of older family members, and that shows up economically right For older women so much more likely to be economically insecure, thank you. And so that continues to drive the work that we do now. And the other interesting thing that happened because you started this conversation by talking about intergenerational was the opportunity to talk to so many young women and realize that the same reasons for which I started consulting for that work really isn't friendly to women of any age. They're still dealing with. When I try to encourage younger women don't step out of the workforce, because here's what it looks like on the other end, when you do this right, because I talked to older women all the time and why I was so, both heartened but not surprised. So I'm sure you saw a Harvard Business Review published a study a few months ago by a group of fabulous women researchers and basically the thrust of it was there's no right age to be a woman in the workforce. We are either too young, right, and we don't have enough experience, we're too cute and all of that. Then there's that sort of mid-level. Well, we're just going to take off time and go to our kids soccer games. Yes, I did. And then, all of a sudden magic the expiration date stamp is put on our forehead and we're too old. So to me, what is really important it's thinking of the how age and our race and our sex come together and how we need to lift each other up. So I recently was named one of the top 25 powerful women in business in Colorado. Congratulations, congratulations. It was an award, it was a nice award, but when someone interviewed me, I was like you know what we can all do? We can all. Instead of pulling the ladder up right or just saying, okay, I got through it, I feel like all of us have an obligation. That's why I love the podcast that you're doing. Right. We need to elevate the voices of other women, because people don't do that. So kudos for you for doing what you're doing, thank you. There's this phase of life that previous generations didn't have the opportunity to enjoy in the same way that we've got this longer life right. For the most part, we're living longer and, for the most part, most of us are living healthier lives. Pandemic notwithstanding and systemic health inequities and all the other things I talk about notwithstanding, but most of us are living longer and healthier lives and we've got this accumulated right wisdom and experience and insight. What do we do with that? What do we do with that? Do we just step out of the world? Retirement means, when you think of the French origin since I'm a French origin, I think of French origin of things means retreat, right. Do we just retreat and go play golf, hang out on the beach my initial idea. Do we just do that? Or like, how do we use that? How do we use that? And whether it's to help in the workplace, in our communities, volunteering, in encore, entrepreneurship, there are so many paths right, and what we know is that if we are able to infuse this encore stage of life with meaning and purpose, we're going to live longer and healthier. Right, so there's a giving back portion, but it's also good for us. How do we do the strategic plan for this next phase of life? How do we have a vision, how do we set goals and how do we, most important, draw on the strengths that we have? The concept that I've been popularizing lately is the idea of, instead of all of us writing bucket lists, I want to fly out of an airplane, I want to go to wherever I want to go. It's like how about if we create our anti-bucket list here are the things that we never want to do again, so that we can focus our tongue and our legacy on the things that we really want to do? So I think a lot about anti-bucket lists and encourage people to develop those.

Speaker 1:

That sounds wonderful. Actually, I think I'm going to do mine as soon as we finish here. Through instructions, through felt instructions. I've been talking to obviously a lot of women and I'll use the birthday cards as an example. Honestly, some of them are really funny. And then, when there was the campaign, I forget what cut on the bias or the bias cut said, but it was basically hi, my name is Jane, I'm 78 and I look my age and people are saying, well, yeah, but what's wrong with not looking your age? In other words, they're brushing up against this and I'm not always sure how to respond.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, such a great question. So a couple of things. So the say your age campaign I'm with two minds about and I say my age when I turn 70 in March. And so people started saying to me because of the word, you look great for your age and I'm like I just look this like. I look like me, only older, I get in 70. Or people would say things like 70 is the new 40, 70 is the new 50. I'm like, no, it's not. I was like I've been 40. I had young children when I was 40. I've been 50. I was growing my business when I was 50. I've been 60. I've been all of those and now I'm looking forward to 70 and what that's going to bring right. So the Say your Age campaign I think for some of us, like for me, it's a privilege to be able to say my age because in a way I'm self-employed. I started this stuff. No one is quote going to fire me, but would I encourage a woman in her 60s who is looking for her job to, quote, say her age? Absolutely not. Age discrimination is real if you're looking for your job. I championed, and we successfully got passed in Colorado this year, what I call a graduation date bill. It was called the Job Application Fairness Act, but it bans employers from asking for age or graduation dates on job applications and the reason that's important. There was a study last year that showed 38% of hiring managers across UX actually admitted to screening it out based on her age. Right, these are just the ones who admitted it right. Think of all of those who didn't admit it. So I think the things like Say your Age are a little bit dangerous, I think, for some of us. Of course, I can go ahead and say my age, but if I were looking for a job, would I be out there saying I'm Janine Vandenberg and I'm 70? And probably not. I think we've got to be careful. I also know from the research and from my work and my experience of changing the narrative is that internalized ageism is real and it actually the older we get, the more we have internalized ageism, the more we are ages against ourselves. Now there's a theory, jane, that is true, because we've been exposed to ages messages for that much longer. Right, and that to me, why changing the narrative has done birthday card campaigns was to call. It was a fun way to call attention to internalized ageism. So some of those cards on their face are funny. But then if we have the ability to step back and say what is funny about women telling other women well, you're all saggy and boozy and everything at this age, is that something we would say to a friend? And I think, now that we are all becoming familiar with Dr Becalevis research and her book Breaking the Age Code, and we know that having those ages beliefs about ourselves actually affects our physical and mental health, our longevity by seven and a half years, our likelihood of developing dementia, I think that gives us pause and reason to think about. Do we really want to do, do we want to send these ages messages to each other? So that's one. It's like how we're interacting with each other. And I think the other thing because I spent so much time on the issue of workplace age discrimination and mostly because of the number of older women that I've seen really having to scrape by when those ages cards are out there on a shelf, when they're out there on the internet it's not just if I send you an ages birthday card, jane, it's not just between you and me. That thing has been sitting there, people are seeing it and that reinforces the negative images and stereotypes that people have about older women. So we can talk to each other about it, very similar to in our earlier days. It's a way of having a consciousness, raising groups and saying, hey look, we know this exists. A great thing to do. And again I think everything is better with a group of friends which again I love your title a group of friends. We could look at a night of television together and the advertisements. We could browse through magazines together although magazines are much harder to find these days and whatever and just look at, we can catalog the messages that they're sending us all the time. Some are very deliberate. They say anti-aging and to be anti-aging is to be anti-ourselves. But we can look at that. We can look at. I posted on Instagram, I think about a year ago, about this, so I think during the pandemic, a lot of us took to shopping online. So all of a sudden I'm finding these catalogs in my mailboxes and these catalogs are and I'm gonna say they're of clothing companies I'm not gonna mention them here, but of the gear to women my age right, because younger women probably can't put a lot of these clothes and they're like there was not a picture of a model over age 30 in it and I'm like, I know who buys your clothes. Why are you doing this? But even so, doing that helps us, I think, recognize what the issue is educating ourselves more. But then we need I believe that we need to speak up about it. I mean, people can join the movement at Change in the Narrative. We offer lots of opportunities. We've got an intergenerational conversation toolkit. If you wanna host something in your community, we have monthly coffee chats where people can join and we can just talk about what we do in these coffee chats as we create what we call Speak Up Charts. So very often many of us, as older women, have had experience with, we go into a healthcare provider, right, and they start talking to us. Hi, mrs V, how are you? And I'm like are you talking to me?

Speaker 1:

What are you doing?

Speaker 2:

So, whether it's elder, speak or someone ignoring your symptoms or something, but we literally what we did in the coffee chat and there were a lot of women there we created a speak up chart. Your healthcare provider says this and it's ages. Here's a nice way, a respectful way, because we're not about calling people out. I'm not going to point fingers at people and say, oh, that was really awful. I'm trying to gently educate people. So there are a lot of things we can do but educating ourselves, reaching out across generations.

Speaker 1:

And speaking about good causes, and we'll probably have to wrap it up, even though I've got a ton more questions and I'm curious what is the most surprising or interesting truth that you've uncovered in the work that you do? That's a toughie, I know, but whatever springs to mind right off the bat, Jane and this is not an evasive answer.

Speaker 2:

It's like whatever I have learned most recently. So what I mean by that is, when I started changing the narrative, recall that I said it was going to be a reframing aging initiative. So I'm running around then, only in the state of Colorado, doing in-person workshops, and at every single workshop I went to, people would come up to me and say you know, that workplace age discrimination thing you talked about, it happened to me, it happened to my partner, it happened to my dad, my mom, and I'm like okay, that was really interesting, right. So from that we started doing our age-friendly workplace initiative. Every time I have a conversation with someone, I am learning new truths about how age has some effects, as in ways that we can't imagine. So it depends on the latest person I've talked to. So there's not one truth. If there's one truth, it is that it is pervasive. But the corollary is we can do something about it. Stuff works when I have conversations with people, even people who start out like this, calling me a woke lunatic, we get there, because when people start thinking, oh, and I'm just going to narrate one more story, I know we need to wrap up. I was talking to a relatively young reporter who was interviewing me and I think it was about the birthday card campaign and he was like why birthday cards? And I was explaining that they're sitting there and employers are seeing it. And he was like tell me more about employers. And I started explaining workplace age discrimination and how it works and he said that's what's happening to my mom. He had no idea. He thought it was his individual mother who was having a hard time having a job and he was feeling bad about it. He had no idea that it was a systemic issue, right. So every time we talk to someone, we learn something. Last year, I'm happy to say, I had the privilege of talking to people in all 50 states and the UNS and 43 countries outside. So ageism isn't just a few people, right, it's pervasive, it's worldwide and we can also do something about it and people are stepping up to do that.

Speaker 1:

And you certainly are stepping up to the plate and I'm very appreciative of that. I'm sure there are a ton of people out there that are as well.

Speaker 2:

Jane, thank you for your patience. One of the things is people don't know about changing the nerve is we are a very small team. We are three very part-time people. People think we are this huge thing. We're not, so what that means is that we're speaking a lot and running around and doing all of this stuff. So you were always on my list and I finally got to look back on LinkedIn. So I'm glad that you're on LinkedIn and connected with me there. It's a great place. Thank you so much. Deeply appreciated. Thank you, jane, and thank you for the work you're doing and the fact that you have a podcast with the term older women in it in its name, I think is part of slaying the ageism dragon. So thank you.

Speaker 1:

Oh good, Thank you very much. Thank you so much for joining me on this episode of Older Women and Friends. Speaking of friends, please tell yours about this podcast and if you'd like to contact me with comments or suggestions, you can email me at olderwomenandfriendspodcastsatgmailcom. And while you're at it, please take a few minutes to write a review. It's really easy. Go to Apple Podcasts, type in older women and friends, scroll down the page and click on Reviews. Until next time, I'll see you then.

Changing the Narrative
Navigating Retirement and Challenging Ageism
Thanking Jane for Connecting on LinkedIn