When Gretchen Brown tells people she works in senior living, they often assume her work with older adults is depressing.

That’s a perception she wants to change.

“Why is youth the golden standard?” Brown, president and CEO of Stonehill Franciscan Services in Dubuque, told attendees of a webinar on Wednesday. “Why should not everyone have a vital, engaged life, regardless of age?”


Brown shared with dozens of people the importance of addressing ageism during a virtual monthly luncheon for Young Professionals of Dubuque, which is affiliated under the Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce. The group’s events have moved online during the COVID-19 pandemic, and about 125 people registered to attend Wednesday’s event.

Brown explained how discrimination against age groups can affect people across their lives and encouraged them not to see getting older as negative.

“Being older is part of life, and until we really embrace that and love on it, it’s going to be one thing that’s necessary to change the whole concept of ageism,” Brown said.

Brown told attendees that ageism “cuts both ways.” For example, some people stereotype millennials as having a poor work ethic and expecting constant praise. In the same way, baby boomers can end up generalized as being unable to contribute as much to society as they age.

“I think having an appreciation of not generalizing each other is really critical right now,” she said.

Brown said she became a director of nursing by the time she was 30 years old, and people often expected someone older than her to hold that job.

Ageism also shows up in popular culture through items such as greeting cards that joke about getting old or products that raise up youth as the gold standard, Brown said. Phrases such as “I’m having a senior moment” also can betray negative connotations about aging.

“Being older should not be something we dread, that’s not healthy,” Brown said.

Ageism can also impact workforce recruitment and retention when people are judged in their work for being younger or when companies see hiring an older person as a liability, she said.

“What do they bring to the table as a person not as a Gen X, millennial, baby boomer?” Brown said.

Scott McGuire, president of YP Dubuque, said he appreciated hearing from Brown about her experiences both when she was younger and as she has gotten older.

“She’s basically just telling you to make sure you’re confident in your own abilities and showing that age is just a number, and experience is important, but labeling someone because of their age is not the right way to go about finding who they are,” he said.

McGuire also noted that the virtual luncheons have been going well so far.

“With everything being shut down right now, we thought it was a good way to keep people engaged professionally and keep our YP group together,” he said.