Recognizing Ageism: My DEI Story

November 3, 2022 Jeff Cole

I began my career in education well before I had officially completed my university degree. My amplified motivation for teaching and my passion for inspiring a positive, enduring impact on this future generation provided fertile ground for the development of a fixed mindset.

Instinctively, I gravitated toward a group of like-minded teachers who shared the same enthusiasm for teaching and gathered regularly for weekend parties and activities. We were not only seen as the “fun clique,” we were also recognized regularly for excellence in teaching and for our students’ high performance.

Complementing our fun clique was a group of experienced teachers who I realize, in retrospect, were also highly effective in the classroom. They boasted noteworthy, sustainable results in both their methods of teaching and their students’ performance. On many occasions they would suggest alternative strategies they thought I may want to integrate into my classroom. I recall responding to these suggestions with a smart-aleck smile, a depreciative dismissal, or apathy.

In informal professional settings such as lunchtime or after-school meetings, those of us in the fun clique isolated ourselves from the experienced group by engaging in our own private jokes and by overtly referring to activities the others had not been invited to attend. While members of both groups maintained superficially respectful relationships, collaboration and connection were absent.

I hadn’t thought much about the experience until I found myself participating in one of the first sessions of Courageous Inclusion, a new learning experience being offered by The Ken Blanchard Companies. The course is based on the work of Jennifer Brown, a globally recognized DEI thought leader and bestselling author of the book How to Be an Inclusive Leader.

During a self-reflection activity, I found myself pondering the days of my fun clique. All at once, my eyes grew large and my mouth opened wide without any sound. One single word jumped off my page: ageism.

I was completely unaware that I had shunned others based solely on the fact that they were older than me. Why was I dismissive to those who had the best intentions? What could I have learned from others like them at the start of my career that could have accelerated my personal and professional growth? How many innovative ideas and concepts could I have contributed to? How much more of an impact could I have had on the lives of those high school students?

Reflecting on My Experience with Courageous Inclusion

That moment stung, but in a healing sort of way.

I appreciate that Jennifer Brown’s work is brilliantly centered around a continuum, moving from Unaware to Aware, then to Active and Advocate. Thus, it doesn't have an end. It supports one’s sustained focus on self-awareness and provides a compass or GPS for what comes after.

My work in the inclusion and belonging arena spans a full ten years. Despite my familiarity with the subject, what truly transformed my thinking was being a participant in the Courageous Inclusion session and experiencing the application of Brown’s Inclusive Leadership continuum.

In the past I have been able to identify biases and blind spots that are close to the surface—but with the heightened awareness inspired by the Courageous Inclusion experience, I am now able to unravel some deeply entrenched biases—including ageism.

Ultimately, I view inclusion as a meta competency that guides the development of all leadership skills, mindsets, and behaviors. This is clear evidence that leaders are built from the inside, not the outside. I truly believe that Courageous Inclusion draws out the intrinsic pathway within us all. The result is not a transformed person or leader, but a leader who is authentic.


About the Author

Jeff Cole

Jeff Cole is a Solutions Architect for Blanchard®. In this role, Jeff partners with organizations to translate leadership development strategies into innovative leadership development experiences. Jeff focuses on the seamless integration of Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity initiatives and multi-generational leadership sensitivity to build capacity for innovative leaders of tomorrow.

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