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Etiquette and Ageism

June 25, 2018


I went to a fundraising dinner this week where I was reminded of the questions about table etiquette. People were asking their neighbors which glass was theirs and which fork to use. It reminded me of setting the table for dinner for my mother. My mother was a snob when it came to setting the table for a meal. In order for my sister and I to learn the “right way” to set a table, she would often tell us that we were having soup or fish with dinner. This had to be interpreted by us as having to add the correct cutlery (utensils), namely soup spoons or fish knives and forks as well as knowing each piece’s position in relation to the main courses’ place setting. Another vestige of imperialism that I was reminded of in a movie I watched recently was the chauffeur being told, as he reached for a cup of tea, that he was not entitled to using the good china, that the everyday china for his use was in the kitchen.


People become anxious and interested in the importance of etiquette when a standard that they are or not familiar with exists. This can be used as an excuse for discriminatory behavior. The dictionary definition of etiquette is the customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group.


I do not think that the behavior of ageism that exists towards our younger generation of workers, managers and entrepreneurs is fair or polite, yet it has become customary to have strong biases influencing the ways in which young people are perceived and treated in business. There are so many biases against young people in the workplace that have no foundation at all, except in the judgments made by those complaining about “those Millennials.”

It is not etiquette to be rude and exclusionary in any circumstance.


My friend and colleague, Rachel Saathoff, recently published her blog "Earning A Seat at the Table" on this topic. Please read it.


Here is what you can do as a leader:

  • Call ageism out when you observe it.

  • Encourage your managers to find something positive to replace the negativity

  • Model true inclusion in your behavior


This will develop dignity and trust across all ages and create a desirable workplace for all.


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