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I'm treated as one of the "young" admins

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Question: I've been an administrative assistant/event planner at a nonprofit for almost three years now. Of the 14 assistant-type people (secretaries, administrative assistants, executive secretaries, executive assistants, etc.), employed here, four are under age 26. The other 10 assistants are in their mid-50s, which is fine by me as long as they're qualified and capable of doing the work.

I'm one of the "young" ones. I've been called a "young girl" by the other ladies, treated like a young girl, and even been looked down upon as if I'm the older ladies' child. That's not a problem for me because I can easily ignore this. I know I'm not a young girl and, apparently, I was the best person for my job, because the senior staff hired me.

The problem begins for me when the older women start having little huddle talks at their desks and it's obvious they're talking about the younger assistants. They also refuse to listen to our (the young girls') ideas or ask us for help when there are things that we can definitely help with.

When we do offer our services (without their invitation) because we have heard them discussing -- rather loudly -- their predicament, they don’t even listen to us and treat us like we know nothing because of our age. It's very discomforting to me to see older women like this who could be setting a great example for administrative professionals our age act like no one matters but them.

All of them have been in their positions three years or less, so it isn't like they're more qualified than any one else on the job. When we have knowledge-share luncheons, they talk about all the difficulty they have with certain parts of their job and disregard our comments and suggestions.

How can one address an issue like this effectively without causing office tension? I would just like to be on an even playing field with all of them so that we can help one another out and all be successful in our positions. I’m sure I’m not the only who has or will encounter something like this but, quite frankly, it’s very immature of people to have attitudes like this.  -- Anonymous


Have you tried talking to one of the supervisors or the "older ladies" about this? It sounds very immature and since they are "older" you would expect more from them. Hold your ground and try not to make too much out of it.

As the youngest person in an older office, I can understand your problem. I don't think their are any quick solutions . It sounds to me like the "older" ladies feel threatened by you and your younger colleauges. This is not unusual. Unfortunately the only way I know around it, is to not let it bother you.

If you really take an honest look at your feel, you might find you feel threatened by them. So there is some common ground already. In my situation, the more unsure of myself I feel (or the more threatened I feel); the more people treat me that way.

A few suggestions: If they joke about how young (aka inexperienced) you are just talk about how great it is to be young in regular conversations. I often poke fun (GOOD NATUREDLY) at my older colleagues. If you view your youth as an asset (and it is, in some ways) they won't be able to feel superior to you. Youth and age both have perks - one isn't better than the other.

If you feel compelled to give suggestions, give your advice and let it go. Unfortunately there is no liability on their part to follow advice even if it is good advice.

If you want to confront , I would do it one on one, not in a group situation. They certainly do not want to have that conversation in front of their colleagues. It is embarassing to "older" people to be confronted by younger colleagues (especially if they know they are in the wrong). It is quite natural for them to feel that way - even if it is not very enlightened.

Huddling with the "younger" group to talk about the "older" ladies will make them feel more protective of their positions. If you talk about them, they have a license to talk about you. It appears somehow a bridge between the groups needs to be established. If you can find an "older" person to try and bridge that gap with you; you might find that you all have more in common than you think.

I actually enjoy being "the baby" in my office now, although I didn't always. I hope this works out well for you.

With 14 assistant type people in your office and an age rift is taking place you might want to get an unbiased person in there to help with the problem. Remember that maturity does not always come with age. As a young person you will more then likely have more technology experience, whereas the older women may have more administrative experience and you all could learn from each other. I work in an office where 2 of us are late 40's to early 50's and the other assistant is late 20's and a new mother. She has been invaluable to us with her Excel knowledge that we have been out of the loop on. We two know what it is like to be a new mom and working so we "accomodate" and "understand" each other really well. I hope you can get the bad feelings cleared up before they get in the way of you all thriving.

Ask your supervisor to have a very short 5-10 minutes every morning "hudle" with the whole team to discuss what the days plan is and once topics are discussed she could assign who is to work or help on each topic. That way she is the one telling these women that the young people are on the team and assigns who does what.

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