my colleagues treat me like a kid and think I’m younger than I am

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers.” A reader writes:

I’m a 30-year-old woman working in an overwhelmingly male-dominated industry as a technician in a specialized area. I’ve been doing this work since my early 20’s and I know I’m good at my job … consistent promotions, positive feedback, solid accomplishments, etc. In general both coworkers and managers treat me respectfully and professionally.

The problem: they think I’m young. REALLY young. Last year someone asked me if I’m old enough to drink yet. Several coworkers were surprised when I mentioned my 30th birthday because they thought I was in my early 20’s, and when I was discussing education plans with my boss he let it slip that he thought I was about 24.

I feel like this perception leads people to take me less seriously in certain situations. When I have professional disagreements or express certain problems to managers, they sometimes talk down to me as if I’m a young person in need of mentorship/advice instead of addressing the content of what I’m saying as a competent technical expert. This has happened with all four of my most recent managers, including ones I have an otherwise great working relationship with. Phrases like “When I was starting my career…” or “I used to be [youthful and irrelevant personality trait] too…” feature prominently in these discussions. I’m not just starting my career – I have 10 years’ experience in a highly specialized field! This advice is never helpful, often completely misses the point of what I’m saying, and on many occasions it turns out I was correct all along and we did need to do the XYZ I was advocating for after all. This is not only frustrating, it has the potential to cause heath and safety issues due to the nature of my duties. Plus I’m worried my youthful appearance might get in the way of advancement as I’m reaching higher level positions.

How can I seem more mature to my colleagues? Or at least get them to knock off the condescending parental attitude when it comes up? All the advice I’ve found for looking older revolves around clothing and makeup. We have a uniform, so I can’t dress differently, and I’m in a hands-on messy job that makes makeup/jewelry/etc impractical. I would appreciate any advice!

P.S. I’m sure gender plays a role, but I have no idea where to begin with that. The unsolicited parental advice has come from both male and female managers.

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 700 comments… read them below }

  1. Now With Extra Macaroni*

    I’m sorry this isn’t advice, but I can say I am in the exact same boat as you. Started in a specialized engineering role in early 20s. Now 30. It feels like I could have written this letter. I am also female. Looking forward to hearing your responses.

    1. AiA*

      Much like you, I’m a woman of a similar age working in a technical field with all men and get the same response. I’m looking forward to any helpful responses people can provide. I’m also very femme, although I try to tone that down at work because I’ve found it can help (grrrrrrr, not fair, but a decent survival technique)

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        Can vouch that it got a little bit better around age 40 (or I stopped GAF. Honestly don’t know which is in play here). My version of femme could be best described as “1990’s Delias catalogue” though…its a little frilly, but not overly.

        And agreed that the ability to go from 0 to frightening at the drop of a hat when needed helps a LOT.

        1. nomnom*

          I agree, re: it getting easier around 40, although I did start a new job a few month shy of my 40th birthday, and three (three!) people asked me if I was a new postdoc…um no, I was hired three levels above postdoc (and at a higher level than all of three of them). For me, I think it’s a also mostly that I also stopped GAF (due to a mix of personal growth, and having seniority at work so that these events don’t really matter to me anymore). There are still men (and they are all men) in my professional circles who treat me like a silly little school girl. I’ve mastered the dead-cold stare whenever one of them says something stupid, and then I say nothing and just let the awkward silence hang. It’s the most fun I’ve had in years at work.

          Sorry this is not more helpful OP. Although I will note that most of the men who do this to me are also stuck on the past and not very good at their jobs, so I’d keep an eye on that if you’re getting this from your immediate colleagues / boss.

              1. PhyllisB*

                Ah!! Thanks. I had that issue back in the day, and even though I never thought of it in those exact terms, I did get to where I just…shrugged it off.

          1. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

            That’s the thing – no one treats me like a silly schoolgirl. They treat me like a really talented young professional who’s a rockstar employee but still needs a few years in the field to fully develop the perspective/judgement to handle tough situations.

            I don’t know how to respond in the moment because it seems so well-intentioned. The comments that seem condescending to me are the kind of advice that might be genuinely helpful to someone who was only a few years into their career – heck, they were helpful to ME seven or eight years ago. The guy who asked if I was old enough to drink only brought it up because he was planning an after-work outing with some coworkers and wanted to include me, but they sometimes meet up at the bar so he wanted to know if they should change venues. When I corrected the manager who thought I was 24 he was super embarrassed and apologetic. Etc.

            I want to change people’s perception of my age but I don’t want to be mean or rude about it since they’re genuinely trying to be considerate, helpful, and respectful. Plus since they are generally respectful people they don’t bring up my age directly or often… but I can tell it’s there below the surface.

            1. A Person*

              I don’t have a huge amount of advice, but when I’ve been in this situation in the past I’ve found I’ve been very explicit / liberal about my past experiences when giving advice to emphasize that I’m coming from that past experience, examples:

              * “A few jobs ago when we had problems with painting teapots, we found using Paint A really helped us out”
              * “I spent 4 years glazing teapots with Tool A, and I always had really good experiences with it”

              Honestly I kind of hate it and I always feel like I’m being a bit heavy handed, but over time it really helped people see me as a person with past experience. Honestly even now that I no longer read as “young” I still find that emphasizing my credentials is useful as a woman in tech. Sigh.

              1. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

                Thanks. It does feel awkward and heavy-handed, so it’s good to hear that it can help in the long run.

                1. Walk on the left side*

                  Sometimes you can “date” yourself in non-work conversation by references to older pop culture things and/or how long ago you were in a particular grade etc (“yes, well, I had my first computer when I was in middle school, back when you had to write-protect a floppy disk by putting a sticker of a notch in the side!”)

                2. TootsNYC*

                  Maybe lean on this technique when you open a conversation about a problem. If you have any inkling the convo might ever go that way, you can start with, “I’ve dealt with this often over the years…” or similar language.

              2. TootsNYC*

                I like that idea to “year-drop” (vs. name-drop).

                other phrases:
                “Back when I was at the other company…”

              3. Amaranth*

                The throwaway phrase ‘when I was in my twenties’ can come in handy, though it will sail right over some people’s heads. I grew up around adults, and male friends who wouldn’t dare underestimate me, so it was a huge surprise to me when I realized that some coworkers thought I was ten years younger and resented someone ‘with no experience’ being hired in management. If LW is in a position to do training it might help to provide a short bio, or in meetings allude to depth of experience. “Ten years ago when I started in teapot design, the demand was for x but now we need to learn y.” I would probably just shine a spotlight on it in a calm way, responding to some of the gently condescending comments with ‘Ted, I know I look young, but you do know that I’ve been doing this for 15 years, right? Sure, they will have a moment of embarrassment, but acknowledging they might have some superficial basis for the assumption should soften it, while also pointing out that they need to cut that behavior out.

                Wardrobe changes only work to a point, such as avoiding makeup and accessories that track as excessively young. But if you have a young looking face, ‘dressing older’ can backfire and look like dress-up.

          2. Corporatelady*

            It doesn’t get easier at 40. I had the same problem at this organization with a few people– thank goodness my contract is ending in December. :)

        2. Hey Nonnie*

          Yeah, I think that the ability to be assertive is going to be your best help here.

          If someone gives advice around “when I was just starting my career…” respond with “well I’m 10 years into mine, so that’s not particularly helpful here. Can we focus on [the actual meat of the issue] and come up with a solution?” (Do this in a matter-of-fact tone, like your focus is still on solving the issue, rather than getting salty. You have an absolute right to be salty about it, but then the other person is more likely to get defensive and derail the conversation to “Well, I didn’t know!” rather than solving the problem at hand.)

          And if you can insert some kind of “Hi, I’m your resident expert in [topic]” into your introductory conversations, so much the better. If you’re explicit about your experience, they will have less excuse to assume you don’t have any.

          If you’ve explicitly corrected assumptions about your age/experience level and these same folks are still being condescending, then you have to consider escalating to your boss, their boss, and/or HR; at that point we’re looking at sexism at play, which is a no-no in the workplace.

          1. SeluciaMD*

            Yep, this is a big part of my suggestion too. I’m also a woman (now in my mid-40’s) and one who has always looked significantly younger than my years. I dealt with a lot of patronizing as well, particularly until I was in my late 30’s. If it wasn’t patronizing in the “let me give you some advice youngster” way, it was patronizing in the “gee, you seem so *capable* and *mature* given how young you are!” way. Both suck. I just realized the only way people were going to remember that I wasn’t a 20-something fresh out of college was to push back on that kind of nonsense in exactly the way @HeyNonnie suggests.

            “As someone a decade into their career that’s not particularly helpful.”
            “I’d hope I’m capable and mature after doing this work for XX years.”
            “Well that might work for someone new to this role/work but after XX years it’s not really the issue here.”

            Tone is really, really important – not just because you don’t want to make people defensive, but you also don’t want to go too far in the other direction either because then that can undermine the seriousness of what you are conveying. Add in the general stuff that comes from being a working woman when the patriarchy is alive and well, and it’s just freaking exhausting. I think part of what helps me now is that I’ve been doing this job with this organization for over a decade so whether or not people still think of me as younger than I am, they at least seem to have internalized the framing that I am experienced and knowledgeable.

            If these are bosses you have an otherwise good relationship with, you might want to find a time to talk about the pattern. Heck, you could even frame it as something they could help you with – “I’m finding a lot of my colleagues/customers are treating me as if I am much younger or less experienced than I am. I know I look young, but that’s not something I can do much about. So how do I get them to acknowledge my XX years of experience and expertise in this work?” I know it’s kind of cringy, but approaching it this way might help THEM reframe how they think about you (and talk to you and about you) and often when that’s the behavior modeled by leadership, other people follow suit. That was another thing that helped me – my boss wasn’t ever patronizing to me but she always spoke about me and my knowledge/experience/capabilities with conviction, and relied on me quite a bit, so those two things also helped (I think) re-frame other people’s perceptions.

            It sucks up one side and down the other so know you have my utmost sympathies. GOOD LUCK!

            1. Tau*

              “I’m finding a lot of my colleagues/customers are treating me as if I am much younger or less experienced than I am. I know I look young, but that’s not something I can do much about. So how do I get them to acknowledge my XX years of experience and expertise in this work?”

              I’d probably add something about the problems you’ve seen it cause before with people not taking you seriously or thinking you didn’t have the necessary experience to make an assessment, to make it clear that this has genuine repercussions for your work.

          2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

            Good ideas, all of them!
            LW, keep dropping casual references to your experience; “When I was working on / leading the ——- project six years ago, I found that (etc., etc.)” This will keep your experience in their minds and should certainly help to alleviate the “she’s just a kid” syndrome that’s so exasperating (and inaccurate.)

            Years ago, whenever I perceived that a man was getting TOO “friendly”, I’d casually drop (also truthful) references to my husband, making it clear that I was looking forward to getting home to him. This technique works well in a number of different situations and can clear up any misconceptions that others have about you.

            1. Sasha*

              I think this approach (referring to things you did 5+ years ago) works better than “hmmm, I’m ten years into my career”. Unfortunately as a woman, the second one is often taken as being huffy, or full of yourself, or rejecting their well-intentioned advice.

              I tend to take it at complete face value, as if they are sharing an anecdote.

              “When I was starting out in my career xyz”

              “Oh really? When I was starting out we still did xy, but we stopped doing z in about 2005. Were you doing abc then too? We’d already adopted it at my company, but it was a cutting edge agency at that point. We introduced it at second company too but it never really got off the ground”.

            2. Whocanpickone*

              I am also a woman in my late 30s & in a male dominated field – and this is the approach I take, as well. Referencing things I did several years ago or a commonly known project that I worked on (that everyone knows happened 10 years ago).

          3. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

            Thanks for the advice. I think you’re right, it just feels so uncomfortable to do that in the heat of the moment. I realize that’s 100% my own hangups though – if I can push myself to do it anyways it will probably help.

            1. Momma Bear*

              It comes with practice. Pick a target and decide in advance how you will handle it if they say x or y. Sometimes having a plan is easier than coming up with a response on the fly.

            2. Rosie*

              You can also try referencing your experience outside the moment to get more comfortable with it and to remind people that yeah you do have the experience. Keep saying you’ve been working in industry for a decade and hopefully it’ll finally sink in!

            3. Oh Snap!*

              Don’t be afraid to gently push back in the moment. It gets a lot easier once you start doing it, and it’s certainly worthwhile. Especially since your contributions and ideas are being overlooked because people are making assumptions about your age. It sucks too, because it’s hard to feel confident when people are always talking down to you.
              Here’s an example from my own life:
              Me to a guy at a networking event: Hey, do you like your accountant?
              Guy: Ah! When I was just starting out I was unsure of hiring an accountant too but as a small business owner it’s important to bla bla bla…
              Me: Oh, I’ve had the same accountant for 10 years but she’s based in (Big City where I used to live) and she just bumped up her prices so I was thinking to get someone local. So do you like your accountant?
              Of course I smile and make eye contact the whole time and follow up with questions that show my knowledge and experience. As Allison says, keep it breezy!

              I will also follow up someone’s story about what things were like when they were my age with stories of my own. I’m a photographer and was working as a professional using film for 3 years before digital completely took over and several times a year some guy tries to tell me about what it was like years ago when everyone was still shooting film, and I’ll say “I know, remember when we used to have to count frames to make sure we didn’t run out of film during something important?”, or “I still have my Mamiya RZ kit. Sometimes I take it out just to hear the clunk of the shutter.” One time a guy did this to me and after a few minutes we both realized that I was actually two years older than him. That shut him up real quick.

              1. Lizzo*

                +1 to pushing back in the moment. It’s going to feel uncomfortable because we’re conditioned to *not* rock the boat…frequently at the expense of our selves.
                Call out erroneous assumptions about age and experience on the spot. Firmly, directly. Any awkwardness in the moment is the fault of the other person. The more you do this, the more you will care less about others’ responses.

          4. MusicWithRocksIn*

            I think at this point it would be very helpful, whenever the OP has a new manager or supervisor, to sit down with them and let them know upfront how many years experience you have. Whenever you have your first real talk with them, maybe laugh about it a little and say “People tend to think I’m younger than I am, but I started working in X field at 21 and have 10+ years experience doing Y and Z. It matters a lot to me that as my manager you take my experience seriously, and not get distracted by the fact that i’m immortal” and then kinda laugh, but then make a serious face. Convey the tone of ‘I’ve had so much trouble with other people, but I know YOU won’t be like that.’

            1. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

              Funny you say that… between sending this letter and getting published, I actually did that with my new(ish) supervisor. My annual review was coming up and he was on the fence about recommending me for a title increase. I pointed out that I had all the qualifications, that I was already doing a lot of the higher-title duties, that he’d given me lots of positive feedback, etc.

              What finally seemed to convince him was when I mentioned I’d been working here 10 years and had a promotion since 2015. So… success?

              1. Qwerty*

                Oh this made me think of possibly another point that may be more broadly applicable for relationship with manager. I kept thinking “we’ll wouldn’t her manager know her tenure if they hired her and saw her resume?” But knowing you’ve been at one org for many years and got a new supervisor makes me think it would be useful to have a “new supervisor briefing” of sorts to get them up to speed on your whole background. I used to work at an agency and we would do this whenever a long-running program would get a new point person on client side to make sure they had context of the value we were bringing. Could help with what others are talking about of having your manager help set the tone for others with you.

          5. ThreeDogsInATrenchcoat*

            Yes this. I’m in my early 30s and have been in my field (libraries) for 14 years, and until pretty recently looked about 22. I’m an assistant manager, and because of the nature of my field there are folks who are older than me (sometimes significantly so) even in entry level roles, so I’ve often encountered this. I completely agree that asserting your experience with an explicit time-frame attached (“back in 2015 when I was doing x…”) helps.

            In one particularly egregious case there was gossip among older (peer) employees in my department that I was hired only for being “young and pretty.” In that case I went to lunch with one of the instigators and pretty bluntly laid out my qualifications. She was unaware and had made big assumptions about my experience, and that conversation did help put a rest to the talk. If it hadn’t I would then have gone to my manager for help setting the record straight.

            Good luck, this all sounds very annoying and boring to have to deal with!

          6. Momma Bear*

            It is not just a young woman problem. It can be a woman problem. To the masses – if you see someone talking over anyone but (relevant to OP) a woman, please speak up. One of my favorite PMs will say “As so and so *just said*…” His meetings are well-run. Everyone gets a voice. No one cuts off anyone else more than once because he calls them out, professionally but firmly.

            But OP, I agree that you need to do some of this for yourself like Hey Nonnie suggested. Don’t let those comments pass. Remind them that you’re the SME here. That you have x expertise, skill or education. That you ran that program. That you’re 10 years into this career, thankyouverymuch. It’s not rude to be matter of fact, especially when you’re struggling for credibility over it. Insert yourself where you belong, too. If you think you are being left out of a meeting, very openly and deliberately request to be added to the meeting invite. Have those sidebar conversations. Take up space and don’t feel like you have to apologize for it. If someone still consistently runs you over thinking you are too young, call them on it. “You’ve made several comments that indicate you have the perception that I am too young/inexperienced for this role. To be clear, I’m mid-career and I have x and y experience. If you have a concern about my project, please speak to me about it directly.”

          7. Gay AF*

            Yes, this!!! And don’t discount that gender IS a big factor at play. Know that and maybe it will help to recognize you’ll have to overcompensate on the assertiveness (even though you shouldn’t have to).

        3. Midori12*

          Doesn’t necessarily get better with age. I am 47 going on 48 and constantly told by people they think I am 30. Is it because I am female ? work in retail (although the operations side) or work with a bunch of men?My previous job was unusually female the current one is more typical of industry norms. The people on the receiving dock vendors and coworkers are overwhelmingly male and have minimal formal education. I feel like I am being mansplained all the time.

          1. It's the little things*

            I’m with you, I’m 41 and it has never changed for me, I have a very friendly demeanor and fabulous genes (thanks mum!) that mean I am mistaken for much younger regularly (I was asked if I was a foreign exchange bachelors student just this weekend). Part of my role is teaching leadership skills and it really does hamper me at times, as people are either incredulous that I am the age I am, if I get a chance to slide it in there, or are baffled as to why an ‘entry level’ person is trying to tell them how to lead. The only advice I have for OP is to find a way to organically mention your length of career, your age, or some kind of popular culture reference that appropriately ages you

            1. Awesome Sauce*

              Similar thing here, I’m in my mid-40s and people assume I’m in my early 30s all the time. We recently re-org’d and somebody suggested I join the Young Llama Groomers Association as a way to do some networking, so I replied that while I had been to some of their events in the past, I was certainly over their target age range now. The person pressed the issue! So I made a crack about the fact that my kid would probably be more the demographic they were looking for, although in retrospect I should probably have just focused more on being solidly mid-career and maybe a different industry association would be more appropriate.

        4. Morgan Hazelwood*

          Same here. I regularly get taken for 10 years younger in my male dominated field. But I am getting nearer 40 and it’s getting less.

          P.s. Speaking of, is there anywhere that sells delia style stuff? I miss some of my clothes from then (that I’ve LONG outgrown).

          1. NotRealAnonForThis*

            Its VERY hit or miss, and its piece by piece.

            I did just remember something though: I wear heels. Always have in the office, and it fits my overall persona well – but the here’s the thing, I mean HUGE heels. Like 3-5″ range. When I stand up, I am NOT petite. As ridiculous as this is, its a thing.

            When I was in a field office, the guys found it hysterical to have me stand next to short superintendents during all-hands meetings (inevitably they didn’t like having women on a job site anyways…and being shorter than one got them all visibly twisted just by me existing). And if I could do that in work boots, well, add 3-5″ to that and apparently I’m intimidating AF.

            I’m not suggesting wearing skyward footwear if its not your thing, but I can’t help but wonder if it helped my case?

            1. HAL9K*

              I second the heels thing. I also look young and I’ve noticed the couple of extra inches my heels give me helps people, especially men, take me seriously (even though I’m 5’9″ in my bare feet).

              I’ve also had luck with a little bit of makeup, mainly eyeliner and lipstick. I found some long-wearing stuff so I don’t have to constantly reapply it. Makeup seems to = adult woman for a lot of people.

              1. Momma Bear*

                Even if you don’t wear heels, there’s value in looking at wardrobe choices and seeing if there’s anything you can tweak to change your perception. For example, I avoid floaty floral dresses that read juvenile. Sometimes it can even just be a matter of having something tailored or more fitted. A structured outfit in an important meeting can be your armor.

                1. SeluciaMD*

                  I agree these things can be helpful in combatting perceptions but the LW says she wears a uniform so clothing suggestions aren’t going to work for her. But hopefully they’ll help someone else reading the comments! I know it helped me, particularly when I worked in a law firm. There are some fields where how you dress matters A LOT in terms of how you are perceived.

            2. Kat in VA*

              Thirding the heels option.

              Subjective testing for my own amusement/edification bears out that I, at 5’8″ in sock feet, am taken far more seriously when wearing 2-3″ heels in the office. (Increased deference by a large margin when wearing a suit with said heels.)

              I’m an executive assistant, so I have conferred instead of actual authority via my executives, but I’ve noticed a definitive difference in deference (heh) when I’m in heeled pumps or boots versus flats or even flat-heeled boots.*

              2-3″ seems to be the sweet spot, however. Anything taller than that (or platform heels) strays into “sexy” territory versus “assertive because tall and broad-shouldered” environs.

              *Naturally this was all in The Before Times™. Nowadays, I’m remote in yoga pants, tank top, chenille cardigan, and bare/sock feet dependent upon weather.

              1. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

                This is an important point. At 5’9, I’m taller than many of the men I work with. I get taken a lot more seriously than my 5’1 coworker, even when people think I’m really young. I’ve also noticed that wearing thicker soled work boots helps even more… they only add an inch or so, but it’s enough to have an effect.

            3. Nucking Fux Nix*

              The LW mentioned that they wear a uniform and that make-up and jewelry are impractical for their application. For immediately reading older, have you considered a low polished bun as a hairstyle? It’s been my go-to hairstyle for work for years and I’ve had the opposite issue where people at work consistently read me as 5-8 years older than I actually am. On the weekends when I am more casual, people guess 5-8 years younger, so I really think it has to do with creating some visual short-hand for older (hairstyles, lipstick, tucking in your shirt, etc.) as well as a certain bearing. I’ve always made a lot of eye contact and I’ve also done what has been mentioned about “years-dropping.” My final piece of advice is to remove a lot of the verbal fillers that are associated with youth from your vocabulary. Not only “like” but also “just”, “you-know”, etc.

          2. Orange*

            I’m in the same boat and I second casually dropping your experiment into the conversation. Assume they are speaking to a hypothetical young person, etc. I sometimes react as if people had said the appropriate version in a way that implies what the right way to talk about this would be.

            “I agree, I also like to recommend that strategy to young people I mentor. Though in my decade of expertise I’ve found that strategy X…”

            “I am pretty proud of the fact that I keep my youthful enthusiasm as I get older despite having spent over a decade in this field… it’s a shame the way some people lose their drive to learn and get entrenched in their habits”

        5. Morgan Hazelwood*

          Same here. I regularly get taken for 10 years younger in my male dominated field. But I am getting nearer 40, I’m getting questioned less. But some of it is that I’m a solid mid-level worker, and at my experience, one might expect lead-level worker or lower level management. I’m happy where I’m at, but I’m worried my management might want me to up my game.

          P.s. Speaking of, is there anywhere that sells delia style stuff? I miss some of my clothes from then (that I’ve LONG outgrown).

        6. EngineeringFun*

          I’m a mechanical engineer who is 44. I looked really young in my 20s and I would dress up so that I didn’t look like the intern. To this day I always wear a blazer for any meeting. All the men can be in T-shirts but I’ll have a blazer on (over my tshirt). Also I just started telling people my age all the time. No one gets is correct so I just tell them. It does get easier at 40.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            I like to make people guess, if they say a much younger age I’ll pretend they’re trying to flirt with me, shutting it down of course, not leading them on!
            We can’t add beards or moustaches, but a sense of humour does help.

    2. misspiggy*

      Not in engineering but have had similar issues. I had to cultivate the ability to quietly and quickly become scary. A friend was excellent at it – the temperature would drop and one would find oneself treading very carefully. I copied her body language, voice etc, and it worked.

      1. anonymouse*

        That was my moms. She was 5 foot nothing, 99 pounds, 18 year old secretary to the president of the company. She looked like a child. Unless you addressed her like one. She would turn the baby blues on some poor sap who thought he’d stroll into the boss’s office.
        That moms look, man. I caught her giving it to a grandkid and I GOT nervous. Never raised her voice. Just said, no.
        I recommend this to OP. If people are treating you like a child, look back at them like you are the parent and they are stepping out of line.
        Give the look of “why are you saying this?” without saying it. Let them hem and haw about how they are helping and when they are done, you go back to “I was asking X or saying Y.”
        It sucks you have to, but yeah. Go moms on them.

        1. Editor*

          The moms look — my kids called it the death stare. Very useful during my couple of years as a substitute teacher.

      2. Suddenly_Seymour*

        This is similar to what worked for me as a petite woman who looks very young – try to find small, consistent ways to shift the energy in your reactions and interactions. Practice these little shifts if you need to when you’re in less impactful situations (ie, in an airport, visiting a different town, etc.) if it feels weird at first until you can sit comfortably in it.

        As an example, one of the things that this looked like for me was learning not to laugh or smile as a default when I was asking questions or pushing back on something as a way of softening the message. Alison has lots of great advice on this for managers (specifically in tough conversations with reports), but I’ve found if incredibly helpful in interactions with colleagues and my own supervisors as well. It took a ton of practice, as I’m a naturally warm and friendly person, but it completely changed my dynamics at work.

        1. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

          “learning not to laugh or smile as a default when I was asking questions or pushing back on something as a way of softening the message.”

          Oh man – you’re right, this is something I need to work on.

          It’s a tricky line to walk though. Being perceived as approachable and non-threatening to my coworkers is critical for my work, since I need people to be comfortable bringing sensitive issues to me. But I need to learn how to turn on my “danger face” when it’s appropriate.

          1. KD*

            Yeah, still working on this. But what I’ve found is effective is when guys get that dismissive tone and say Ok, you’re in charge I now respond yes, yes I am very matter of factly and cheerfully and continue on.

      3. Retired Prof*

        This might not apply to OP, but learning to use your voice and body to project authority goes a long way. Many young women end their sentences on a rising intonation – “upspeak”. There’s lots of reasons why that works in interpersonal relationships, but some people interpret the rising voice as asking a question or looking for approval. Intentionally dropping your voice (pitch, not volume) when you are making a point can signal authority to some people. Likewise, using body gestures that lean into conversations or hand gestures that command attention all project authority. I teach teachers how to use their voice and body to better manage their classrooms and it makes a huge difference. I am NOT saying there’s anything wrong with upspeak or any other ways of speaking – they all serve useful functions. But it is very helpful to cultivate different ways of speaking for different purposes so you can code switch when you need to.

        Once in a class of college freshmen, one girl sent a spit wad (!) at another student. I instantly flipped to mother-of-three-boys voice (icily quiet, slow and ominous) “Katy! (pause) WE DO NOT BEHAVE THAT WAY IN COLLEGE.” Then instantly back to warm, supportive instructor voice. My TA came up after class and said “I never knew you were scary!”

        1. Sanity Lost*

          Agreed to the Retired Prof’s advice. Remember body language and facial expression play a lot. I not only look young for my age, but am also blonde. If I had a dime for everytime someone was condescending or patronizing, I’d be a millionaire. I found that cultivating the “Spock” eyebrow, looking them straight on and with good posture, while explaining (politely) why they were wrong; made them take me much more seriously.

          When that doesn’t work starting to sound like a British schoolteacher works too. ;)

          1. Momma Bear*

            I know someone who took to using the same kind of notebook the Engineers did instead of her usual floral covered notebook/planner.

            I try to do even simple things like sit straight so the perception is that I am more engaged and taller. Look at the people who are commanding attention (esp. other women) and emulate some of their posture.

    3. catbowl*

      Same – earlier this year at my physical the phlebotomist asked if I was looking forward to graduating high school. Sure was – over a decade ago! In my most recent job hunt, one of my references told me that when asked by the hiring manager what difficulty I might have with the role, my reference told them “People don’t always take her seriously because they think she’s much younger and more demure than she is.” (eta: !!!) “But she proves them wrong.”

      I try to bring a very confident attitude and unwavering eye contact to my early professional interactions with people. I occasionally slip in vague references to my age such as referring to having handled something for X number of years. Recently I straight up said to a coworker in another department “Well I am in my 30s.”

      I continue to get talked down to occasionally, not in a malicious way but in a way that makes it clear the talker thinks I just don’t have enough experience to know better. All I do is not really indulge it and don’t hedge in my replies. “I understand that, but we’re moving in X direction now.” or “Yes, we considered that. We’re doing Y.” etc. etc.

      It’s frustrating and sometimes feels unfair, but c’est la vie. I try to reserve my frustration for things I have more control over to change – my face is not one of them.

      1. Midwest writer*

        I wasn’t in a technical career — I’m a newspaper reporter — but I actually did start at a real newspaper in high school, so by my mid-20s, when I could still pass for a high schooler, I would drop into conversation how long I’d been in the business, so that people would know that I actually did have some experience.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          My boss, in the construction industry, is very good about dropping it in that I had worked in several different supporting industries before coming to work for the construction company. It a) shows that I’ve been around for more than just a couple of years, and b) shows that I have expertise in a couple of specific areas in addition to my current role. He’ll usually do this when we’re meeting with potential new clients. I’ve always appreciated that since I do look young.

        2. Coenobita*

          Same, I worked at the same company for a nice, even 10 years after graduating from college and I find that figure very useful to bring up in conversation, even now that I’ve worked somewhere else for a while. One time at a conference, I was chatting with an entry-level staffer at a partner organization, making small talk about our education/career backgrounds. I swear I could see the change physically washing over his face when he realized that I was about a dozen years older than he thought I was.

          I’m now 35 and have some really nice silver strands in my hair, which helps a lot. Also I gained some weight and for some reason I think that also helps me look my age. I’ve finally started being mistaken for a teacher (rather than a student) when I need to go into the local high school.

        3. Heffalump*

          If I were your editor and wanted a story that involved the reporter going undercover at a high school, I know who’d get the assignment!

          1. BatManDan*

            For reference, see Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which was by (and about) the same lead character in Almost Famous. The writer in both cases was Cameron Crowe, writing autobiographically.

      2. Hapless Bureaucrat*

        This is similar to what I have done, in a technical but more fiscal role. Confident attitude, polite but not too deferential, and make sure I really know my background and context.

        And then I sprinkle in some pre-emptive “in the twelve years I’ve been in this field” or “back at the start of my career– wow, has it been two decades already?” or “back in 2011 I worked on….” in conversations where I need to establish authority. It might be a little obnoxious, but no less obnoxious than someone assuming by my face that I’m ten years younger than I really am.

        Aging and the beginnings of gray hair do eventually help. It’s not quite so bad now that I read as 30 instead of 40, rather than 20 instead of 30 (although I did recently also have a phlebotomist ask if I was graduating college…).

        1. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

          There’s a thought – dye my hair grey. Although with my luck it would just come out platinum blonde…

          1. Aerin*

            Actually came in to legit suggest this. Maybe not dye it fully grey, just a couple of streaks… Not sure what kind of haircut you have, but certain styles tend to read as fairly young (especially longer hair). Since makeup and clothes aren’t an option, that might be something to consider.

            1. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

              I’ve had it everything from buzz cut to long ponytail. But I’m getting it cut short again this weekend, so I might try bleaching a bit at the same time.

          2. Grey tones*

            Depending on your current hair color, you might get some “grey” from a purple toning shampoo. Those sort of things make your hair colder in tone, and that might read as older or greyish.

          3. Alice's Rabbit*

            Given how trendy gray hair is right now, gray-dyed hair reads more immature at the moment. My roommate is in her 40s and naturally gray, but during her job search last year got a lot of interviewers assuming she was straight out of school because of her hair.

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I was in that boat, and also have no advice. My most memorable story from that boat was a coworker, who after five years of working together, let it slip that the entire time, she’d thought that I’d had my both kids when I was in high school. “Because your kids are so old, and you are younger than me” – readers, I was older than she. Wonder what she assumed about the rest of my education, how many people she’d told in the five years she’d been thinking it. She was low on the totem pole and whatever she did assume had no effect on my career. People did keep seeing me as younger, and I could do nothing about it. At least now looking younger hopefully works in my favor (I am in a field that’s well known to be ageist.)

      1. Sarah*

        Ha; I just commented below you on the kid thing. It’s so awkward to navigate an assumption and resulting bias like that.

      2. KP*

        One of our directors was so shocked when she found out my age (35) that she blurted out “I thought you were a teen mom!” In a meeting full of senior people in our company. It happens a lot, my youngest child is 10 but she’s also like 5’2” and is stealing my clothes, so people always think I’m the babysitter or younger aunt or something. Also that coworker has no filter lol so I wasn’t extremely surprised when she said it.

    5. Sarah*

      Ugh, same. I’m in my late 30s and get occasional comments regarding being young. I’m also a mom of an elementary-age kid, so sometimes it’s extra awkward because the person clearly thinks I must have had my child very young (which, unfortunately, carries a negative stigma with some people). In reality I had him at a totally average age.
      Anyway, I sometimes try to slip in references to age, like being in high school in the ’90s, in conversations with those people. Shouldn’t have to, but I have 15 years of experience in what I do and don’t want to be underestimated.

      1. DataGirl*

        The same thing happened to me- I did have my kids youngish (25 and 28) but since I looked so much younger I was often mistaken for a teen mom and got treated really badly because of it- including in the hospital when giving birth. But that’s a story for a different sort of website.

        1. louvella*

          When I was 25 year old nanny of infants (yes, they looked like me) people would be so rude to me. And like, first of all, don’t be rude to teen moms, but also I wouldn’t have been a teen mom if I had been their mom!

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          25 and 28 here, too.

          Back in Home Country, that was considered an advanced old age to have a child at. I was chided by a few fellow young mothers for having waited so long to have kids, and warned about the long-term consequences of being such an elderly parent. Then I came to the US, which opened a whole new can of worms. Suddenly, I’d had my children irresponsibly early and what was I thinking?

          Goes to show that, as women, we can never do anything right in the eyes of public opinion. On a whole new tangent, I had a phone chat with my mom the other day, where she confessed that she’d spent her entire life stressing over what people would say, always thinking about how to avoid being judged for everything she said and did. I said “haha, you don’t have to tell me, I know.” (She raised me, so uh, I noticed. Having a parent *that* fixated on keeping up appearances did not make for a great childhood.) Then I added “took me till my 40s and until after my divorce, but I finally did realize that, no matter what you do, someone will judge you, because some people just love to judge. People will talk, because they LOVE to talk. That’s what makes them feel happy and fulfilled. So, since it’s not about me, and since they are going to do it anyway, I realized that I can do whatever seems best to me, and not give a rat’s arse about what anybody thinks.” Mom’s mind was blown. I think I may have changed her whole life with my philosophy. Too bad it was at age 84. She would’ve benefited greatly from knowing it earlier.

      2. alienor*

        I’m 49 and still get those comments occasionally as well when I mention that I have a daughter.

        “Ohhh that’s so sweet, what grade is she in?”
        “She’s 22 and a junior in college, so like…15th grade?”

      3. alienor*

        I’m 49 and still get those comments occasionally as well when I mention that I have a daughter.

        “Ohhh that’s so sweet, what grade is she in?”
        “She’s 22 and a junior in college, so like…15th grade?”
        “Oh my god how old were you when you had her?”

    6. PhD survivor*

      So sorry you are dealing with this OP! I recently did a postdoc in my early/mid 30s and all my colleagues assumed I was extremely young and treated me as if I knew nothing when I had many years working in other jobs that had transferable skills to my position. I believe it affected the opportunities I had during my fellowship.

      I now work in a different company where I am always treated respectfully and seen as capable. So some of it may be company culture. In retrospect, it may have been helpful if I had been more assertive about my past experience and better advocated for myself. But it also could be that your company is biased. Even though discrimination against young people doesn’t count as legal discrimination, it definitely still happens

      1. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

        Thanks – it sucks that other people have had the same experience, but it’s nice to know I’m not alone!

        I suspect you’re right that some of it may be work culture. Also… I’ve worked at the same facility in various roles since I was 20, so it may be that some of my long-term colleagues think of me as much younger because of that early impression. Unfortunately roles in my field are few and far between so I don’t expect to change jobs any time soon.

    7. Dragon_Dreamer*

      I’m 40 and sometimes get this! Some people, when told I did tech for 20 years, look at me and mockingly say, “What, did you start at the age of 2?” They are generally chagrined when I tell them my real age.

    8. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

      Yes, here for some advice as well. I have a lot of experience, visible grays, laughter lines, but get a lot of “you wouldn’t remember this.” SIR- I, too, am familiar with the satisfaction of tearing off perforated edges of continuous printer paper.

      1. banoffee pie*

        I get the ‘you wouldn’t remember this’ thing as well. I’m 35 but when I tell people it emerges they thought I was more like 25. Sometimes I feel like they were being too patronising even if I were 25, to be honest. I think some people will just push it and try to boss anyone around, then come up with an excuse to justify it after the fact. ‘Oh I thought you were young…’

        1. CorruptedbyCoffee*

          God yes. I was helping someone the other day and they led with “no offense, but you look much younger than me, I’m 32, so….” And I stared at them and they continued with “there’s this thing from a long time ago called a chat room…”

          I’m 36. I grew up in chat rooms. I get the same thing with card catalogs, vhs, and beepers. And that’s not even counting all the times I’ve been asked if I’m a student intern.


        2. Aerin*

          I hate the “you wouldn’t remember this thing” when the answer is basically “honey, I have the internet.” We might not have seen it when it aired but that’s what Netflix is for.

          I think my favorite (well, “favorite”) was once at the Mouse when someone asked me with all the condescension you can imagine, “You’re probably too young to know this, but I’d heard about Walt being frozen…” I could not stop myself from laughing, and told her that it was quite the opposite, he was cremated. But the age thing was so weird to bring into it. Like, yeah, it happened before I was born, but so did most of the stuff that it was my literal job to know about as a park historian.

      2. Alice's Rabbit*

        I found an old box of cards and keepsakes recently from my childhood, including a couple “accordians” I folded from the strips torn off the edges.

    9. Person of Interest*

      I’m in my mid-40’s and I guess I have a young looking face because this still happens to me, mostly by older men but not exclusively. When I meet new colleagues I sometimes try to drop in a context clue about my age like, “well 20 years ago when I worked at so-and -so….” so they know I actually have some experience. But otherwise I just let them express their shock and try to move on. Currently debating whether to color my graying hair or lean into it…

      1. Heather*

        I coloured my hair pink and blue. It dropped 10 years off my assumed age. And then I mention the 17 years I’ve been at the company and watch them rapidly recalibrate

      2. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

        I’ve been using that trick for a long time, it does help some. I started working at 14 (summers and after school jobs) so even in my early 20’s I could make it sound like I had a decade of work experience!

    10. MeleMallory*

      I too have a “baby face”. I’m 35 and people often think I’m early 20s. When I was pregnant at 29, I got so many dirty looks from people who thought I was a teen mom. It happens more when I have long hair, when I cut it into a pixie, it seemed to help age me up a little. I have some gray hair now, so that also helps.

      I don’t mind it too much, since it probably means I’ll look young when I’m in my fifties and above (my mom and grandma still get “you look so much younger!” comments all the time) but it can be a little frustrating sometimes. It doesn’t affect me at work, since I’m in a field that can attract recent grads and people who have been in the field for decades, but I can’t imagine how LW feels constantly being condescended to. I hope some commenters have good suggestions!

    11. DataGirl*

      I also don’t have much advice, just sympathy. Until I hit 40 or so I always looked much younger than I was. I once had a colleague freak out and yell at me for being a teen mom when I mentioned I had 2 small kids- I was 29, she thought I was 16. For better or worse once I hit 40 my age hit me all at once so I don’t really have the problems anymore.

      Maybe dye your hair silver/grey? It was popular a few years ago and might make you look older.

      1. banoffee pie*

        I’ve had some success with mentioning music or TV shows from the 90’s, when it’s clear I actually do remember them and haven’t just googled it lol

    12. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Yeah, it only *started* to go away for me when I stopped dyeing my grey hair. I don’t have wrinkles and can look young enough to get asked for ID when buying booze.

      One trick, and it’s limited in effectiveness, is to practise a cold steady gaze and a confident audible tone of voice that carries well. Shoulders back, good posture, all that stuff. It seems to put people off from making daft comments about your perceived age if they think they’re going to get the Glare Of Doom back.

      Sad to say I still get the ‘oh, young woman in IT, poor thing probably doesn’t know what a hard drive is/hasn’t experienced life yet’ and I’ve been married over 16 years. Partly why I’m such a battle axe these days.

      1. TardyTardis*

        I was a nurse’s aide fairly young, which came in handy in the Air Force (where I looked in uniform as I was attempting to sell Girl Scout cookies). I could give people the ‘of course you are going to take your meds now, right?’ look, and that helped a lot. I was also short (alas shorter now) but somehow managed to convey what I needed.

    13. Artemesia*

      When I began my career I was the only woman and also the youngest too — what has worked for me is an air of assurance. (it helps that I am tall so I am not also having the issue of being the ‘itty bitty little girl’ and I am not a frilly sort of person although when I began work I always wore skirts and dresses — because one did then). Can you cultivate a positive assertive way of offering suggestions — and occasionally say some thing like ‘over the 10 years I have been doing this, I have found that using two widgets when transmogrifying the tortion bars works better than one.’ It is a bit like dropping your husband’s name when fending off a pass — and so inherently a bit icky — but working your experience into the conversation a few times early with new managers might help when coupled with your confident approach (i.e. no ‘I might be wrong but I think that . . ‘ or even ‘maybe we should try’. but ‘we should do X’ and ‘5 years ago we had this problem at FormerCorps and I was able to solve it by ABC’.

      1. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

        I think you’re right, hedging/softening suggestions is contributing to how people perceive my age. It’s a hard habit to break but something to work on for sure.

        Side note – I’m also tall. It’s strange because as a kid people always thought I was older and now people think I’m younger. I often joke that I stopped aging in middle school and have looked 20 ever since.

        1. Nea*

          For what it’s worth, it will roll around again to your advantage later in your career. Ageism against middle aged women is also a problem in the workplace and I, for one, have found it very advantageous to take the year I graduated college off my resume and let people assume from my looks I’m a good decade to 15 years younger than I am.

          1. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

            That’s what my mom says too. She has the same baby face syndrome, but at 65 it’s more helpful than not.

    14. Jules the 3rd*

      For specifics on how to get the ‘More authoritative’ stance people are describing here:
      1) Drop your vocal tone about half an octave
      2) Eyes steady on theirs.
      3) Stand as tall as you can – shoulders down, head up, spine straight. (if you can wear thicker soled shoes or inserts safely, consider this)
      4) Eliminate vocal fry and fillers, especially the feminine ones – uplift at the end of sentences, or ‘like’ and ‘you know’.
      5) Think about your smile, and use it consciously. Practice being able to lose the smile when you need to.
      6) In extreme cases, increase your speaking volume just a little bit. Not enough to drown out others, but enough to ensure you sound confident and authoritative.

      Do this around people when you are new, or who do the condescension regularly. I hear that ToastMasters is good for feedback on some of this.

      1. Pickled Herring*

        I would add to 3) : learn to take up space. You know the Wonder Woman stance that makes people feel powerful (hands on hips, feet shoulder-width apart)? That takes up space. Look how men, in particular, sit at a table. Hands spread wide on the tabletop, leaning forward, coffee cup and laptop spread out. Or, leaning back, foot crossed on the knee of the other leg, slightly off-center, so they take up two seating spaces? They are physically obvious and have a ‘place at the table’. I (in my 50s, short, younger looking engineering technical expert) have found this useful.

        1. Momma Bear*

          Re the table thing – LW, do you sit at the back of the room? Do you put yourself at a spot that’s “lower on the totem pole” unconsciously when selecting a seat? Try moving up a seat, sitting at the table in a big meeting if it’s not out of line to do so, etc. Make yourself be seen as a participant and not an observer on key projects.

      2. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

        Thanks for the concrete tips, this is helpful. I definitely need to work on 1, 4 and 5.

      3. AuroraPickle*

        I get these types of comments too but you know what I’m not going to do? Change myself or my voice or drop any vocal fry. In fact it doesn’t work, I’ve done that and then you get “you sound off? Are you feeling okay? You’re not your usual perky self!” That’s even more annoying. Besides, Men use vocal fry a lot too and no one minds. It’s silly that I can’t talk how I want to naturally speak because it’s “too feminine” or whatever. You don’t like it? I don’t need to care. Like, really.

        Here’s what I do, purposefully and vocally misinterpret their condescension as a compliment, “oh you think I’m so young? Thank you so much! I have good genetics. I’ll thank my retired parents. See, I’m actually in my late 30s.” And follow up with an equally personal line of questioning, “How old are you? Cool story bro, so back to business.”

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          Sure, that’s an option, but it’s not what LW asked for. These are the things that have worked for me, as a woman in tech heavy / male dominated jobs for the last 30 years.

          And I give ‘think about vocal fry’ recommendation to everyone, male and female. It’s one of those things that you want to make the conscious choice about, like the smiling. It can be part of your personality, but it can also be a distraction. I have a higher-up who actually says ‘Mmmkay?’ and I just want to sit them down to watch Office Space so they can understand how they’re coming across.

          Definite agree on the ‘take up space’ – the ‘stand tall / raise head’ is a variant on it, the WW stance is also good, but I find it a little obvious. Maybe just one arm….

          1. AuroraPickle*

            I think OP did ask for it though. One option to deal with it is to stop caring and turn it around. We all have our ways. OP will figure out hers.

    15. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I have a theory about why so many of us have had this experience.

      Movies and TV shows hire actors in their mid 20s to play high school students, so a lot of people have that embedded in their minds as what teenagers look like. So, if you think a 16 year old looks like a 25 year old, then a person who looks 5 years older than that is clearly 21, except in reality, they’re 30.

      As far as advice, I’d say try not to feel awkward or weird about correcting people’s assumptions. When someone says “I felt that way early in my career” it’s not rude for you to respond with “that’s interesting. Based on my 10 years in our industry, I would recommend…” and see how they respond.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        I really like this theory! It does make sense that unless someone works with children or has children, their ideas of what certain ages look like are probably largely based on media (where all the 16-year-olds are played by 25-year-olds).

        1. banoffee pie*

          Yeah I blame TV shows too, mostly US-based ones. When you watch British TV shows about high school, often the actors are actually school age or only a couple of years above. And they end up looking like little kids compared to the US shows. It’s difficult for them to seem as grown-up anyway as the characters will usually have to wear school uniforms for the school scenes. Maybe they think it’s a bit weird to have 30 year olds wear school uniforms so that’s why the actors are a little younger.

        2. The Rural Juror*

          So…you’re saying that all the characters in Grease weren’t actually teens?!? Mind blown!

          Just kidding! Some of those actors were in their 30s! It definitely warped my idea of age when I was a kid watching that movie.

          1. banoffee pie*

            Yes I think Stockard Channing who played Rizzo was 35. I still have time to play a teen then if I hurry up ;)

        3. Momma Bear*

          And if they are actually 13 or 16, they are made up to look older. There’s memes going around about what a 13 yr old looked like years ago and what they look like now. Maybe some on Instagram but there are still plenty of middle school kids who still….look like middle school kids. Media is not reality.

          1. KP*

            All I can say is, I’m glad there are no pictures of me at that age on the internet, because social media didn’t exist then lol.

      2. thatjillgirl*

        Yep. This is my long-standing theory as well. It’s completely down to teenagers on TV not being actual teenagers. Unless people see actual teenagers on the regular, they forget what actual teenagers look like.

    16. Loredena Frisealach*

      It definitely gets easier as you get older, and having people assume I’m in my lower 40s when I’m in my mid 50s isn’t bad!

      As to things that worked for me, when in a uniform and makeup doesn’t help/isn’t practical. An older-looking hairstyle and flat shoes (heels reads younger in my experience) can help with the on first glance issues.

      Otherwise, I had to make a point of talking about activities that aged me, such as ‘I listened to x when in college’ or other back in my day remarks. To some extent mirroring what’s happening to the OP!

      1. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

        I’ll collect clothing tips in case I ever have a non-uniformed job! Do you have any tips for what makes an older-looking haircut?

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          Hillary Clinton – that chin-length bob from the 2016 campaign. Angela Merkel’s jaw-length layers, Judi Dench’s short crop. Google ‘short haircuts for older women’ . You can also just google ‘haircuts for older women’, but they’re starting to do a lot of longer cuts in those, driven by women like Salma Hayek and Elizabeth Hurley.

        2. Loredena Frisealach*

          Shorter hair is coded as older. Since I don’t like my hair short, what I think of as more severe and professional styles: a chignon or other smooth twist; french braids; otherwise pulled back from face (hair around your face softens it a lot) but also done neatly (my messy bun definitely makes me look younger!). Bangs definitely make me look younger!

        3. Momma Bear*

          IMO, just something polished that you like. If you find you have a pony tail every day, maybe consider a bun sometimes, or a shorter more layered look. Talk to your stylist about your options. You shouldn’t feel like you need to pick a cut that reads “old”. You’re more than your job!

        4. Nina*

          also at a job with a uniform and a no-makeup requirement – unfortunately I actually am in my twenties trying to be taken seriously – I’ve found wearing my hair short helps, and in general not-trendy, not dyed, low-maintenance, works.

          I also got one of the really senior engineers onside early on and he’s quietly passed word around that I know my shit. Men get taken more seriously, fine, I’ll use one as a mouthpiece.

          The average age of the company is definitely under 40, possibly under 35, though, and we’re the only game in the country at what we do, so everybody comes in with transferrable experience and nobody comes in with direct experience, so age doesn’t necessarily map that well to expertise here.

          1. Tala*

            I’m in my twenties and not taken seriously either. One of our C-suite had to go round and tell people they actually had to reply to my emails requesting data for our Board level reporting. Ugh!

    17. Sparkles with a side of Glitter*

      I’m 41 and now have teenagers I bring up in conversation — that has helped keep the patronizing comments to a dull roar despite my youthful looks. But I also have a whimsical name (think “Sparkles” except not quite that whimsical), smile a lot, and seem kind of country, I guess? That has led to many thinking I’m young and obviously in need of advice and mentoring. I have found that those who underestimate me usually get embarrassed eventually by my high level of competence. The rest, I just laugh off. If I’m feeling salty, I might mention the number of chin hairs I have to regularly pluck due to my age.

      Unfortunately, I think these issues will follow me a long time, and I’ll never be identified as having “leadership potential.” I hate accepting that, so I’m not totally resigned to it, but I won’t delude myself either. When I get serious, so to speak, I then get advised to stop being too assertive. Can’t win!

      1. Hosta*

        I went to school with a woman named Happiness. She was brilliant, and I heard that when she started working, she went by her last name because of all the BS you get when you have a cool name.

      2. AJ*

        Yeah, just for people who hear teenagers mentioned, don’t do the opposite and assume the person is older than you thought! I witnessed a very awkward interaction between an intern at my office and my coworker (an attorney). He mentioned his 17-year old son and she says, “oh my god, I thought we were the same age, I’m 33.” Him: “I AM 33.” (Which he was. Uncomfortable silence followed. I’m glad I was not the one who thoughtlessly assumed teen parents of course could not grow up to be successful young professionals because I’m sure he’s gotten more than enough of those comments.)

    18. Anya*

      I have a friend that had this issue, and she solved it by adding gray highlights into her hair. A touch of gray adds some years pretty quickly. Definitely not a solution for everyone, but maybe something to consider.

    19. Savoryspice*

      I feel your pain. Also a woman, and also had this happen. I was getting teased a lot by one older male coworker who I was friendly with until one day my mom’s birth year came up. Turns out he’s way older than me, and 6 months younger than my mom (who was really young when she had me) so the misjudging went both ways. We shared a very awkward moment where he realized if he messed up his life a bit more he could have had a 30+ year old instead of the 5 year old he has, and we both laughed and it’s never been brought up again by either of us.

    20. CAElady*

      I’m a woman, now in my early 30s, in a specialized field of engineering (simulations and modelling). I live in Scandinavia, so the culture may well be different, but I’ve also experienced this. One thing that has really helped me, and it sucks to have to say this, is finding more senior men who are forward thinking (and nice) enough that they are impressed by my skills from the get go AND are aware of gender structures in the work place and are willing to do something about it. Like one guy from a previous job “as CAElady was saying”, “CAElady, what do you think?” and so on. It helps with getting the other people on board that I’m actually competent at my job and treating me as such.

      The social commentary is trickier, but I’m willing to be a pain in the neck to people who think I have poor life skills that they rarely do it twice. Really, dude, you think someone who has been living away from their parents for a decade doesn’t have the tools to build IKEA furniture because woman? The week before I had taken apart my kitchen sink (and told my coworkers about it as a “what I did this weekend”) to figure out where the blockage was, but let’s assume I don’t own a manual screwdriver :eyeroll:

    21. Alice's Rabbit*

      It sounds like a baby-face problem, as much as anything. While I don’t have this problem myself, I have helped friends and roommates overcome it. But it does require a long, hard look at… your look.
      First thing is wardrobe. You have to dress as mature as you can manage. This is going to look different depending on your office dress code, but a few basic rules: no t-shirts, sneakers, jeans, sportswear, or hoodies. Ever. Those read as being youthful. Choose tailored suits and separates, rather than dresses or casual wear. Pencil skirts yes, flowy skirts no. Nice slacks are a good choice. And somber colors like gray, black, navy, brown, khaki, ivory, and jewel tones. Avoid pastels, bright colors, or anything very in vogue. You want timeless pieces, as those indicate a mature personality.
      Minimal jewelry. Simple earrings, nothing showy. A single chain necklace with one pendant, or a plain strand of pearls. Wedding/engagement ring.
      Heels are your friend, if you can wear them. Added height seems to translate to added maturity for some people. Again, mature heels, though. Simple pumps are always a good choice. Wedges look a little casual, and eye-catching shoes are too flashy; again, you want mature to the nth degree.
      So that’s the easy part. Now we come to hair and makeup. If you’re constantly being treated younger than you really are, there’s a good chance that your face is youthful. Not a bad thing, but it can be frustrating.
      A different haircut or style can drastically change the shape of your face. I wouldn’t dare advise without first seeing an individual, but it might be a good idea to talk to a stylist about what can be done to make you look like you’re actually closer to 40 than 20. A different color might help, too; darker tones tend to read as mature but on old. Do not go for funky, trendy styles or colors, though; again, those seem youthful, and you can’t afford to be misread.
      Ponytails and braids look juvenile. Don’t get me wrong, I love them! But a French twist or bun would help more.
      As for makeup, you can’t afford to skip it. Contouring is awesome! It can make round cheeks look thinner, sharpen cheekbones, and just reshape things a lot. There’s a bunch of awesome tutorials online, if you don’t want an in-person lesson. But the skilled ladies at the Clinique counter can probably teach you a few tricks for your individual needs, too.
      Lastly, speech. How you speak and write is just as big an indicator of age as how you look. Avoid slang and hyperbole. And lean more formal than casual.

    22. Rainy Cumbria*

      I have also experienced this and don’t have any advice to offer. I’m almost 40 but frequently get mistaken for being much younger, I think because I have acne and don’t have kids. I’ve tried mentioning how long I was in certain places, referring to being an 80s kid etc, but found that people tend to be immune to that if they’ve already made their minds up about me. I found out recently that even though my boss (who I work with every day) knows I have a degree and 10 years of experience in llama care before moving into alpaca support three years ago, he still somehow thought I was 30. I’m leaving soon (to go back into llama care, my spiritual home), and I’m hoping at some point in my notice period I can find an opportunity to correct people’s assumption. I’m thinking “you know I’m 39, right?” or “Bob, I’m a lot closer to your age than you think I am,” and just letting it be awkward.

  2. Essess*

    I would return the awkward back to the speaker. In meetings with a manager when they do the “when I was starting out” lecture, I would say “I’m not sure how that’s relevant at this stage in my career?”

    1. Person from the Resume*

      I agree partially. I think the LW needs to proactively tell people she’s 30 and experienced (especially her boss who should understand her career path and goals) before they say dumb stuff, but when they say dumb stuff return the awkward.

      old enough to drink? “Dude, I’ve been old enough to drink for the last 10 years.”
      you’re 30? “Yes; why are you shocked?”
      experience disrespected/discounted. “I’ve been doing this job for nearly 10 years.” “In my 10 years of experience…” “Since I started doing this work 10 years ago, …”

      Tell people you regularly work with and it will hopefully stick and they stop making incorrect and frustrating assumptions.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        ‘I think the LW needs to proactively tell people she’s 30 and experienced…’

        Disagree with the first part, agree with the second. Being 30 years old doesn’t necessarily speak to one’s professional experience, credentials, or capabilities. Stating, ‘I have over 10 years of experience doing this,’ makes establishes more credibility.

        Being 60 years old doesn’t speak to one’s professional capabilities, either, for what it’s worth. But that’s another thread!

        1. LovebyLetters*

          As someone who very well could have written the letter (I’m 36 and still get people thinking I’m barely old enough to drink), I found there were situations where THAT didn’t even work. Being able to interview remotely was a godsend for me; even when my resume clearly showed I’d been in the field for 13 years, for in person interviews I often got asked why I wasn’t just applying for entry level or secretarial roles. Over the phone I could carry myself with enough confidence that I had no trouble.

          What did work for me was dressing more conservatively. I actively HATED it, but dressing like I was an angry librarian (thick black glasses, a very conservative suit in a muted color, dark lipstick, hair in a spotless bun) was what finally got me a management level role and more respect. I felt like I was putting on a costume every day, but it did work.

          1. OhNo*

            The clothing aspect is worth calling out again, I think. Many people unconsciously view certain clothing items as a marker of age. Think of things like “mom jeans” (before they became a young person’s trend, obviously), or cardigans, or sweater vests, or a glasses chain. There are probably more examples, but the point is that it’s an item that people of any age could wear, but only people of a certain age usually do. Use those shortcuts to your advantage.

            For bonus aged-up cred, pick something that one of your older colleagues wears that your younger colleagues comment on. My pick was sweater vests – we had an older gentleman who used to work for my company, and the younger set would frequently comment on his collection of (apparently “grandfatherly”?) sweater vests. So I started wearing those myself, and when one of my colleagues asked why, I said, “Oh, well, I haven’t been as comfortable in a cold office since I turned 30. Plus, you know, I always like how they look on George.” Gave me a chance to drop my age in conversation and make a connection in their mind between me and an older colleague.

          2. Sam*

            Same story here. I’ve always looked younger. Changed the way I dress and switched from contacts to glass. Didn’t like it, but it helped a lot in new work situations where people may not immediately know my experience.

            Also seconding how remote interviews were helpful in this regard. Something about it allowed my resume to do more of the talking .

        2. Yorick*

          Well, if I think you’re 24, I’m gonna doubt whether you actually have 10 years of experience or are seriously rounding up. If you make sure people know you’re 30, that won’t be such an issue. (Honestly, even at 30 it sounds a little like rounding up. If people are assuming college then entering the field, that would be 8 years)

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Not a universally accurate assumption. I know quite a few engineers who worked as part-time&seasonal lab techs in college or even high school. I know several people who started factory jobs right out of high school, took advantage of the employer education benefit, and moved into factory management on graduation.

      2. peachy*

        This is good advice, but want to add the caveat with certain types of ultra-paternalistic folks (esp. dudes), even this won’t work. I’m soon-to-be 36, but constantly get told I look like I’m in my twenties. In a prior male-dominated environment, I’d get this a lot, and would constantly just announce my actual age or say the things you suggest, “Well, in my 8 years of experience….” All that it did was make my managers think I was “too big for her britches.”

        I think that for folks like this, it’s not really about your age. It’s about the fact that you make them feel insecure by being good at your job. Age just seems like the most socially-acceptable thing that they can use to put you in your place– it’s like saying “You may be talented, but I’m experienced.”

        I’ve had *some* success with just trying to be more authoritative: lowering my voice (not Elizabeth Holmes levels, but a few notches than my normal inclination); avoiding “ums” and “uhs”; speaking loudly and at a steady pace; making eye contact; and not backing down so easily when I know I’m right. Unfortunately, doesn’t work with everyone. Some people are just immovable objects and not worth the energy.

        1. HistoryLady*

          This is a major factor worth discussing! I’ve found as an almost-30 yo woman, and the youngest manager in my company, that if I don’t approach things from a participative or team-based perspective, some people remain unconfident in my abilities or approach. If I do it myself, people become uncomfortable and questioning; including others (even minimally) seems to negate that, even though the end result is exactly the same. It’s very irritating.

        2. Sylvan*

          Yeah. Honestly, working for a dog trainer for a bit helped me with this. Control your body language, speak calmly and confidently, and look people in the eyes. If they’re not giving you attention, stop and wait for them to.

          If you have a higher-pitched voice, I don’t know if I would try to change it. There’s nothing wrong with it. You can project your voice more by speaking from your chest instead of your throat.

        3. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

          Thank you for pointing this out… it’s true that some (especially male-dominated, conservative-leaning) work environments are much more likely to have this problem, and much harder to fix it in. I do worry about being seen as cocky or full of myself and I don’t think it’s a totally unrealistic concern.

          1. Momma Bear*

            Do you have a trusted colleague who could give you reliable feedback on how you sound when you try to change your presentation style? Women are often not rewarded for being assertive but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try for fear of being seen as bossy or cocky. How many men are “full of themselves” but it’s seen as confidence?

      3. jenny20*

        Honestly to me this would read as insecure and probably immature and would have the opposite effect to what you intend.
        I would look to see if you can dress older, carry yourself and speak with more confidence. I like Essess’ language of ‘I’m not sure how that’s relevant at this stage in my career?’

        I used to have the same problem but co-sign other posters who said it went away after 40.

      4. Loulou*

        I feel like this could end up backfiring. It seems like my field is pretty different than OP’s, but I think having someone repeatedly bring up “nearly 10 years” would actually make them sound…really young. 30 is pretty young and at my workplace, 10 years isn’t a huge amount.

        This advice might totally work for OP, but just want to add in the counterpoint for others in different fields, similar situations.

        1. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

          Hard to say if it would backfire or not… I’m younger than average for workers in my organization, but within my specialty area I am the most experienced technician in a 300-mile radius.

      5. morethanbeingtired*

        This is my approach- I’m 39 and I still get the comments from clients and colleagues about “oh when I was in my 20s” so I just started 1. Stating when I meet people how many years experience I have. 2. Casually mention my age often- “when I was a kid in the 80s” “as an 80s kid” “I can’t believe I graduated high school 20 years ago” “I can’t believe it’s been 15 years since I graduated college” “when I stated college in 2000” “when I got my first job after college in 2005” “…my husband of 13 years…” “when I got married in 2007”
        It will take a few months for everyone to get the message but eventually word will get around and their perception of you will change. I also correct people in the moment and recently had this interaction:
        Client: “well you’re so much younger than me, so your perception of college…”
        Me: “Ha ha ha- what do you mean?! I’m 39! ha ha ha”
        Client: “… oh my God… I’m 5 years younger than you… how do you look so young??”
        Me: “Good genes and sunscreen! Ha ha ha”

        1. Jay*

          Colleague: I have a son your age.
          Me: I doubt that.
          Colleague: Yes! He’s 32.
          Me: I’m 48.

        2. Sunscreen!*

          I’m in the same boat 39 and people think I’m in my 20s – I don’t have a baby face, but I’ve diligently worn sunscreen and avoided the sun over the years + exercice regularly. I lay it on thick when I meet new people in a professional capacity – “I’ve been doing this for over 17 years”; “When I finished high school in ’98” (was skipped ahead which is why the math might seem off); “I’m a senior [role/capacity]”. I also noticed people tend to step back and give me more room when they know I’m older, they’re less up in my personal space.

    2. Prospect Gone Bad*

      I would be gentler. Not that the OP’s concern isn’t valid, but to many slightly older folk, 30 doesn’t seem that distant from “just starting out.” That phrase means different things to different people. OP is taking it to mean literally “just started” while many middle aged people think of it as “I didn’t have experience with so much stuff I do today and I was still in a growth phase.”

      In the same way that a 30 year old looks at their 24 year old self and thinks “wow I’ve done a lot since then,” a 47 year old is going to look at their 30 year old self and think “wow I thought I knew everything but I didn’t.” And there is nothing wrong with that.

      I think the bigger issue is if the advice is useless. A gentle, “I already know that, I’ve been doing this for six years*, do you have other feedback” is enough. *Personally I wouldn’t cite a full 10 years because it will lead them to question why you’re most likely including internships and lower level roles into the mix. I would probably cut off the first few years if they were that sort of experience, and at least start at my graduation date.

      1. Velawciraptor*

        She should absolutely NOT claim less experience than she has to make others comfortable. It’s not her job to make others comfortable with their rudeness and their poor assumptions. Women should NEVER shrink themselves or sell themselves short to make things less awkward.

        1. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

          That doesn’t seem like claiming less experience; depending on context, I (a woman who has never been accused of being a shrinking violet) might find it odd if someone who had just turned 30 said they had ten years of experience, given that in most industries college internships or part-time work isn’t counted as “experience” in that sense.

          1. Esmeralda*

            OP says she has ten years of specialized experience. She probably knows what she’s talking about.

            Not everyone goes to college, also. OP could very well have started in her position in her late teens.

            1. Coenobita*

              Heck, my wife has a traditional four-year degree – which she received a few months after turning 20, due to moving internationally a bunch of times and skipping grades as a kid. It’s totally possible to have 10 years of experience even if the “clock” starts the day you get your bachelor’s degree.

              1. Prospect Gone Bad*

                Are we really going to pretend this is the norm? And yes, not everyone goes to college, but we all know the job market very well and know that basically every technical job requires college. I am sticking to my original point that they are probably adding together all experience to prove a point but know they actually don’t have a full 10 years, so should differentiate between student/part-time and tangentially related work and work that actually pertains to their current role. That would be to help their credibility and give an accurate description of what they’re bringing to the table. I don’t see how adding in internship type jobs into the total helps them build credibility, which is the point of the question.

                1. Mystik Spiral*

                  But the LW’s actual number of years of experience isn’t the issue here. It’s being infantilized in an industry in which she’s been working for a decade. That’s the problem. It doesn’t matter if she has 6 years or 10 years of hard experience, she’s not a child or just starting her career, and is understandably tired of people assuming that she’s just barely into adulthood and the working world.

                2. JustMyImagination*

                  Most US students, without skipping grades, graduate with their bachelors when they’re 21/22. If LW is in her 30s, then she can easily have ten years experience post-graduation.

                3. Aquawoman*

                  Well, you’re pretending that people don’t graduate college until they’re 24 or 25 years old. My stepson will be graduating at 21 years old. Rounding up does not sound dishonest or naive (saying she’s been doing this for 9 years and 4 months would sound naive!)

                  The whole “she needs to be sweet and gentle and unthreatening and pretend her work doesn’t count” shtick is just sexist.

                4. MoreFriesPlz*

                  No, we’re going to “pretend” the letter writer knows how many years of experience she has. People are only dissecting it to death because others are accusing her of inflating her experience.

            2. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

              Thank you. Yes – I started at 20 as a regular worker, not an intern. I’ve changed titles since then, but it’s along the lines of “Llama groomer 1, Llama groomer 2, Senior llama groomer.” I’ve been training other technicians for almost five years now.

              College degrees are not required or expected in my line of work, especially for anyone below management level. Those of us with degrees usually completed them later in our careers at night school.

          2. Velawciraptor*

            We’re supposed to take letter writers at their word here. She says she has 10 years of experience. I take her at her word. That means trusting that she knows what does and doesn’t “count” in her industry and believing her accounting of her experience.

            People assuming they know more about LW’s experience than she does is the entire problem here.

            1. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

              I’m not assuming anything. I pointed out another possible interpretation, and I did note it’s context-dependent.

            2. Green great dragon*

              Yes. And I doubt people are going to start quizzing her about what exactly that experience consists of.

        2. WomEngineer*

          Agreed! I hate the idea that women should censor their accomplishments and personality!

          Some industries are doing better than others in terms of DE&I. I feel like it’s best to leave a toxic situation, but that’s not always feasible. At the same time, if LW wants to progress her career but doesn’t have an advocate at her current company, that may be a sign to head out.

          If LW wants to stay for other reasons, it can be helpful to talk to other women in the industry. There may be professional/networking orgs to facilitate that.

      2. Smithy*

        I agree with this. The OP is facing an infantilizing problem, but I also recommend taking a step back in considering how best to focus on expertise and time.

        In my 20’s, counting “years of experience” across jobs felt a lot more important. But in reality, for my industry, my years of experience didn’t really start until the job I started at 28. Not that I wasn’t working professional jobs and internships in my sector – but for what I do, those didn’t carry weight.

        However, just because I was 30 with two years of experience (or 28 and just starting), it didn’t mean I should be treated like someone new to the work world who couldn’t identify a frustrating professional issue that required trouble shooting support from my boss. It may be that the OP’s current or next boss has a story closer to mine, and so someone who is 30 or 31 is still newer or younger. Even with knowing their age. It may also be that the OP graduated undergrad at 20 and has had fulltime professional work since then. Regardless, focusing on the years in this situation opens the door to a debate about experience that is likely derailing from how advice is being give and the OP being treated.

        1. Ally McBeal*

          Sorry, I disagree. Perhaps it is to some degree industry-dependent, but I’ve switched industries a few times since graduating college in 2008, and every single one of those experiences has contributed to the kind of employee I am today. Hell, even my high school and college work-study jobs contribute. What you’re saying feels similar to saying “well you were only in your major program in college for 2 years, so do you even really have a 4-year degree?” when most schools have lots of liberal arts prereqs that contribute to your ability to be a well-rounded graduate AND usually helps you gain perspective within your major field of study.

        2. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

          I’ll have to think about that. My gut reaction is that years of experience matter very much, but I could be wrong.

          For context, this is a blue-collar field where most of us do not have (or need) college degrees. I’ve been doing much the same type of work since I was 20, with the main difference being the amount of decision-making authority and independence I have. I feel like length of experience is important because it gives me more perspective on the probability/frequency/long-term effects of certain issues and because it means even if a scenario is extremely rare I’ve probably encountered it several times before.

    3. Velawciraptor*

      Absolutely. I’m a big fan of looking at people dead-eyed and saying “I’ve been doing this job for the better part of a decade. What makes you think I’m unfamiliar with professional standards/entry level requirements/industry norms/etc?”

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Not so casual comments & questions in meetings can make the point to many people at one time: “That sounds like the electric llama project from just before the XYZ acquisition. George, do you want to go through my old test plans and see if we can reuse the work in the new project?”

    4. Bagpuss*

      Yes, I think being more proactive about mentioning her levels of experience.

      e.g. if someone starts out saying something like ” When I was starting in my career…” maybe respond in kind? “Yes, when I started out I was similar, but I’m not sure that’s relevant here” or “Sure, most people starting out do x, I expect I did, too, but that was a decade ago”

      Depending on how much interaction you have with these people you could always try addressing it directly – “I’ve noticed that when we are working together, you often make comments that imply I’m very young, or am just starting out in my career. I’m not, I’ve been doing this for a decade, I’m very experienced and qualified – I’m concerned that you perhaps under estimate my experience and competence and that undermines me in my role – I know I look younger than I am, but I’d really appreciate it if you could remember to treat me as you would anyone else with my level of experience.”

    5. hallucinating hack*

      Here’s a slightly different twist on it: agree with them. “Oh, I totally know what you mean! When *I* was starting out 10 years ago/back in [year] it was…”

      Be oblivious. Don’t so much as hint that you know they’re trying to put you down. You’re on the same experience level as them and you CAN’T POSSIBLY IMAGINE that they would assume otherwise.

  3. C in the Hood*

    Just 2 things that come to my mind are hair and voice. How do you wear your hair? (I know that hair can be really, really personal, though.) And what is the timber of your voice? Is it kind of high-pitched? Any vocal fry?

    1. CR*

      It really bothers me that things associated with women (high voice, vocal fry) are considered “bad” in the workplace (because in order to be taken more seriously we have to be masculine).

      1. Orange You Glad*

        I agree, they are also traits that can’t really be changed. Sure she can cut her hair, but why should she?

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          You absolutely can change your vocal style, if you’re willing to work with a vocal coach or go to Toastmasters.

          If you speak in a way that makes people think ‘teenager’, I recommend trying it.

          1. Ismonie*

            I’m torn about this advice. I had a naturally high voice, but as a teenager I heard this stuff and I did change my voice. I don’t know if it helped, because it has been my voice during my entire professional career. I do think it is kind of gross that I felt the need to change. Speaking confidently is one thing. Switching to a deeper register because it is “manly” and “not annoying” still troubles me.

            1. SheLooksFamiliar*

              I don’t think you need to have a deep, ‘masculine’, or Bea Arthur-type voice, just a well-modulated one. FWIW, a lot of men speak in a breathy tone, or higher pitch, and I wouldn’t recommend a ‘manly’ voice to them, either. Just a more controlled tone. A speech pathologist friend taught me some breathing techniques that helped me pace myself, and that brought down my pitch a bit.

              Now, vocal fry bugs me whether it’s a man or woman doing it. Vocal fry used to be considered a speech impediment, and that speech pathologist friend still thinks it is. Guess it does damage to your vocal cords or some such. I don’t consider someone incompetent or unprofessional just because of vocal fry but I can’t help internal cringing when I hear it. It’s like nails on a chalkboard to me.

              1. Ismonie*

                Hi, like I said, I did this, but the reason behind the advice to lower your voice does have to do with masculinity being privileged over femininity. No, I don’t sound like Bea Arthur, and I’ve gotten compliments on my voice and speaking style, but it squicks me out that I changed it, and that my default voice, which I honed in theater and speech and debate, wasn’t “good enough.”

              2. Tali*

                Vocal fry certainly does not damage your vocal cords and it’s actually a key component of some languages around the world. Many men use vocal fry and few notice it! Maybe it’s grating to you personally, but that’s a pet peeve, not a diagnosis of a medical ailment or a universal negative.

        2. Drtheliz*

          I wouldn’t say “cut”, I’d say “bun and/or braid, all on the head” – as a culture, the West has still got a little bit of hangover from “unmarried girls have loose hair, matrons tie it up”.

      2. After 33 years ...*

        I had to look “vocal fry” up. I am male, 65, with a relatively high voice and (apparently) some vocal fry.

        1. CBB*

          When older, high-voiced men like you and I (and Ira Glass, practically the inventor of vocal fry) use vocal fry, no one complains. That’s probably why is widely regarded as sexist to criticize young women for speaking that way.

          1. Jack Bruce*

            Ha, I hate Ira’s glass voice and most other versions of vocal fry but that’s on me and just a sensory thing I have to deal with.

          2. Jack Bruce*

            Ha, I hate Ira Glass’s voice and other versions of vocal fry, but that’s a sensory thing for me and I try to deal with it.

        2. fueled by coffee*

          Lots of men produce vocal fry – one of its effects is to make the speaker’s voice sound deeper. We just notice and complain about it when young women do it.

          1. dePizan*

            Absolutely–tons of male actors do it, listen to just about any action/cop/gangster movie trailer and you’ll find loads of it. Vin Diesel, Bruce Willis, Jeff Bridges and Tom Hardy do it constantly (and not an actor, but so does Bill Clinton); Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch all do it a lot as well. And regarding Cumberbatch, when vocal fry was first noted by linguists, from the 1930s to at least the 1970s, it was very much associated with upper class British men as an affected way to denote their class.

      3. Spicy Tuna*

        At my previous job, the Chief Legal Officer, a brilliant woman in her 50’s, had a little girl’s voice. If you had never met her in person and were just speaking with her over the phone, you would think you were talking to a child. This trait did not hold her back.

        1. Mystik Spiral*

          I had to have a liver transplant last year. The chief transplant doctor at the hospital sounded like Lisa Simpson. Clearly it didn’t hold her back in her career either. Telling women they have to change things about themselves to be taken more seriously is a huge part of the problem.

      4. velomont*

        Unfortunately, vocal fry is often (almost always IME) a chosen affectation. In the last 20-some years of my 40 year working life I’ve had six female bosses and have been exposed to numerous female senior naval officers and corporate executives and a zillion female co-workers, all of whom have been extremely competent, smart and talented and earned their positions through merit. They’ve had the full gamut of voice pitches (one of whom was project manager with a very high pitched voice and probably half my age and extremely smart and competent) and now they’re all much younger than me and I have never IRL heard a case of vocal fry except for a couple of NPR presenters. I’m a 62 yr old male btw.

        1. m*

          This is just factually incorrect. Vocal fry is not a chosen affectation. It’s a manifestation of a known linguistic register called “creaky voice.” I have very strong natural vocal fry in some situations, as do most women in my cohort. It’s completely unconscious, and most people find it difficult to tell when somebody is actually doing creaky voice if they aren’t on the lookout for it. (Same goes for both people who do it AND people who say they dislike it–I would put very good odds that you hear it every day if you live in a metropolitan area of North America. It’s just that it’s not actually nearly as noticeable in real life as people make it seem.)

          Factors like pitch and tone are highly influenceable by the speaking culture a person is a part of. You’ll see that the Wikipedia page for “creaky voice” uses the term “conversational entrainment” to describe this. Younger women have more vocal fry because language changes over time and vocal fry has become prominent in the younger cohort by the mysterious arbitrary means through which any language change occurs. Most women do it in some situations and not others, again totally unconsciously.

          You can teach yourself to stop using vocal qualities like this, but it requires training, similar to losing an accent, and usually requires a level of self-reflexivity that is highly difficult to maintain. Asking young women to maintain that level of self-reflexivity constantly is a huge mental burden that impacts their ability to participate fully in the workplace.

          Fun fact: in some languages creaky voice is phonemic, i.e., a word means something different if you say it in a neutral register vs. creaky voice!

        2. TechWorker*

          How exactly are you concluding that it’s a chosen affectation? Feels a bit like saying ‘I’ve never worked with anyone with x accent therefore anyone with that accent is choosing it as an affectation’ – no.

      5. ecnaseener*

        It bothers me too, but it’s also the reality that this may be contributing to OP’s young image. C didn’t say it’s bad or that OP has to change it, it’s just a thing to consider since OP specifically asked for possible strategies to appear older.

      6. Jessica Ganschen*

        Ironically, vocal fry used to be thought of as a very masculine trait, to the point that vocal coaches working with trans women would advise them to never use it, because it would be perceived as contrary to the more feminine voice that they wanted to achieve.

      7. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

        It bothers me as well… but, as lousy as this is, I’m willing to play along if that’s what it takes to give myself career opportunities.

        I figure I’d rather fight the system by getting more authority that I can use to protect other women, and using what social capital I have for things like getting essential equipment and uniforms that women can comfortably use.

        1. Prof_Murph*

          I had this problem – looking younger than I am while being more experienced. I get that it sucks but I purposefully wore professional/fashionable clothes with professional jewelry etc. For instance, even though we had no dress policy, I never wore jeans to work, sleeveless blouses, sneakers etc. (Lots and lots of tunics, knee-high boots, leggings, and skirts). Anything with rips, fringe, mesh, holey, was totally out. As my salary increased, I invested in designer (read: expensive) wardrobe items. (To a lesser extent this also included a styled haircut and make up – but that was more my own preference than work motivated). It burned me up that my male colleagues could wear t-shirts and sneakers to work without a second glance but I knew to be viewed as ‘competent’ woman, I had to look ‘extra’ professional. Now that I have grey hair (and don’t dye it) and was promoted to a very senior position, I’ve relaxed a little to include jeans and more casual styles – I even wore a skirt with a frayed hem last week – mercy me!

          1. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

            Fortunately/unfortunately, we wear a uniform at work. So how I dress is basically outside my control aside from choosing the size I wear and when to replace worn-out items, but also I don’t have to worry too much about whether my clothes are an issue!

    2. Ashley*

      I would probably try to adjust a hair style. It can definitely make you younger but in a messy job needing a ponytail make sense but makes you look young.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        I’m doing this. I love my pixie cut and I’ve had it for 15 years, but I’m testing growing it out to see if it changes how people interact with me. I still have a short cut, but not spikey short.

      1. crchtqn2*

        I have never heard a women say vocal fry, other than to complain that men use it as a criticism. How should we even respond “sorry, that’s my voice?” We don’t analyze men’s vocal tendencies, why are womens judged?

        1. SoloKid*

          I’ve heard it from women tons of times. And even uptalking what should be firm statements (“sorry, that’s my voice?” instead of “That’s my voice.”) can come off as someone not sure of what they’re talking about.

      2. mc*

        Yes, women do do this to other women! I’ve gotten this type of condescension from other women simply because they think they are older than me. (academia)

        On one memorable occasion, I was steamed at a woman’s attitude towards me so I worked my real age into our conversation. It turned out I was actually 15 years OLDER than she thought!

        She was so flummoxed that she was literally speechless with her mouth hanging open for almost a minute. Then she stalked away without saying another word.

        It turned out badly unfortunately. For years after that, she refused to talk to me and acted like my worst enemy in the workplace. I spent a lot of time racking my brain trying to think how I had offended her. I now believe that she somehow thinks I was mocking her by not telling her my real age sooner. Very strange!

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I had a woman coworker recommend that I change the color of my hair. According to her, with mine, I was never going to be taken seriously at work. She recommended that I dye my hair red instead like she did. That was three weeks before she was fired for extreme incompetence. I kept my hair color.

      4. Beth*

        I’m a woman and these were my first reaction: adopt a hairstyle that’s associated with older women, and check to see if vocal tone might be a factor. Timbre is difficult to change; vocal fry is mostly a set of speech habits, and can be changed with persistence and coaching.

    3. Irish girl*

      why should any of that matter? Just because someone looks older or younger is does indicate their knowledge or experience. I have always looked younger than I am and have a high pitched voice but people should not be judging my experience based on that. She should not have to change that to get people to stop making these kinds of comments, people should just not say things like that in general.

      1. KHB*

        Because “How can I seem more mature to my colleagues?” is literally the question that OP asked? Of course stuff like this shouldn’t matter, but the fact is that it does, and OP asked for ideas of things she can work on. I don’t understand why this is so horrifying.

        1. fueled by coffee*

          Honestly, my concern is also that the issue is that her coworkers are being infantilizing in ways that also would not be appropriate even if she *was* younger than she is. Discrediting her suggestions, giving unsolicited advice about their own work experience, and so on are not appropriate for someone who was hired as a “skilled technical expert” with some amount of experience. Presumably she is in her current position because she had the qualifications for it; her age in years is irrelevant.

          Like most young-ish women, I also put up with my fair share of this kind of asshole-ish behavior from older and male-er colleagues. Dressing in older-looking clothes, being obsessively professional in communication style, and so on doesn’t stop sexism, it just changes its form.

          I’m also concerned that pushing back on this in reference to age (and maybe even years of experience?) is just going to invite defensiveness from her colleagues: “Oh, I meant it as a compliment, you just look so young!” or “Don’t be so sensitive; I’m just giving you advice.” I don’t have a real solution here, but I think the suggestions above about referencing her experience and matter-of-factly asking how these comments are relevant are more on target than suggesting she learn to talk differently.

      2. successor state*

        It matters because it’s happening to the LW and she wants to change it. It’s all well and good to decry the unfairness of the situation (and yes it is completely unfair), but what good will that do for LW who is here asking for practical advice?

    4. CBB*

      I’m not sure I like the idea of questioning LW’s voice. People speak the way they speak, and the last thing we should do is encourage LW to be self-conscious about her voice.

      1. Dasein9*

        Yes and no. It certainly is personal, but there is such a thing as vocal training and it can be pretty effective. IF the issue lies with OP’s voice, then OP should be aware that the option exists so she can exercise that option IF she finds it an attractive one.

        1. Aquawoman*

          IF the issue lies with **men being sexist about** OP’s voice, then she should be aware the option exists if that’s how she wants to deal with their sexism.

          1. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

            Thank you. Although in this case, it’s both men and women being sexist. Internalized misogyny is a bear.

            I’m 100% aware of the sexism surrounding me but since I don’t want to change careers I need practical strategies for dealing with it.

    5. Sammy*

      If you want to be taken seriously, just change your voice, the manner in which you speak and get an entirely new hairstyle!

      What horrible advice.

      1. Nea*

        Unpleasant but not uncalled for advice. Perception bias is real, and it undercuts many people for multiple reasons. LW needs to be perceived as her actual age. My father, who moved north to follow his STEM career, had to change his wardrobe and get a vocal coach to erase his accent before he was taken seriously by his coworkers.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        ‘Hey if you want to stop the guys in the office sleezing on you, maybe consider wearing looser clothing, cutting your hair, making your voice less friendly, stop smiling at them..’

        Just…no. I’ve had decades of work with people telling me to change my voice, posture, expression, clothing etc to either put people off asking me out or to make them feel more comfortable around me and I. Am. Done.

        1. Mannequin*

          I feel you, Gozer. I was in the camp of “you are immature/nobody will take you seriously with tattoos, piercings, colored hair, unconventional clothing” and in my 50s still fail to see a connection between skill, professionalism, and:or work ethic and “how people like to dress”. Looking a certain way isn’t a sign of professionalism or reliability, it’s camouflage that fools people into thinking someone is professional or reliable whether they actually are or not.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            Nearly into my 50s (eep), am tattooed quite a lot but on areas most people never see (enormous pink Floyd piece on my back), frequently dress corporate goth…etc. Yeah some people tell me to ‘grow up’ but eh, I’m not interested in their opinion.

      3. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

        Since mind control isn’t an option and I have no reason to believe it would be any better at any employer in my field, what would you suggest other than changing how I present myself?

        I don’t like it, I recognize the biases and iniquities behind the problem, but I still have to deal with it somehow.

        1. Frankie*

          I admire your pragmatism and I definitely relate. Sometimes, we really just want to work and don’t have the energy to change the culture.

          On a practical note, you can assess your outfits and hairstyle bec they do affect others’ perceptions sometimes.

          1. Tupac Coachella*

            I agree (and you said it MUCH more concisely than I would have). Adding that if you’re open to makeup, Ace, that might help. Late 30s here, I’ve gotten to the point where I usually read a few years younger than I am but still get taken seriously when I wear makeup, but I occasionally get carded when I don’t. Matte and/or full coverage foundation (I like Revlon SuperStay), black or very dark brown mascara, and high blush placement (on the cheekbone and up toward the brow rather than across the apple) are ways to incorporate “mature” cues into what you already do.

    6. S*

      Longer hair often reads younger. When I get a haircut, I usually spell out what I’m looking for: put-together professional office worker in my mid-forties. I’m finally getting a gray hair or two and it’s helping, but it’s a struggle. I have a husband and two kids, which you’d think would help cue my age, but coworkers lost. their. minds when they found out about the kids. “You had them so young!” (When in fact I was so old I had to have IVF for both of them.)

      1. Manders*

        Yes! It’s weird, but when I went from a mid-length bob to a short haircut, my problems with not being seen as my actual age vanished. I have no clue why–short hairstyles actually seem pretty trendy for young women right now–but shorter hair reads as older to most people.

        That’s a pretty extreme choice I wouldn’t recommend for someone who otherwise likes their look. It’s just something I noticed after going from “treated like a high school student” to “treated like an an adult” literally overnight.

        1. Spicy Tuna*

          At my previous job, the Chief Legal Officer, a brilliant woman in her 50’s, had a little girl’s voice. If you had never met her in person and were just speaking with her over the phone, you would think you were talking to a child. This trait did not hold her back.

          1. Spicy Tuna*

            Not sure how that comment got nested under the hair comment!

            On the topic of hair though, I have naturally blond, very curly hair. I dyed it dark brown and started blowing it out and immediately got a promotion.

          2. L.H. Puttgrass*

            I could see that being really useful in certain areas of law, where there could be advantages in not being taken seriously (until it’s too late).

        2. Clorinda*

          You can put long hair back in a bun if you want to keep the long hair but look like an adult. Just not a high ballerina bun, since that makes a young-looking woman appear to be about twelve.

            1. hamburke*

              I have golden brown hair that I don’t dye. I see all the grey. Someone just complimented my highlights and they weren’t joking…

      2. PhD survivor*

        When I was 34, a colleague told me I must be too young to have kids. Very ironic thing to tell someone who is almost old enough to be a geriatric mother (I don’t have children but was surprised by this odd comment). Glad I’m not the only one this has happened to.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          That just flashed me back to my boss’s new boss talking to me. She said something along the lines of, “When you get to my age…..”. Took me by surprise because I was 99.9999% certain I am older than her. Next time she said something in that vein, I laughed and said, “We were still in Vietnam when I was born. I’m pretty sure I was your age about 10 years ago” (actually closer to 15 yrs between us!). Weird thing is *I* think I look my age, but my basis of comparison is my better half who looks like he just finished HS despite being 9 years older than me

      3. Loredena Frisealach*

        I like my hair on the long side, and I found that wearing it in a bun rather than a ponytail at work read as older – which means now that I *am* older I’m more likely to opt for the ponytail and scrunchy!

    7. kicking_k*

      I have to admit, although it’s annoying, a change of hairstyle can work. I had the same problem all through my twenties, and not just from men. I was told by my boss that she had thought I was pretty young to be getting married until she found out my real age (I was very slightly older than she was herself). Started wearing my hair up more (bun or chignon) and the problem disappeared.

      I have not cut my hair short, but it’s now greying. I don’t feel I have to wear it up all the time now.

      1. Velawciraptor*

        It’s not merely annoying. It’s sexist nonsense we shouldn’t still be feeding into in the year 2021.

        1. Combinatorialist*

          I agree with you to a point. However, it is exhausting to constantly be fighting the good fight in order to be taken seriously. Sometimes the irritation in having to get an “older” looking haircut is A LOT less than the irritation of having to constantly field shock and awe at your age.

          Nobody is saying “this is your fault for not cutting your hair a certain way.” It is much more “you shouldn’t have to do this, but you might find that a haircut really helps this problem.” The OP can decide for themselves which is more irritating.

          Even though it is the year 2021, we live in a sexist world. Doing things that help us survive without constantly fighting the patriarchy is not a bad thing.

          1. anonymath*

            Yes, this is important. On a societal level, we all need to fight against unfairness. The responsibility here lies on the *bystanders* not the victims — that’s *us*, readers! For someone experiencing direct discrimination, sure they can fight for societal change all their lives — but that’s not going to immediately address the problems they are dealing with.

            For our letter-writer, “wait until ageism is gone” is not a solution. “Change our culture” is also not a proximate action. “Be someone else” isn’t practical. It’s easy to say from the outside that “change the way you talk/dress/walk” is accommodation of sexism/ageism/racism, and yes it is. But when you need to get s*(& done and bring home a paycheck, often those are on the table.

            As someone in a similar position for a while (mathematician, blonde, apparently young-looking for a long time) I tried to dress more authoritatively, experimented a bit with haircuts, etc etc. Dressing distinctly differently from my college students did cut down on student/professor confusion but didn’t cut down on condescension from old guys (the older women in my depts were either non-existent or pretty great). The biggest change though was when I switched from academia to industry, and I think that’s because I moved from “oh she can help with the diversity of my grant” to “oh we are paying her for some very specialized technical skills let’s listen”. The other thing that helped is developing under-eye bags, hah.

            I have also, though, worked with professional development folks in learning to speak more authoritatively and effectively. The simple fact is that I live & work with the as%^(%#s that I live and work with. I can do what I can to succeed in the environment I’m in, or I can change to another environment that may or may not be less discriminatory (the leap from academia to industry worked well for me). But there’s no escaping sexism/racism/etc in our world. If I want to pay for daycare, pay for retirement, keep the house, and give to charity I need to decide which accommodations are acceptable and which are not. We all have to look at the range of options we have and thoughtfully decide what is important to our integrity and what is not ok. Of all people, Richard Hamming had some interesting discussion of this in You and Your Research (coming as he did from a certain point of view at a certain time, and keeping in mind that he could just change how he dressed and did not have to deal with gender or skin color).

        2. kicking_k*

          It can certainly be sexist nonsense, but I work in a highly female-dominated profession, so in my case it was… unwarranted assumptions, but unlikely to be sexism. Ageist nonsense maybe! I didn’t have a male supervisor till I was in my mid-thirties.

        3. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

          To be totally blunt, that’s neither helpful nor kind. I asked for advice on how to look older, not advice on how to fight sexism.

          I’m in an industry that is 99% male as a national average (not an exaggeration, that’s the actual statistic). Simply coming to work each day is a major part of tearing down sexist bullshit that keeps women out of this career. In many cases I’m the only woman my coworkers have ever had on their team. All the energy I have for fighting sexist nonsense is used up on things like securing access to essential equipment that will fit a woman’s anatomy, mentoring entry level women in the field, and using my seniority and relationship with management to push for more serious/effective responses to harassment reports from other women. These are the most critical issues affecting women in my industry – issues that affect our physical safety and ability to even do the job at all.

          If “feeding into” people’s sexist nonsense about my appearance or voice is the price for getting the respect and authority necessary to succeed in my career, that’s my decision to make.

          1. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

            Popping in to acknowledge that the fight is exhausting, and that we only have finite energy. I’m sorry that this is something you have to deal with, and that you’re put in the position where you have to make hard decisions about where and when to fight.

            I’ve had someone delay mission critical projects for a year because he (a known misogynist who is also a VP) doubted my competence and experience. It wasn’t until a group of people stepped up and fought for me that it got any sort of traction. And even then, he would only listen to the men. It is terrible and stupid and I’m very sorry.

      2. SciDiver*

        Ponytails or top-knot messy buns definitely read as younger. If you’re working a hands-on job, a chignon or well pinned bun can work nicely to keep your hair out of your face. I’ve also found specific braided hairstyles work for me, but those can be tricky as it might make your youthful appearance more pronounced depending on the exact style.

    8. ZSD*

      I’m a woman who thinks the advice to work on eliminating vocal fry is good advice. I’m not sure why people are criticizing C in the Hood for this post. Vocal fry is mostly used by younger women, and when you do hear a woman who is, say, 40 using vocal fry, it makes her sound like she’s in her 20s.
      And as a linguist, I can tell you that this absolutely is something that someone can control and change.

        1. linguist #3 apparently*

          Yeah, my feelings mostly boil down to this:

          I understand the pressure on (young) women to try whatever strategy works to be taken seriously in the office, but like, stop freaking pretending that these ageist/sexist men are waiting around totally ready to treat their colleague respectfully if only she would change how she talked.

          1. Ismonie*

            Yeah, I speak in a low register and without vocal fry—still crapped on in male dominated fields!

      1. Olive Hornby*

        Agreed. In a perfect world, she shouldn’t have to change these things to be taken seriously. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and OP is looking for practical advice on navigating the imperfect one we live in.

        1. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

          They’re wildly successful, so depending on your line of work and what aspects of the Kardashians you’re emulating, it could be a very good look.

        2. CBB*

          Kim Kardashian, a successful 40-something businesswomen, TV producer, and performer, with decades of experience, is your example of young woman who shouldn’t be taken seriously? Way to prove LW’s point.

          1. Anon for this*

            There are enough people who find the Kardashians’ appearance based marketing toxic that using her as a role model for the purposes of being taken seriously is both a good and bad idea, depending on who you interact with.

        3. Sauron*

          This seems a little aggressive and unnecessary – I’m not a woman with vocal fry, but our accents aren’t always something we consciously choose to imitate and in an ideal world people should be able to have whatever accent they have at work.

      2. CBB*

        Every new generation has its own way of speaking, and inevitably the older generation disapproves.

        Like, my generation was criticized for, like, saying “like” too much, and upspeak?

      3. embertine*

        Many studies have shown that men do this as much as women. It only became reviled after it was associated in popular culture with young women due to Valley Girl stereotypes. So the problem is not how they speak, but that anything perceived as a female interest or trait in popular perception will therefore be considered worthless.

      4. Koala dreams*

        Yes, there is linguistic evidence that people consider vocal fry worse when it’s women doing it as opposed to men. In many professions, women are scrutinized more than men. Sexism doesn’t disappear just because people pretend it doesn’t exist.

    9. WellRed*

      I’m a woman who acknowledges this all sucks but it’s worth considering both. If OP wears her hair like, oh, Alice in Wonderland, she probably looks really young. If her voice is high and squeaky, same (that goes for all genders).

    10. HelenofWhat*

      I have a pretty deep voice for a woman and rarely ever vocal fry, short hair, and yet get mistaken for much younger regularly. I’ve even got many gray hairs which I don’t dye, but people act like they’re a shocking occurrence rather than a part of aging. When you’ve got good skin, it happens. Short of becoming unhealthy so you wrinkle faster, the OP is better off speaking to her experience rather than dwelling on appearance.

      1. Alpacalypse*

        Yeah, I agree. I work in a university and at some point I got tired of being mistaken for a student all the time, so I tried dressing more conservatively and wearing more serious-looking hairdos. The only thing that changed is that instead of being mistaken for a social studies/liberal arts students, I would get mistaken for a business student.

        If your face looks young I think it weighs more in people’s perception than anything else. It might be field-dependent a bit, but in a profession like OP’s which has a uniform, I’m willing to bet it’s the case. Finding good scripts for situations like the ones in the letter is probably the way to go.

    11. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

      I’m surprised by the negative responses to this comment. Yes, it’s sexist and wrong to judge women’s professional abilities by their appearance; we should all push for change in this regard. But the LW literally asked how she can come across as more mature, not how she should dismantle the patriarchy, so practical advice seems appropriate.

      In a perfect world, hair and voice would be non-issues, but we don’t live in a perfect world, so I’m not going to criticize other women for how they choose to manage the impact of sexism on their own careers and day-to-day lives.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        Same. Someone is asking the “What aspects are the broad range things that are read as markers of youthfulness/inexperience, so that I may be taken more seriously by people who make these kinds of [sexist, ageist, stereotypical] assumptions about me?”

        It should be acceptable to point out that, as much as we don’t like it and wish it would change, these are the things that still read as ‘young’ [in at least US culture]. And those things include hair style, aspects of voice, clothing, facial appearance, mannerisms, and so on.

        FWIW, I found that my overall attitude of being laser focused on work, how I spoke, and what I said had the biggest impact on being taken seriously when I was getting into mid-career territory in a male-dominated world where the few senior women had to fight different battles than me, and seen as younger (and therefore less experienced) than I was. Everyone’s mileage will vary because everyone will encounter a different set of people looking at, or influenced by, different markers.

    12. anonymous73*

      Those things are irrelevant. OP doesn’t need to fix her appearance, her colleagues need to fix their attitudes.

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          Thank you! The OP’s colleagues didn’t write in for advice, and moreover they’re not the ones facing the tangible career development impacts of having your colleagues struggle to perceive you as a professional peer.

        2. anonymous73*

          No kidding, but OP doesn’t need to change her appearance. She needs to speak up and push back when comments are made.

          1. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

            My concern isn’t the comments… it’s what the comments reveal about people’s underlying perceptions.

            Most of the time people don’t comment on my age, because that’s not respectful or professional. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t (possibly unconsciously!) affected by their perception of me as being young. Waiting for the rare occasions when someone makes a comment about it is not effective.

    13. BunBun Babbin*

      No. As someone who looks 15 years younger than I am (IT IS CONSTANT), this is bad advice. Changing hair and voice do not make someone appear older. It is purely based on facial looks and gender. I have a babyface. My hairstyle and vocal changes I tried to do when I was in my 20s did not change people constantly thought I was 12-15 years old.

      Confidence is honestly the only thing that has helped. If I am assertive and confident, people at least take me seriously. They still think I’m 20-24 (even though I’m 35), but they take me seriously because I stopped trying to do that stuff and was just ME.

      1. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

        That’s pretty disheartening… I’m quite confident and assertive already, so it sounds like there might not be much more I can do at this point.

    14. mreasy*

      I had to call someone out for mentioning a sales rep’s vocal fry in a meeting yesterday. I am a 41-year/old executive and I have an expressive voice with vocal fry and I will be DAMNED if I will spend time and energy trying to make men comfortable with that.

    15. Hillary*

      I hate to say it, but this does make a difference. A slightly more “done” hairstyle makes a difference, as do more mature speech patterns. For hair it can be as simple as using product to tame flyaways in a ponytail and wrapping the elastic to make it more polished (but not a super high & tight Ariana Grande ponytail).

      For speech patterns, filler word awareness can help. Not saying like and um makes you sound polished regardless.

    16. GlitsyGus*

      This is what I was coming here to say. One of the best things I ever did was take a few voice lessons. It isn’t so much about vocal fry and up tilt as other people have mentioned, though those are things that can be a factor. It’s more about paying attention to how I speak, how many times I say “um” or “like” and how to learn how to control my voice so that it can sound the way I want it to, not the way it just comes out. Knowing how it feels to say something in a way that actually is commanding and assertive is really useful.

      Being able to decide how I say things and knowing how it’s going to sound when it comes out is just a really great skill to have in almost every situation. Though it has helped me the most at work.

      To those saying it shouldn’t matter, of course it shouldn’t. Unfortunately, in the world we currently live in, it does.

    17. Hydrangea McDuff*

      Stop. Attacking. Women. for. “Vocal Fry.” Just STOP. It’s sexist, men do it too, and it is used to dismiss women’s thoughts. Normalize how human women actually speak and listen to them.

    18. Sleepy Unicorn*

      Not necessarily disagreeing on this, but on the extreme end Elizabeth Holmes comes to mind.

    19. C in the Hood*

      To be clear, I’m on “Team You-Do-You” & let your work speak for itself. I personally don’t change myself for anyone. But the OP did ask “How can I seem more mature to my colleagues?” and those 2 things were the first external things that came to mind that folks see as “young”.
      But even if OP *seems* young (or even if she was young!), her colleagues should not frame their interactions based on her age; that’s ageism for sure.
      Oh, and for what it’s worth, I’m not a man/dude. Thanks for affording me that benefit of the doubt. :)

    20. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

      Hair – I’m open to suggestions! Right now I keep it pulled back in a ponytail. I’ve also had it in a pixy cut and buzzed short at various times… can’t remember if that made a difference. Whatever hairstyle I choose has to stay out of my face even if it’s windy or I’m in an odd position, hold up to getting wet and/or wearing a hardhat though.

      Voice – pitch might be a problem. I have a low alto when I sing, but I tend to talk at the high end of my range. Do you think training myself to speak at a lower pitch might help?

      1. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

        When I had a pixie, I was clocked at about 5-7 years older. It can be a fine line between stylish and matronly, and 30 is still really young- too young for the starched and rounded ‘do or the Kate Gosselin. I think there are a lot of haircuts where you could feel good but also present in the way you’re hoping to.

        Would a pompadour style undercut be totally out of the question? You could style it like a pixie at work and then comb back and have fun in your personal time. Mine looked plenty conservative at work and around my family and the top layer was long enough to look like a long-ish pixie.

        Ymmv with some haircuts; I’m a very petite woman in tech and my go-to is “look intimidating” so it’s formal combat boots, tattoo sleeves, and various shaved elements of my head.

        1. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

          Should also add that it’s tech *in the arts. Where you can have formal combat boots and it’s not seen as weird.

        2. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

          Thank you – “pompadour undercut” was the magic search term. I’ve been trying to figure out what that style is called and “puffy top buzz cut” just doesn’t get results!

    21. Judy Hopps*

      As the youngest manager in my organisation, I feel this in a deep level. I get it from other managers and from my direct reports’ staff members (crazy I know).
      Regarding appearing older if that is the road you wish to try, given your uniform restrictions, if you want to appear older hair and voice were honestly also my first 2 thoughts.
      Re voice: sometimes you don’t need to change the actual pitch or quality (eg fry) of your voice, but reflecting on your intonation and pace can help. A slower pace, and falling intonation patterns (reserve rising intonation strictly for when you are genuinely asking a question) can both be helpful.
      Re hair: the low bun/braid suggestions are good. For me personally, having my hair short always makes me appear older, and so if this is something you want to experiment with, it’s an option.

      But you could in all honesty do all of this and face the same difficulties. There’s great suggestions about both friendly and direct ways to correct people when they make inaccurate assumptions in the comments. I’d also suggest referring back to instances where your advice would have been time/cost saving. Perhaps something like “[response about not being at the start of your career]. I see this situation as similar to XYZ, when we had to ABC because of LMNOP. If you recall, I raised similar concerns in that situation.”
      I’d also suggest, because you say you have positive relationships ships with your bosses, that you have a reflective chat about the pattern you’re seeing; there’s some good examples for how that might look too in other comments.
      Good luck!

  4. Wilbur*

    What’s interesting to me is how many managers you’ve had. Does your company cycle through them fairly quickly?

    1. Erin*

      4 managers in 8 years could be due to promotions or job changes. (It’s not uncommon these days to have to move to advance.)

    2. TechWorker*

      I’ve had 6 managers in 7 years, 5/6 are still with the company. That’s a couple of reshuffles, one mgr leaving, one project change, one promotion for me and one promotion for my then manager. I don’t think it’s negatively impacted my career in the slightest :)

    3. Wilbur*

      I’ve had situations where I’ve had lots of managers in X number of years. I guess part of what makes me wonder with it was I was in a contract situation where a manager handled 50-70 people, and which meant they never really got to know what anyone did or their expertise. I’m in a situation where I’ve had 3 managers in about 3 years, but it’s due to maternity leave, restructure/promotions. Sometimes it happens due to good reasons and sometimes it’s because things at a company are weird and employee as capital focused.

      I guess my recommendation would be to have more 1x1s with your managers, and maybe have a meeting to “get to know” your manger whenever you get a new one. That way you can share some of your career highlights, whatever personal stuff you like to share, and maybe get an idea on how you should manage your boss (it works both ways). Apart from that, maybe name drop old projects more (We should let teapots cool before we paint them vs. One takeaway from Project Thanos was allowing for more time for teapots to cool).

    4. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

      Not particularly. The manager I had when I started retired about 4 years in. They a new one who left after about a year. Then I reported to the interim department head until they found someone permanent, who’s been here for a couple years now.

      Because of my role, though, I interact with our entire management team regularly… so I work with a lot of managers that I don’t technically report to outside of that specific project.

    5. Batdude*

      I’ve had 8 managers in 11 years. And for about 6 months in 2014 I didn’t have a manager at all. It was chaos.

  5. The Second Pea in the Pod*

    I am in a very similar position! I don’t have 10 years of experience, but I have my PhD in a male-dominated, highly technical field and I often get people comparing me to their daughters (at odd times). I usually have to lean on my degree to get any respect, and even that’s a mixed success.

    Have you tried subtly reminding them of your experience when you ask questions or express concerns? Like “I remember coming across a similar issue on [older program] that we handled by…” Just to help them remember that you’ve been there a while and you’re an expert.

    1. NotBatman*

      I also have a PhD in a male-dominated field and I was interviewing a job candidate recently who (in response to my question about workplace conflicts) actually said “oh honey, you look like you could be my daughter. Aren’t you just a little thing?”

      I am infinitely grateful to my (older, male) colleague who took that opportunity to jump in and say “you’d best answer Dr. [LastName]’s question, because she’s our institutional expert in workplace conflicts.”

      Suffice to say the candidate did not get an offer.

  6. Detective Amy Santiago*

    If someone says “when I was starting my career…”, I’d reply with something like “Yes, I found that to be the case when I started my career ten years ago too” or “That wasn’t my experience ten years ago when I began my career”. Keep refocusing on your years of experience when it’s relevant.

    That won’t help in every circumstance, but it’s a professional way of pushing back against their assumptions.

    I will say, as someone in my 40s who is still routinely assumed to be in my late 20s, looking younger isn’t all that bad now.

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      Yes, and since it sounds like they’re also missing the point you’re asking about, spell that out too! “Sure, I also encountered that when I first started, but that’s not what I’m asking. (repeat substance of issue)” “Oh, I’ve been here a while so I’m not worried about that, I was actually wondering (substance).” Try to use a light, pleasant tone like you appreciate the support but you’re breezing on by to the actual topic so you don’t sound annoyed or defensive.

      1. Willis*

        This is what I’m thinking. It emphasizes OP’s experience and knowledge of the subject and has the added benefit of actually addressing whatever problem has come up. There’s not much you can do about looking young (and shouldn’t have to!) but the more you can show your expertise the less age will matter. The change I’d make is not using words like “asking,” “wondering,” etc. when it’s actually some topic/issue the OP is reasonably sure of.

    2. HelenofWhat*

      I also use time references to help bolster my credentials when I know I’m being cast as entry level. “Several years ago/Back in 2014 I was working on X Big Project and found that YZ worked/was a risk…”

      1. Mockingjay*

        @HelenofWhat, this is a really good suggestion. Underlines her experience while keeping focus on technical details.

    3. Mental Lentil*

      Came here to say this. Work in those references about how long you’ve been doing this until it finally sinks in for them.

    4. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I usually drop the, “Oh yeah, back when I very first started we had those 5 1/4 in floppy disks with the little window to store everything on. Complete nightmare if they got dirty. I was so happy when the 3 1/2 in ones came out!” or “Yeah, in my first job we had to use transparencies to present. I lived in fear of dropping them and getting them out of order.”

    5. Environmental Compliance*


      I’m 30, have a lot of specialized experience, and am in a very male dominated manufacturing sphere – and I do compliance, which is often telling people “you must do xyz”. I also look very young.

      I’ve gotten a lot of pushback from *certain* individuals who are overly focused on how young I am. Usually responding with a “nope, been in the field for 9 years, but thanks” or “in my [years] experience working at the State as a compliance inspector, this is the case” works pretty well. Most people will get the message.

    6. hallucinating hack*

      I posted something similar above before seeing this. Deliberately misunderstand them! Their intention is to put you down; your response should be to take it as a cozy opportunity to bond over sharing war stories, because you ARE on a level where you have a right to do that.

      It’s less confrontational, establishes that you’re in the same professional club as them, and is extremely difficult for them to correct. After all, what are they going to say: “No, I was trying to give you advice for a greenhorn”? “Why thank you, I’ll remember to pass it on the next time I meet someone 10 years my junior”

  7. NotaKid*

    This happens to me all the time and I’m almost 40. I’ve found light make-up (sorry) and non-verbal changes to help, but not eliminate the problem. (Non-verbals like having good posture and calm, but authoritative energy.) I’m also very careful to speak professionally and not use slang. When all else fails I continually reference things from when I was a teenager or 15 years ago in my industry to reinforce I’ve been around a while. Good luck!

    1. Freelance Everything*

      ‘When all else fails I continually reference things from when I was a teenager or 15 years ago ‘

      Always fun to watch the glitch behind the eyes as they silently try to reconcile their assumptions with that new information

      1. londonedit*

        Yep, I’ve done the ‘referencing things that makes it clear I was a teenager in the 1990s’ trick too. I think people are just bad at guessing other people’s ages, but I’m 40 and people often think I’m 5-10 years younger. Doing the whole ‘Oh yeah I remember when X happened, I was learning to drive’ thing definitely helps (and I also love the glitch behind the eyes as they try to compute the fact that I was learning to drive in 1998 or whatever).

        1. datamuse*

          I find that the older I get, the worse I am at estimating the ages of people substantially younger than myself. (And I work at a college so I’m around plenty of younger people!) I once mistook a new professor for an undergraduate (*cringe*, thankfully not out loud). So I try just not to assume anything about people’s ages or experience.

        2. Sophie*

          I’m 37 & I get this too. I actually have a theory that because those of us ~40s and younger grew up with sunscreen being common & generally considered important/necessary, in the aggregate we don’t look as old as those of earlier generations looked in their 30s/40s so they tend to wrongly assume we’re younger than we are. Men can at least grow facial hair which automatically adds like 5-10 years but women are kind of stuck with makeup or nothing.

    2. Junior Assistant Peon*

      That’s not going to work – I still think music and pop culture from a few years after I graduated college is “stuff kids today like!”

      1. Ally McBeal*

        That’s exactly why it’ll work – if OP makes a reference to a show that I liked when I graduated college, I’d immediately think “ooh, a peer!” I wouldn’t necessarily assume that OP has been exploring “vintage” (to her) shows, because that’s not really something I do (who has the time?) unless it’s one of those very clear “what do you mean, you haven’t seen Back to the Future??” types of classic media.

          1. AnonaLlama*

            gah! I meant to put “reference to a show that I liked when I graduated college” in italics and somehow it erased it.

        1. Junior Assistant Peon*

          My point is that if someone tries to identify themself as a 30-year-old by talking about pop culture from circa 2010, a 40-year-old will probably think the music/TV show/whatever was popular something like 2 or 3 years ago! A fellow 30-year-old will catch the message, but as someone 20 years out of college, the last 15 or so years of music and pop culture are a blur to me.

    3. Watry*

      Yup. “I mean, I remember in high school–which was 12 or 13 years ago but still–blah blah blah”.

    4. Willis*

      This happens to me socially. Like if an older relative is introducing me to their friends, sometimes that friend will directly ask how old I am like you might ask a teenager (I wouldn’t ask a teenager that, but I’m guessing that’s the age they’re expecting to hear…). At least they usually realize they did something awkward/rude when I answer “40.” My guess is that OP’s older colleagues wouldn’t see a huge difference between 24 and 30.

    5. Ama*

      I do a lot of this myself (I’m 41, and have basically been assumed to be about 5-10 years younger than I am since I began my career — including people who assumed I was an undergrad when I was working university admin in my 20s). A little “here’s a story from earlier in my career, pre-smartphones” helps a lot.

      I will also say that one of the things that did the most to get people to recalibrate what my assumed age was was when my current workplace hired a bunch of actual early/mid 20-somethings when I was about 38 — I think having a direct comparison (both visually and behaviorally) reinforced that I was definitely not as young as people assumed. (And that’s not saying anything bad about those coworkers — many of whom were great at their jobs — just a comment that I think people who don’t interact with 23 and 24 year olds every day don’t always realize just how much different an age that is from 35 or 36.)

  8. I'm right on top of that, Rose!*

    Do you have a high, girlish, youthful voice? Trying to modulate it might help. And yes, this is extremely offensive and sexist – the way your voice sounds shouldn’t matter! And fake glasses are an option, there have been studies that showed that glasses-wearers are taken more seriously. Ugh, I hate saying any and all of this! You shouldn’t have to do any of this!

    1. Maxie's Mommy*

      I did the fake glasses, and dressed a little more formally. I also pulled the office gossip aside and asked for her help—could she think of anything that would get me treated like an adult?–and that helped because soon it was all over the office (“really, she’s 34!”)

      1. Troutwaxer*

        Have an at-work birthday party? Someone is bound to ask how old you are. If they don’t believe you make sure you’re carrying your ID.

        1. londonedit*

          Could be a good plan. I’ve never particularly made a secret of my age at work, but since I had my 40th birthday and everyone signed a card my boss sent round with ‘Happy 40th Birthday’ on the front, people are definitely aware of how old I am!

    2. KGD*

      One caveat with this advice is that becoming self-conscious about your voice can make the problem worse! I tried to speak in a lower voice for awhile and I found that I became more hesitant and sounded less authoritative overall. I ended up deciding my voice sounds how it sounds and I focus more on conveying confidence overall. Also, I always wear my hair up. Good luck!

    3. Silly string theory*

      I like this and also, make sure you are not ending with questions. (Make statements and keep your voice level, don’t let it go up at the end. It will make you sound more authoritative. (I have no idea what you speak like) Also, make sure your statements are even tempered and no emotion at all. Just dry, and authoritative expert advice. It helped me on an all male crew (except me, of course!) I hope you find your solution!

      1. LKW*

        This. Tape yourself having a normal conversation, not when you’re presenting to see if you’re using upward inflections at the end of sentences. It’s a tic that some people use to ensure people are getting the point, listening, etc. But it sounds like you’re questioning everything and not sure of your words.

        Also listen for tics like “ums” and my hated “Y’knows” or “Right?” at some point people only hear that you (and I don’t know you LW so I really only mean the speakers who use these words as pauses) aren’t able to complete a sentence definitively and many see it as being less experienced, less confident or less confident in their comfort with the material.

    4. Frideag Dachaigh*

      It’s wild how much glasses can change appearance- my close friend is an elementary school teacher but frequently people assume she is a middle school student at her school, based on how young she looks. She tried on a new pair of glasses the other day and suddenly actually looked like a 25 year old. She’s so much more confident now too, because she’s not as fearful of being dismissed or yelled at for being a kid who snuck out of class.

    5. Sharon*

      Fake glasses are offensive. Glasses are a medical device to correct vision. I hope you wouldn’t carry a cane or wear a knee brace or hearing aid you didn’t need.

      1. Sleet Feet*

        I just can’t muster up the energy to care about people wearing fake glasses. Nor do I feel remotely like my plight with 20/50 vision and astigmatism is comparable to the issues I have as a fat woman who has to wear a leg brace.

        That said even with glasses I’ve been mistaken for being much younger. Now that I have visible grey no one calls me an office baby anymore so YMMV with fake glasses.

      2. Sal*

        I wear glasses and I can promise you I’m not offended by fake glasses. They are also a fashion statement.

      3. BlindAsABat*

        I wear prescription glasses myself, but I think glasses look super cute! I would actually consider getting fake glasses if I ever get lasik because I love how they look! With so many people in the world who need some form of eye correction, I don’t really understand the issue with glasses being more commonplace for fashion as well

      4. TechWorker*

        I also come down on glasses not being in any way comparable to a knee brace or a hearing aid. Glasses are a medical device (personally I’m pretty damn shortsighted :)) but they are also fashion. I think wearing fake glasses is a bit odd but it’s not *offensive*.

      5. LKW*

        Why are you playing gatekeeper? The fact that I can get glasses in so many shapes, sizes and colors and that designers such as Prada, Chanel and Gucci manufacture and sell glasses (and sunglasses) puts glasses in a much fuzzier territory than leg braces.

        Canes are also a fashion statement. The colors, materials, etc that canes are made out of would astonish you. My dad used a cane but he had the Saturday going to the supermarket cane and the Saturday night going to a fancy dinner cane. Believe me, they have a similar range to eyeglasses.

      6. GermanGirl*

        From a person with glasses:
        I don’t think fake glasses are offensive at all. If they compliment your look, go for them. It’s a lot more common with sun glasses than clear glasses, but I don’t really see a difference there.

        I also think a cane can be a fashion accessory – see for example Lucius Malfoy.

      7. Jetta*

        I can’t speak for other glasses-wearers, but personally I’d rather see people wearing them as fashion items than go back to the days when people with glasses were teased or seen as ugly. Plus, with more people wearing them there are more styles for me to choose from. Any time glasses are ‘in’ as fashion items I get to look trendy by default!

      8. Sharon*

        Wow, I am really surprised at the blowback here. I (a lifelong glasses wearer) do find fake glasses offensive and always have. It’s pretending to have a disability so you can look cool. Yuck.

    6. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

      Good tip on the glasses – if we didn’t already wear safety glasses, I’d give it a shot.

  9. Massive Dynamic*

    You mentioned a uniform – if I were you, I’d make sure to get that uniform professionally tailored to fit me (especially if you’re small and/or short so it doesn’t look like a kid trying on dad’s work clothes). Charge the company for that.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      Doing that first and then sending them the bill after with having arranged for them to cover it is not likely to go well.

    2. Ahdez*

      I certainly wouldn’t bill it to the company, but getting the uniform tailored is a good idea. A baggy uniform on a young looking person will signal early career.

    3. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

      Thanks, I think tailoring would be a good idea in a lot of situations. Fortunately I’m tall enough that I don’t have trouble finding off the rack stuff to fit and they’re designed to be baggy by necessity.

      I wouldn’t ever send a tailoring bill to my employer without prior approval though. Maybe it’s different for private sector, but I’m a government employee and that would NOT go over well.

  10. ForeverYoungIGuess*

    I have the same problem, and I’m nearly 40. My boss routinely forgets that I’m the most senior person on the team and asks older coworkers questions of institutional history that they can’t answer, because I was here 15 years ago and they weren’t. He is surprised, every single time, to get referred to me.

    I wish I had a solution. I don’t.

  11. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    I have two thought – one for first impressions and the other for people you’ve been working with for a while.

    First impressions: do you wear a hardhat or other protective gear, carry a toolbox, etc? If your gear is squeaky clean, can you age it with a hammer, some sandpaper, some beat-up stickers? Those are signs that people pick up subliminally that indicate that you’ve been around the block.

    Long-term coworkers – your managers in particular. There may be something in how you bring subjects up. Record yourself and see if you’re introducing subjects with implicit question marks or ‘do you thinks’; and then substitute a more brusque, matter-of-fact manner. Instead of “Bob? Did you know that the external crane needs deframbulating?” say “Bob. The external crane is overdue for deframbulating. I’m going to take it offline next shift.” Seize control of the discussion from the get-go.

    1. Nobby Nobbs*

      Please don’t hit your PPE with a hammer! Letting your uniform and equipment show a little wear and tear is a good idea, but not at the expense of safety.

      1. Mental Lentil*

        This! PPE protects you by taking the hit points. If you damage it, it isn’t going to protect you anymore. Even bicycle helmets say to replace them after you’ve banged them into something.

      2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

        Sorry! I should have been more clear as to how to wear & tear each item. Stickers on the helmet & toolbox, dirt on the vest, dents in the toolbox!

    2. Beth*

      In the theatre, this is known as “distressing” an item — artificially weathering it to make it look older and more used. It doesn’t do PPE any harm to make it look a bit dirtier — you don’t have to damage it, just distress it.

    3. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

      Thanks for the suggestions, those are some good thoughts.

      I’m sure you were thinking specifically of toolboxes and the like when you were talking about roughing up your gear, but just for the record – NEVER use sandpaper, hammers, paint, solvents, etc. on PPE. That kind of damage can compromise its effectiveness.

      1. Lissajous*

        I know for minesites if your steel caps are shiny and new, making sure your hi vis shirt and pants are worn – ingrained dirt a bonus -is definitely required to sell the “I’m not new, I just wore out the old boots!” vibe. Shiny new everything always looks like you’re new to mining, and that applies regardless of gender.

        Scuffed and beaten up steel caps, however, will make up for a lot. Boots are beaten up and everything else is still shiny? Ah no worries, you’re just new to the site, not to mining overall!

        1. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

          Yeah, for us it’s the helmets and uniforms. Nothing says “this is my first week on the job” like a shiny clean hard hat and crisp new pants. We tend to tear through boots and high-vis vests so fast that new ones won’t draw attention unless everything else is also super clean too.

          The exception to the rule being July, when everyone gets their annual uniform allotment. Then we all look like greenhorns for a couple weeks before the grime has a chance to catch up.

  12. JP*

    Well…the good news is that this problem will eventually go away? I struggled with this throughout my twenties and early thirties. I do have a young face, but I did often feel like there was a gendered element to it as well. There were a couple instances were I snapped a bit at coworkers who tried to explain things to me like I was working my first job right out of college. I’m now 37, am looking closer to my age, and I haven’t had this come up in quite some time.
    My best advice would be to subtly include date references when speaking with people. Maybe something like, “well, I ran into this problem while working on such and such project in 2016, and this is what I did.” I don’t know if it will work, but it probably also won’t hurt.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Maybe it won’t go away. I’m a 60-something woman and have always heard I don’t look my age – often told I look 40-something. I’ve been a Director of corporate recruiting and also a consultant; I am well known in my field for creating recruiting structures, strategies, and recruiting operations programs.

      Yet I still get ‘helpful advice’ and ‘coaching’ on the simplest elements of my job from men of all ages – thanks, I know how search firms operate – and I’m pretty sure it’s because I’m a woman. Call it mansplaining, call it paternal, call it whatever you want. It still happens to me and I’m tired of it.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yes, it’s very annoying and the worst for me is when people tell you “you’ll appreciate it when you’re older.” Like, please don’t dismiss by current feelings by assuming my future ones??? And you have literally no idea how I’ll feel when I’m older. How about you just stop treating me like a child now instead?


        Sorry OP that I’ve got no helpful advice, just sympathy. It is extra baffling in your case though because I don’t understand how your own boss could think you are 24–didn’t they hire you based on your work history!?? So weird and sounds extremely frustrating.

        1. Emily*

          Yes, this! Current-me would like to be taken seriously, and I’ll worry about the feelings of future-me when I get there!

          I also have no way of knowing if I will always look young for my age – I’m currently a young-looking 30, but maybe by the time I hit 40 or 50, wrinkles and grey hairs will age me up.

    2. ANNONN*

      I’m 38, and have gotten this for years. I’m also in a technical field, and have been working in the same field for almost 15 years. I just started a new job and I really thought it was finally not going to be an issue when a coworker asked if my pictures of my kids (12 & 7) were my brother and sister! And I am in no way petite or high voiced either! I’m 6′ tall! IDK, I wish I knew the answer.

    3. Foila*

      Apparently no one has ever been able to tell how old I am, and it’s strangely not going away. When I checked into the freshman dorms at the age of 18, someone asked if I was there as a mom (I died a thousand deaths).

      Then a couple years ago I took a class at the age of 33, someone thought I was a freshman (I was more bemused than anything that time).

      Oddly I had basically the same haircut both of those times, which was a pixie-verging-on-butch. So who knows! But at least for me when people get to know me the confusion seems to go away, which isn’t the case for the LW.

  13. Midwest*

    Professional presentation could help a lot with this. I’m female and 10 years into my career and I make an effort to dress and do my hair professionally each day. I also make sure to present my ideas in a mature way without discounting them.

    I also recently started at a new employer which has helped to set the stage for myself as someone coming in with 10 years of experience. There is less emotional baggage since no one knew me 10 years ago when I was starting out. They only know me as a 30+ year old professional.

  14. Old-Lady*

    I hate to say it but I had the same problem. I tried lowering my voice on the phone and video calls, channeling my Martha Stewart in outfits, skipping makeup, gaining a little weight, even changing hairstyles. Nothing worked until I started looking like I was in my 30s while in my 50s. I just had to keep correcting and asking if this is relevant to what we are discussing in a quizzical manor. Part of it was being female. Part of it was looking young (even though in some cases I was older than my managers.)

  15. ActuallyLegaltoDrink*

    I have often had the exact same problem. I’m 29 but look maybe 22.

    This may sound totally counterintuitive, but I’ve found a good thing to do is joke about my age, a lot. For example, if I stand up and any part of my body creaks I’ll joke about how that started happening when I turned 29. I’ll joke about my college-aged cousin making me feel old when she talks about TikTok. I’ll joke about getting carded at the grocery store, and how I have much bet. It’s a little self-deprecating but I do think it got into people’s heads “Oh, she’s older than she looks and that’s part of the joke” and went a long way toward people remembering I’m almost 30!

    1. AGD*

      This. I’m in my mid-thirties but everyone says I look a decade younger and is surprised to hear I have the position I have. I make a lot of jokes about e.g. being a late-’80s kid, still finding DVDs a little bit new and exciting, going to bed way before midnight because clearly I haven’t been 21 in a loooooong time, etc.

    2. Nottheundergradintern*

      That has been my technique too. I’m in my 30s, have a PhD, and work in healthcare. Something that helped was joking about having a really good anti-aging face cream whenever someone mentioned how young I looked. Dropping hints such as “I saw a similar case about 6 years ago…”

      It so hard because for women there seems to be a catch-22. We look too young to be taken seriously in our 20s/30s and then in our 40s/50s signs of aging are judged so harshly

    3. ActuallyLegaltoDrink*

      Whoops this was me, I didn’t notice I didn’t finish one of my sentences. I meant to say, ” I’ll joke about getting carded at the grocery store, and how I have much better taste than I did at 20.”

    4. Troutwaxer*

      That’s really good advice. Tell people how you got the first Kidney Thieves album for Christmas one year.

    5. drpuma*

      Yes, I love this advice. Since the OP is now 30 she can talk about “when I was in my early 20s” or “now that I’m in my early 30s…” For OP’s coworkers who talk about “when I was starting my career” or “when I was [youthful personality trait]” she can and should agree! “yeah, I used to think that too, now after 10 years…” “Oh, I felt the same way when I was 25! I love being too old to do stupid things like that any more!”

    6. Michelle*

      I’m 40 and have been mistaken for a teenager in the last year. I also make constant jokes about how old I am. I make vague statements implying that I’m older than I actually am (like telling people in their early 20s that I’m “old enough to be your mother,” which I justify to myself because my step-daughter is 23). If someone asks my age, I pretend I’m too vain to say how old I really am, or else I joke that I’m 106.

    7. Alpacalypse*

      This has really helped me too! Especially when I realized while making these jokes that some of my colleagues shared some nostalgia over certain things from the 90s. Maybe it’s because it appeals to visual and emotional memory? Who knows. It works great though, and the repetition-through-humor gets the point across without being too heavy.

    8. Ally McBeal*

      I LOVE bringing up the green-screen, DOS-running computer (and dot-matrix printers, and floppy disks that were actually floppy!) that I grew up with. I’m quite frequently asked in interviews about my comfort level with technology, software programs, etc., and I just say I learned to navigate MS-DOS as a five-year-old and as a result can figure out almost any mass-use tech.

    9. Lily*

      I’m in healthcare and I still get the occasionally “are you even old enough to do that?” from worried patients. What works is a matter of fact “I get that a lot but I assure you I’m way older than I look” and then moving on.

  16. fposte*

    I hate to say any of this, because it’s not fair at all, but if you’re just interested in approaching this local problem, look at the people who get treated with the respect you deserve. If you can find a woman, great, but look at the men as well. It’s likely certain male behaviors are read as authority there, so you might consider emulating those. Also, you could dress to kill in whatever version of that your industry has, speak in declarative sentences without uptalk (unless you’re in Australia or NZ), don’t yield the floor when you’re interrupted, and smile less. I’d consider this an experiment rather than a life plan–it may be you’re too slotted in people’s heads to change, and you don’t want to turn yourself inside out for this anyway. But if you want to explore, that’s a possible direction.

    1. SparkleBoots*

      “don’t yield the floor when you’re interrupted” – I have found this is the one thing that has gotten people to interact with me with a little more respect and less “that young kid” attitude. Assertive myself in conversation has worked the best.

      1. socks*

        Yeah, I’m a young-looking 30 year old woman with a young-sounding voice, working almost exclusively with men, and I’ve had to get real comfortable with continuing to talk when men try to interrupt me. Sometimes that means we talk at the same time for 30 seconds because the guy expects me to yield the floor, but c’est la vie.

      2. Jay*

        Or you could be identified as an aggressive woman who is difficult to work with.

        “Can you help me understand what people are reacting to?”
        “Yes. You talk over other people in meetings. You did that to Wakeen last week.”
        “Wakeen interrupted me.”
        “That’s not the point.”

        1. fposte*

          Sure, there’s a risk to anything she could do. Nothing will absolutely risk-free get her what she wants. However, stopping when interrupted is a pretty common thing for women to do and it means they get less floor time, so letting go of that behavior can be a reasonable step for somebody to make if they want to present more strongly.

          Generally we underestimate risks of omission and overestimate risks of commission. That doesn’t automatically mean the OP needs to do this, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind when assessing risk.

      1. Nina*

        It’s just part of the accent here; people in performing arts sometimes get trained out of it to sound more ‘normal’ to an international audience, but for most people it’s just… how we talk. It doesn’t have any particular connotations about being ‘young’ or ‘unsure’.

    2. Jackalope*

      I want to underline one of the things fposte mentioned. Make sure the tone on the end of your sentences doesn’t go up or sound questioning. I’ve heard so many people do this and it makes them sound uncertain or unconfident. Which sometimes is true! But practice making your sentences go down in tone at the end like a statement rather than a question; I found this very helpful when I wasn’t being taken seriously. Even if you’re asking questions you can still do this; it feels odd at first but actually works.

  17. Sara M*

    I’m sorry, this sucks. Hairstyle and makeup can do a lot. Do you have a friend who’s good with that kind of thing? If so, ask them about some different hairstyles.

    I knew a trans person once who was transitioning female to male. We were at a convention. He was really frustrated at one point because he knew he still looked feminine and everyone was misgendering him. I took a long look at his face and said “tuck that curl behind your ears, it’s softening your features.” He did, and no one mistook his gender the rest of the weekend. (I’m honestly surprised it worked that well! But my point is, you might be surprised how much subtle changes help.)

  18. DMLOKC*

    Is there the possibility of giving a lunch-and-learn or other presentation where you can highlight your experience and expertise? This would give you ample opportunity to say and demonstrate your maturity. If a presentation isn’t possible, how about offering a training session, writing and sharing a white paper, or any other form of empirical demonstration of your year’s of experience.

    1. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

      Not bad ideas, but ironically leading trainings is already a big part of my duties.

      1. comedy career change upcoming*

        That might be your problem. People might take you more seriously if you tried leading your trainings unironically. :)

  19. Aldabra*

    When they start patronizing you, interrupt them with the phrase “I’m not just starting my career – I have 10 years’ experience in a highly specialized field!” Then, maintain eye contact and a displeased expression, and keep your mouth shut while they sputter.

    1. Velawciraptor*

      THIS. I’m shocked at all of the advice feeding into sexist assumptions that it’s the LW’s responsibility to make others comfortable with their rudeness. That she needs to warp herself into some sort of “acceptable” creature (right voice, right hair, right tone, etc.) to make people feel comfortable with a qualified and experienced professional asserting her qualifications and experience. Forget that noise.

      1. Jackalope*

        I mean, the reason everyone is responding that way is…. that’s what the OP asked for. We all know it’s stupid and sexist and ageist that she should have to do any of these things. But she is in the position she’s in, and is uncomfortable with it, and asked for advice to deal with it. Saying it’s a stupid problem and she shouldn’t have to change for it is not helpful. People are throwing out ideas so she can figure out what might be helpful for her.

        1. mreasy*

          It’s not a stupid problem, but the idea that the OP should change her voice and physical appearance rather than addressing it in the moment with a response indicating her experience is disheartening.

          1. fposte*

            Because she’s trying to preclude the misjudgments in the first place, not just push back on them when they happen. There’s a cost to the pushback, and corrected impressions aren’t generally as useful as assessments that are accurate from the get-go.

          2. Ally McBeal*

            I agree it’s disheartening and distasteful to have to change something about your self-presentation in order to gain respect, but it’s extremely unlikely that OP is going to singlehandedly change what is essentially a global status quo, so the subtle changes are one option. She could also, I don’t know, change fields and work in a less sexist industry (I highly recommend working at historically women’s colleges, which while not completely free from sexism is at least a bit of a shelter from the storm), but that’s also a disheartening suggestion.

          3. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

            Fposte and Ally McBeal are exactly right.

            The comments are the tip of an iceberg. Cutting the tip off won’t solve the underlying problem. Ideally I want to prevent the incorrect assumptions in the first place, since in most cases I will never have an opportunity to directly address it. Someone may never bring up my age, yet still make decisions that negatively impact my career development because they perceive me as very young. That’s why I asked for advice on how to change the way I present myself.

            Disheartening? Yes. Distasteful? Yes. Necessary to achieve my goals? Also yes.

            I have plenty of hills I’m willing to die on. How I do my hair or pitch my voice are not among them.

      2. Student*

        Don’t know where you work, but I surely wish I worked there.

        Around here, that’d lead to me being frozen out at work by the people with power, knowledge, and access to cool work projects. I don’t like having to massage egos to get access to things that are important to me, but I’d rather massage egos and be part of important stuff at work (and get to do some modest socializing) than righteously be exactly myself, but get stuck with only the lamest projects and frozen out of every lunch conversation.

        I have personal boundaries I won’t cross in order to massage the bottomless egos of my co-workers to get what I want. But what the OP describes is, frankly, just not one of those.

      3. Tess*

        I am so with you, and equally surprised at the comments suggesting that the OP do the heavy lifting and orient herself to what makes her co-workers comfortable. Pure nonsense.

        The best way to correct this is to be direct, and in the moment. OP should call people out for their ridiculousness. Awkward but essential.

    2. fposte*

      The problem is that merely correcting the facts isn’t a simple key to change, and the longer the OP’s statement the more she risks being perceived as defensive, especially when the conversation is about birthdays and drinking eligibility. It’s not fair, but we can’t fix that. A low-key “Been working the machines since they were donkey-powered, Bob” is likely to slide in better, but it will won’t *preclude* the misjudgment, which is what the OP really wants.

  20. not a doctor*

    I have so been there, OP. As in, I was also asked if I could legally drink when I was 30. (The good news is, it seems to have stopped now that I have a few gray hairs!)

    One thing you can do is lightly and calmly push back on some of the comments. If they say, “When I was starting my career…” you can say something about how you felt when you were starting *your* career. “I used to be [whatever] too” can be met, “I’m not sure I’d see myself that way after ten years in the field, but let’s get back to the subject at hand.”

    It’s a little harder when you’re having an active disagreement, especially when it’s about changing something, but staying dispassionate and sticking to the facts (like asking for their specific reasons against the change) can only help you.

    Unfortunately, there probably IS also a gender component, and I wish I had any good advice about that. :/ Like, I was about to recommend bringing the issue up with the worst offenders in an Alison-y way (“I notice that when we’re discussing X, you tend to refer to me as young and inexperienced, can I ask what gives you that impression?”) but I worry that ultimately you’d come across as overemotional and sensitive.

    1. SnappinTerrapin*

      In my early 30s, I was being asked to prove I was old enough to drink. In my late 30s, I was mistaken for my twins’ grandfather.

      By that time, I had become the repository of institutional memory for my agency. In my late 20s, I had interviewed the managers who had been working for 30+ years and learned how and why processes had evolved. When those managers retired, I answered the history questions.

      In the workplace, the gentle but firm reminders should be effective in shifting people’s perspective. In some cases, a little extra firmness may be required.

  21. awesome3*

    I think the advice revolves around clothing and makeup because those are really the only thing I’ve seen work. I’ve also tried lowering my voice on the phone, which works for phone calls, but when people meet me in person 9 times out of 10 they assume I’m my own assistant. Too bad you can’t get a badge that says your name and how long you’ve been in the role, like how some nametags include hometown. Wearing “X job since 2006” on your person would hopefully be effective. Best of luck, and I certainly empathize.

  22. HugeTractsofLand*

    If you have a good relationship with at least one manager, I would bring it up in your 1:1. I would phrase it as “you may not have noticed how often you do this, but sometimes when we’re trying to solve a problem, you start treating it like a mentoring issue, as though I’m really young and that’s the heart of the problem. Phrases like ‘when I started my career’ or ‘x’. We both know I’ve been doing this for 10 years, so I want to solve problems together as colleagues.” Let them respond then, and say their piece. Hopefully it’ll just be ‘oh I’m so sorry!’ but if they bring up your appearance (as in ‘I forgot, bc you know you look kinda young’) you can say in a gentle tone “how I look shouldn’t matter, I think we can agree?”.

    Once you’ve done all that, you have to start gently calling them out when they pull this on you. You may not be able to cut them off mid-sentence, but if I were in your position I’d wait until they’re done with their silly lecture then say “Hey, x, this is what I was talking about! Can you give me concrete reasons you don’t want to do x?”

    Good luck OP, these situations are tough!

    1. HugeTractsofLand*

      I should add: I’m also 30, and a 5’2′ female in a tech field. At the grocery store this weekend, the store manager not only checked my in-state ID, but also SCANNED it as though the date couldn’t be right. At work I find confidence goes a long way- a confident tone, and jumping in on the questions I’m qualified to answer. When male IT staff talk down to me (luckily it’s very infrequent), I just give them a blank look and move the conversation onwards to whatever I actually needed to get done, skipping their assumptions.

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah I’m at the stage where if I’m asked for ID, the cashier will more than likely have a ‘does not compute’ moment and spend 10 seconds scrutinising my date of birth because they don’t expect to see 1981.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I have done this. It really depends on the culture of the org and the personality of the manager, but if it is an option, the OP should consider calling it out in a respectful way. Some people need to be shown the impact of their words so they can change.
      But there are also orgs where all managers talk down to everyone they can. In that case, there isn’t a point in rocking the boat.

    3. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

      That’s a good idea. My current boss is pretty receptive to feedback, so I think it’s worth at least trying. I think this might be more effective than trying to deal with it in the moment without prior context, since I don’t want to come across as defensive in the middle of a disagreement.

      Generally the condescending stuff isn’t inherently bad or disrespectful – in fact it’s the kind of advice that would be totally appropriate for someone who was only a couple years into their career…. including me 7-8 years ago. It’s just aimed at the wrong person. So I’d like to address in a way that accounts for the fact that they genuinely mean well.

  23. Gipsy Danger*

    I have dealt with this my whole life (I am 42 and just stopped getting carded. Drinking age is 19 here). My only advice is to be scrupulously professional. And just push back matter-of-factly in the moment. My go to was always “Oh, I’m 34 (or whatever age I was).” No defensiveness, just a plain statement of fact.

    1. L.H. Puttgrass*

      I’m wondering how a variation on this would go.

      “How old do you think I am?”
      “Oh, bless your heart. Now, back to the thing we were talking about…”

      1. Constance Lloyd*

        Now I’m picturing Maybe from arrested development shouting, “Marry me!” to anyone who (correctly) pegged her as being Very Young when she was pretending not to be

      2. fposte*

        I think that makes it a game when you want it to recede into the background, though. (And at least in my neck of the woods “Bless your heart” doesn’t code as authoritative, but that may be regional.)

        1. Ally McBeal*

          I don’t think the “bless your heart” is meant to come off as authoritative… just lightheartedly dismissive of the very silly notion that OP could be 10 years younger than Coworker had assumed. I’m from the Midwest but lived in the South for 15 years, so in my view, as long as the BYH is conveyed with a laugh/smile, it won’t be misinterpreted as the “f you” that it certainly can be.

          1. fposte*

            But she’s trying to assert authority, so she wants an authoritative response. In my area “bless your heart” would very female/passive aggressive/church lady, which not what the OP’s going for; though as I said, this may vary by region.

      3. Lizy*

        This is by far my favorite response/suggestion. Laugh it off like “HAHAHAHAHAH there’s no WAY I’m that young but gosh thanks so much for saying that”.

        I had this happen a few weeks ago – my sitter said something about “that’s how I would have acted when I was your age” and I was like “uh… how old are you, just out of curiosity?” She’s only a couple of years older than I am, and I’m 33. When she responded, I just said “oh well I’m only a couple of years younger than you, then!”

        Her daughter (16) thought because I have young kids I must be young and figured I was MAYBE all of 27. Bless her heart.

  24. Junior Assistant Peon*

    This isn’t just a female thing. When I was 25 and in a new job, I had a baby-faced coworker who could have passed for 16. I assumed he was fresh out of college, and interacted with him accordingly. I was horrified to discover that he was at the same level as my grandboss, was in his low thirties, and looked much younger than he was.

    1. kicking_k*

      Yeah, I had a colleague who grew a beard slightly before they became mainstream, I think probably for that reason. He still looked fairly young but no longer like a high-schooler.

      1. The Vulture*

        When I was in high school another student grew a beard and legit looked like he was 40 (or, at least to our youthful eyes) but a lot of how old you look is just related to what features you have, not a ton you can do about it. My classmate didn’t look young even without a beard

    2. AGD*

      While I think it’s more likely for women (lopsided overscrutiny about appearance, qualifications, and their intersection), I also relate to this, heh. When I was beginning my first academic position after grad school, a new male colleague and I automatically mistook each other for new graduate students, and then had an excellent laugh about it.

    3. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

      I don’t think it’s just because of my gender, but I think gender makes it worse if that makes sense. Especially because there are so few women in my field that people don’t really have a reference point… I think a lot of the older guys especially just see I’m a lot younger than they are and unconsciously put me in the “about my daughter’s age” box.

  25. Hog Wild*

    I looked very young (and female) for a long time. Just like you, I was (am) a high level expert in my field. And just like you, new clients often questioned my abilities due to perceived inexperience. What helped me was wearing a wedding band. I kid you not. Suddenly I was “mam” instead of “miss.” I was a grown woman with a life plan and responsibilities. Not a kid still trying to figure stuff out. I was someone worthy of putting their trust in.
    I don’t know if this is a good solution for everyone. If you work with the same group of folks over a long period of time, pretending to be married is probably going to come off a little weird.

    1. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

      Huh. I would not have thought of that.

      On the plus side, I’m already married… so that part’s easy. On the down side, while I’m not exactly in the closet at work I still don’t want to draw attention to the fact that I have a wife.

  26. Batgirl*

    Exploit the mentoring they are doing. Go to the worst offenders and say “Hey, can I ask your advice? Did anyone ever assume you were younger or less experienced than you are? I don’t know of a tactful way to bring up that I’m 30 with ten years experience with some people; they need to know, but how do you do it in a professional way.” Obviously the advice that follows will be pointless and probably revolve around ‘be more male somehow’, but they’ll be so busy giving advice they won’t notice you’ve just corrected them.

    1. Serenity*

      I see where you’re going, but I think this is counterproductive. It would be putting the wrong people in the position of authoritative answering, which is exactly what OP is asking us how to decrease.

      1. Number Cruncher*

        Agree with this being counterproductive. The worst offenders do not have the self awareness or introspectiveness to recognize the secondary message you are sending by doing this – it just confirms for them that you are “in need of guidance”.

  27. Salamander*

    I dealt with this most of my career. Until I was 30, people thought I was a teenager. It was a little frustrating at different times. I have worked in male dominated and female dominated spaces. Its hard when you are younger because people don’t think you are old enough to be qualified. But you can and it seems like you have proven them wrong. Live in your truth, hold your own and be confident. I did have some lines to counter this dynamic–basically just stating that I am older than I look. I had one show down with an obnoxious person, everyone in that situation supported me and it made her look bad.

    Now I am 50 and a nonprofit executive. Colleagues and my boss were shocked when they found out I was 50. I feel like it is my appearance but also my attitude and energy. It was probably that 25 years ago–I do look young for my age, but I also try to be a very positive and open person and I think that carries across more than my looks. Now I am much older than my assistant’s mom and am a leader of many people, mostly younger than me. So eventually things change and people will question your abilities from time to time no matter what. Stay aware and stay sharp–you have earned your spot.

  28. kitryan*

    I have been told that I read as about 5-10 years younger than I am, which I believe has hindered my career. I’ve been assumed to not have a graduate degree that I do have, and just generally gotten sidelined/talked over, for which there are no doubt multiple factors, including this.
    To combat it, I have tried occasionally tossing in casual age references – both specific, ‘Gosh, I can’t believe I’m turning 40 this month!’ or ‘I got carded at the bar this weekend and it’s pretty flattering now that I’m XX years old!’ and less specific, ‘I’m looking forward to the new Ghostbusters movie, I remember seeing the first one in the theater when it came out in the ’80s!”, “Back when I was in highschool, we had a carphone and it was the height of technology – my dad was so excited!’, or ‘I’ve been through 10 annual reviews now at this and my previous workplace and they’re always like this’.
    Similar comments addressed to your actual age mates can put you in their ‘team’, keeping them from grouping you with younger/junior persons.
    This is of course, done casually/in the course of natural conversation and not all the time or all at once.
    I think this has helped ‘situate’ me in the correct age bracket and at least partially kept me from being pigeonholed as perpetually entry level/junior.

  29. LMB*

    Ah yeah, this problem doesn’t really go away. I’m in my 40s but I look younger and I just had a baby, so a lot of people at work assume I’m like 10 years younger, even people my age! I get a lot of comments about “young professionals” (I’m middle aged!) and things like that. I think the major downside of this is that these people assume I have all the time in the world to get promoted and make more money—I don’t. I would just act like an old person! 30 is still young in a lot of people’s minds so casually mentioning your age probably won’t work as well for you. But you could say things like “it’s amazing how this technology has really changed since I was starting out ten years ago!” Or “back in my day we to do this manually.”

  30. Lou*

    I also look much younger than I am, and am regularly mistaken for mid-to-late 20s, but I’m in my late 30s. I often make a joke of it, “Oh yeah, I haven’t aged since high school! I’m actually [age]” or something about finding the fountain of youth. If you wanted to go the less jokey route, you could say something like, “Oh, I’m actually [age]; apparently I look really young because people make that mistake all the time! You’d never know I’ve been doing this job for X years. So anyway, about that thing I wanted….” and give them the kindness of saying it conversationally to give them some cover, but emphasizing that you are not super young and not inexperienced.

    If someone continually does it, you could be more “You know, you keep forgetting that I’ve actually been doing this for 10+ years” in a straight-forward tone.

    All that said, there’s almost certainly huge amounts of “you are female” wrapped up in it, too

  31. I'm A Little Teapot*

    I used to get this a lot, less now as I’ve gotten older, am mid 30s. My approach was (and is), anytime specific age related comments are made to interrupt and say something like hey, I’m way older than I think you’re thinking. If someone doesn’t say anything specific but their behavior indicates that they’re assuming I’m younger I’ll somehow work it into the conversation.

    Frankly, at times this is abrupt or even a bit rude. But they’re also being rude by treating me as less than because they think I’m younger or less experienced.

    It does get better. It helps that I tend not to act young – I’m not giggly, etc. Also, if your voice pitch is naturally high then you might consider voice exercises to try to lower the pitch a bit. We associate high pitched voices with children.

  32. Samantha F*

    I had this problem too. I struggled for over a decade to be taken seriously. Now that I’m in my 40s, I finally find I don’t have to try so hard. I think the biggest change (apart from appearance that you can’t do much about) was my own behavior after having kids. Raising two boys to elementary school age seems to have given me some gravitas. I am just not as reactive, and take everything more calmly than before, because when you’ve dealt with hundreds of mini-crises and frustrating behavior at home, the little things at work just don’t matter as much. This is to say… If you can find a way to project calmness and ‘zen’, I do think it will make people take you more seriously. Maybe meditation / mindfulness exercises would help (my own career counselor told me the same thing, and I think she was right). I’ve thought about female leaders (who are the most respected) in my organization, and they all have this in common (and no, they don’t all have kids, though it does seem to help).

  33. We'll see*

    You’ve received some amazing advice above so this might seem silly to consider doing.

    I had a similar situation. When conversations are more casual I would slip in references to something someone my supposed age wouldn’t be as familiar with. For example “Oh yeah I remember when that song came out. It was amazing. I was in junior high. I think they played it 3 times at the friday night hang out!”. Slowly the wheels will start turning and your coworkers will realize you are older than you seem.

    1. Greengirl*

      It’s not silly. I had a friend who would make sure to reference pop culture things from people in an older age bracket as a way to seem older.

  34. KHB*

    Is there anything about your speech and mannerisms you can work on to come across as less “young”? A lot of this is about building and projecting confidence in general, for example:

    – Holding the floor with confidence when you’re speaking. If someone interrupts you, jump right back in with “hold on, let me finish.” (I was at a workshop once where they had us practice this in pairs, and it helped me a lot.)

    – A lot of younger women have the habit of arguing against themselves before they’ve even presented their case to begin with. (For example, instead of saying “Boss, I’d like a new laptop,” you’d lead with “I know the budget is tight and I just got a new laptop five years ago, but I’d like a new laptop.”) Watch yourself for whether you’re doing this, and if you are, stop it.

    – Embrace the “yes and…” concept from improv when somebody gives you unnecessary advice: Instead of getting defensive about why they think you need that advice, start by agreeing with them that what they’re advising is something you need to be doing (assuming that it is), and in fact already are.

    I’m sure there’s lots more that you could do along these lines – I’m hardly an expert in this stuff, but these are just some of the things that have helped me.

    1. AnonForThis*

      “A lot of younger women have the habit of arguing against themselves before they’ve even presented their case to begin with.”

      This is SUCH a good point, and you give a perfect example. As a woman, I suspect that this stems from the compassionate, nurturing, acknowledge the needs of others, sort of learned behaviors. But I can’t quite articulate it. Figuring out how to turn that off is a skill of its own.

      1. KHB*

        Yes to this. As women, we’re socialized so strongly to never think about asking for anything for ourselves until we first ensure that everybody else already has more. It’s such a harmful way of thinking, and learning to undo it is so, so hard.

      2. AndersonDarling*

        I do this So Much. For me, it comes from an angle of manipulation. As a woman, no one would listen if I made a suggestion, so I inadvertently learned to present all my requests as questions so the listener could feel like they had the power to make the decision. It’s gross and disgusting and I’ve really been exploring this habit. But it was the only way to ever get things moving forward.
        I could simply say, “We could shave 3 days off the Acme Project if we move the beta testing to the admin group.” but instead I add in, “But that could impact the [thing I made up] and [someone who doesn’t care] may not like moving the timeline.” Doing the suggestion is obvious, and the man I am speaking to will agree because they feel like they made an important decision.
        It’s all so incredibly sad. So much effort is wasted playing these games. If my voice was respected in the same way as my male co-workers, life would be so much easier.

        1. mreasy*

          Yep! If you employ the above strategies as a woman, suddenly you are intense, scary, or mean. Ask me how I know!

          1. KHB*

            So, I fully acknowledge that, our sexist society being what it is, women have remarkably little leeway (sometimes none) between “too aggressive” and “too passive.” I’m not trying to make like I have the magic formula for defeating sexism, because there isn’t one.

            That said, one thing that’s dawned on me as I’ve gotten older is that I’m kind of OK with being thought of as intense, scary, or mean. It’s not like I go out of my way to be mean to people or anything, but sometimes I have to tell people things they don’t want to hear, and if that means that some people at work don’t like me, they’re allowed to feel that way.

            1. Ally McBeal*

              I guess, but if the higher-ups think you’re mean, that’s going to negatively impact your prospects for advancement – particularly if the higher-ups are men, but also if they’re women (for different reasons, like internalized misogyny, fear of competition, etc.).

      3. fueled by coffee*

        I wouldn’t say this is about being “compassionate” and “nurturing” so much as trying to avoid coming across as a b*tch, which is a common reaction to women behaving in exactly the same ways as men do in the office.

    2. J*

      When I’ve mentored junior employees, the arguing against themselves is often something I’ve seen specifically and can give as a concrete example. That and dress code issues, even if just informally (meeting the letter of the dress code but not matching a level of formality/style in the office which makes you stand out and people fill in the blanks as to why, not caring about the actually accuracy of the assumption).

    3. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

      The “yes and…” suggestion is really interesting. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it seems like it would work really well.

  35. animaniactoo*

    If you have a decade, when they reference “since I started my career…”, reference “a decade ago when I started doing this…”

    I have similarly always looked far younger than my age. And I started working as career sooner than most people do currently. Combine them and people always thought I had 10-15 years experience less than I do. Referencing the touchpoints by adding in the amount of time until people are used to seeing me as experienced as I am has worked well for me. Always upbeat. Laugh about it – especially with the younger ones who will consider some of what you learned back then outdated – but go with it and allow it to come up and be talked about.

    For me that means talking about the fact that I was a typesetter on linotronic machines and that means writing code to change the font size, not clicking a button, and appreciating how nice it is to have Layers in Photoshop because they didn’t when I first started using it and doing round robins for everyone of “what was the first version of Photoshop you worked with”, and talking about the feature changes over the years as comparisons with what everyone is familiar with. Totally casual fun interesting conversations, usually started by them. But establishing these kinds of creds, it roots you in their minds as “having all the experience” even if you look far younger.

    For the older ones, you might call to some of the time period experiences that you would share “do you remember what a pain it was when X standard was switched?” and possibly even throwing some light “informational” shade via “Hey, have you seen the research around Y? There were some great articles around why should be switching to that 2-3 years ago, I can send them to you if you’d like.”

  36. buttercup*

    So… I know some people look much younger than they are (once had a vendor ask my boss how long her internship was, lol) and I’m sure there’s going to be tons of advice from people who experience that age-assumption issue.

    But to be honest, I definitely look my age/sometimes even skew older and I have only noticed these types of comments INCREASING the older/more experienced I get. Maybe this is confirmation bias and I just don’t remember all the “when I was starting in my career …” comments when I WAS actually starting in my career. But I’ve actually lately started making a list of how often I get that particular comment or some variation of it. It’s A LOT. And often I notice it’s rarely things I actually will learn as I advance in my career (like a technical skill or more confidence with something) and more these like, nebulous values-driven belief systems that frankly I find really outdated. Eg. Recently I got “You’ll learn that junior employees really need to be handheld because they don’t know what they’re doing because they’re young and clueless” – no, I’m actually pretty confident that trusting and empowering new employees with support and resources has been a more effective method than micromanaging. And I know this from my 10 years experience managing people.

    All of this to say: what are the chances you think these people are just jealous/jerky/insecure/trying to cut you down, whether consciously or subconsciously?

    I ask because I’ve had a few toxic workplaces and a lot of bad bosses but some great bosses/coworkers, and these comments exclusively come from, well, people I don’t particularly share the same values and work approaches with. I don’t mean this to sound ageist – I’ve had tons of older colleagues/bosses who’ve never said anything of the like, and have only been encouraging and respectful. But I have definitely been wondering if this is something other (young-ish) people are experiencing, so this letter was really interesting to me.

    This probably doesn’t help that much for your problem, but honestly, I do kinda just think these comments come from insecurity and/or control. A lot of people are really invested in the power dynamics of a hierarchy and want to reinforce its existence.

    1. cubone*

      “And often I notice it’s rarely things I actually will learn as I advance in my career (like a technical skill or more confidence with something) and more these like, nebulous values-driven belief systems that frankly I find really outdated.”

      this, x1000000.

    2. londonedit*

      I think that’s probably true in a lot of cases. Pre-Covid I was at a book launch and an older chap came over to speak to me and a couple of my younger colleagues – you could tell that he’d lumped us all in together as ‘young people’ and was therefore going to hold forth about his vast experience in the industry and treat us like we knew nothing. I took great pleasure in latching on to one of his stories and saying ‘Oh, yes! I used to work for Tangerina Warbleworth. I was Commissioning Editor there…oooh…must be 15 years ago now. Goodness, what a place that was…’ and you could literally see him deflating as he realised I was a) much older than he thought I was, b) not the naive young thing who’d be impressed with his Tales of Publishing and c) possibly more knowledgeable about some of the things he was talking about than he was. Superb.

    3. Philomena*

      You know, I realized maybe I have have done this myself. I have an employee (male) who thinks he knows everything even though he is the most junior person in the team. I have often started my performance discussions with him as ‘when you are early in your career, it may seem like you know the answer to everything, but you should learn more about the context…’. So the ‘early in your career’ bit is, unconsciously, sneaking in probably because what I really want to say is ‘you don’t know everything so shut up’. But I’m trying to do the manager-speak instead and make it sound helpful.

      1. buttercup*

        I think the nuance is really important! I think AAM has a lot of advice that suggests using that “early in your career” as a way to soften the message, or at least make it clear that it’s normal feedback, not a character flaw. I also used the phrase with an intern who was consistently overstepping his knowledge/expertise and treating people rudely as a result. But who knows, maybe he’ll read this comment and feel the same way to me that I feel to those people.

        It’s very complex, but I think it’s about self-reflection as a manager/senior/peer and really confirming that is advice IS a reasonable workplace norm and not just a personal preference, you know? Telling a junior employee, “hey, it’s not going to be well-received when you assume you know more about someone’s role than they do” is likely to be more helpful than harmful (and maybe you’ll be intervening for the LW, ha!). Also, your advice sounds to me like it respectfully hedges a bit, eg. “this is a good practice for these reasons” and not “you’re always wrong, all the time”.

        But when it’s something like “you’re early in your career and you’ll learn that interns need to be micromanaged”, I mean…. that’s a) bad advice and b) lacks the self-awareness that different managers can have different approaches and different employees need different approaches.

    4. Environmental Compliance*

      From my personal experience, it’s been about 50/50. There’s a contingent of people who legitimately just think I’m 20, and think they are truly helpful (albeit in a clunky, often not incredibly tactful way). And then there’s the jerks who want to ignore my directions, recommendations, opinions, or knowledge because I’m a young-looking woman in a more male-dominated field. Those are the ones who will double down on the comments after a “well, based on 10 years of experience with this, [etc. etc.]” discussion. Including the guy who told me “experience in what, elementary school?” then laughed to himself….then looked around the room and saw no one else laughing. Or smiling. Really not a great way to introduce yourself as a contractor wanting to do some business with the company, he found out.

      1. buttercup*

        I literally just yelled “EW” out loud. So gross. Genuinely sorry that happened.

        I appreciate your personal experience, though. It’s really something I’m fascinated by and think there’s a million reasons – your good ol classic ageism/sexism/racism etc., personality traits, whatever. I guess I thought it was interested as someone who 1) does not look particularly “young” (but is) and 2) has always worked in women-dominated fields that I am also getting this kind of stuff all the time. I’m obviously making assumptions, but my experiences are probably 50/50 like yours.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          It actually ended up being pretty entertaining, as my boss cut the meeting very short and flat out told the contractors they would not have the business if that particular person was working on the project. I’ve never seen someone’s eyes get quite as big, apart from the guy who upon walking into the meeting room, looked at me and told me to get him a coffee. I told him where to get the coffee, he made a comment about why I can’t get it, sweetheart, and then my boss told him that the project he was bidding on was *my* project, and the person he needed to impress most in the room was *me*.

          I recently also had a guy, after I got in an email argument of whether or not a shipping container would work for the material we need to ship internationally (they sent me a spec sheet for a container that literally said *on the spec sheet* it wouldn’t be legal for what we want to ship), call me to tell me sweetheart we have 40 years in the business! Great. I don’t care. I have the regulatory code open, the spec sheet open, and the DOT standard open. All of them say no. (A higher up person from his company did also call me and apologize, so there’s that).

          I have been very lucky to have higher-ups and managers that will absolutely call it out (and will also allow me to handle it first!). I’ve also worked a lot to get and keep respect, both from a helpful aspect and the “I will absolutely not take your BS” aspect; mostly through working to keep my confidence in having a calm but firm presence, learning how to speak more authoritatively (no upspeak, not questioning myself in my own statements, that kind of thing), and just generally being confident in my own abilities and knowledge.

    5. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

      Thankfully, I really don’t think people are doing this to try and cut me down. For example one of the managers who does this the most is also really good about crediting my contributions to successful projects when he talks with our directors, even when he has to go out of his way to bring it up. My gut tells me that they really want to see me succeed… they’re just mistaken about my age, so their attempts to help are misaimed.

      “it’s rarely things I actually will learn as I advance in my career (like a technical skill or more confidence with something) and more these like, nebulous values-driven belief systems”

      Yes, right on the nose. It’s not always bad advice either… things like “don’t get bogged down in perfectionsim” or “it’s important not to let knee-jerk reactions drive you, make sure you think things through.” Not bad advice, but infuriating when I already have thought things through, prepared several alternative recommendations with a risk assessment and cost estimate, and it only looks like I spent less than 30 seconds thinking because I did all that work years ago the last time we ran into this exact situation.

      1. River Otter*

        Respond with things like, “Oh, no worries, I got my perfectionist tendencies out of my system years ago.” You can follow up with “this one time, I…. but yeah, I don’t do that anymore.” Swapping stories about early career mistakes can change the tone from paternalistic advice to bonding over youthful vim and vigor. It takes reading your audience, but done right, you can establish yourself as battle-hardened.

      2. River Otter*

        Also, keep in mind that there are dudes with twice your experience who *do* need those reminders. So, think about how to distinguish yourself from those guys.

  37. KP*

    I was a young woman in engineering, and I realized (in hindsight) that how I was communicating was undermining my own authority. Word choice, tone, etc. can have an unintended consequence on how we are viewed by colleagues. There are a lot of great books for women about how to communicate with strength. You might consider doing some research and reflection on how you’re showing up. This is not to say that you are the problem, only that there may be ways you can boost your authority with a few minor changes to how you’re interacting with colleagues. Plus, this puts the power for change in your control – you can guide your co-workers to viewing you as a leader, rather than bemoaning the fact that they see you as young and immature.

  38. Just Like A Carrot*

    This comment section is making me feel so seen. I’m 30 and always happy to remind people at work that I’m 30, because even though I don’t really feel like anyone doesn’t take me seriously – my job is pretty low stakes, anyway – I have a complex about not looking my age At an old retail job, a coworker asked if my mother was okay with me dyeing my hair green…and I was like, yeah, I’m 24, she doesn’t really get a say in that?

    So I feel all of you who get excited when you start getting a few greys! I’m fond of the few I have so far.

    1. Scary Office Baby*

      I’m already finding it annoying, and I’m an underage intern! It feels like instead of a work wife/husband, I have a whole set of work parents.

      Whenever the people in my team go out for drinks, one person always makes jokes about whether I want another cup of water (thanks Steve) and then offers to buy me a drink or let me try his (why. just why). Then, my boss always offers to (illegally) buy me alcohol, as he thinks that it’s doing me a favour (no Brian, I just don’t drink)

      On a more wholesome note, some people insist on escorting me to the subway station / helping me find the cafe / offering to pay for my lunch / substitute parenting and advice, which is nice, but: I’m doing my masters. I lived away from home during my undergrad years.

      It’s quite annoying that quite a few people on my team view me as the cute office baby, when I do exactly the same job as most of them.

  39. NJAnonymous*

    If you have a good relationship with your manager otherwise, you might bring this to him directly! Start a convo and make it about the other folks at first. “Hey manager, I’d love your advice on how I can navigate this. As you know, I have over a decade of experience (or whatever) but when I interact with (coworker), he seems to think I’m younger and less experienced than I am. What would you do to head that off? often we end up following my suggestions but we spend so much time and losing so much value because of that assumption. I’m stumped!”

    Manager will think “oh crap, I do this too… better pretend I don’t and give OP advice” and could become an ally or more vocal supporter.

    I’m in a similar boat and have used this successfully here and there… all depends on how much weight manager can throw around and whether I had a strong enough relationship with them.

  40. Little Lobster*

    I have a similar situation. I’m a woman in my mid-30’s who is also very short who ALSO has a bit of a childlike voice, especially on the phone. I’m not in a technical field, but I’m always afraid of being perceived in the same way you do.

    My fix for this has always been to embrace my resting-bitch-face and all associated attitudes. I communicate in a really straightforward, no-nonsense way, and that works for me 80% of the time. I can usually wrangle difficult personalities by just being a “bitch.” No one would ever describe this attitude in a man as “bitchy” but whatever, I’ll take it. It’s true, sometimes I go too far in the other direction to being downright overly aggressive, but I’m never talked down to, and the things I say are usually accepted without question.

    1. Meep*

      That is what drove me nuts. A few years ago when I was just starting out in my career, I had this one jerk of a man who looked down on me because I was 1) a woman and 2) a whole year younger than him (le gasp!) to the date (unfortunately). I was told by (a very sexist in her own way) coworker (who also turned out to be toxic) that I couldn’t lay into him when he tried blaming me for his mistake. A man could yell at his coworkers/employees and he would just look assertive. If I did it, I would look like a bitch.

      I have learned I would rather be a hard-ass and look like a bitch than change these men’s diapers simply because they expect it of me. Interestingly enough, most men are pretty good once they realize I won’t yield. It is the other coworker I mentioned above who is mainly the problem. Apparently, I don’t know what ants look like, how to tell if the AC is out, and the modem isn’t working. Le sigh. At least she makes herself look like the idiot on her own.

    2. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

      I’m cursed with whatever the opposite of a resting bitch face is. Random strangers will spontaneously open up to me about their troubles because “you seem nice.” I don’t mind coming across as a hardass, I just don’t know how!

  41. Meep*

    I am 26 and recently mentioned I was married to a 22-year-old. He got all wide-eyed and asked exactly how old I was because he assumed I was his age. Apparently, he had a case of FOMO and was thinking I was “too” young to be married. We have a 23-year-old in the office who has been married for 2 years. I have been married for an entire month.

    My point is, now that I am “getting there” (and by that, I mean surrounded by people younger than me who think I am the least experience than them) I am starting to “get it”. My only advice is don’t take it too personally. The mansplaining and talking down is annoying, but as a woman in STEM, you are going to always get that to some degree. It comes with the turf of what we do, unfortunately.

  42. Freelance Everything*

    Also not advice as such… but me too!

    I make a point of confirming my age contextually when it comes up:
    ‘oh you’re too young to have seen [tv show]’
    ‘No, I saw it. Always enjoyed watching that’

    Which is okay on an interpersonal level, but doesn’t help with management or clients as much.

    My issue is specifically my face (followed by short stature) and there’s often a mental recalibration when I start speaking or am competent. But often I think that translates to ‘what a well put together young lady*’ rather than ‘oh she’s older and more experienced than I assumed’.

    And some (insecure) people just need to establish a position of power over perceived youth/femininity, especially when paired with competency and/or experience. And unfortunately, that’s very much a ‘them’ issue.

    *Reminded myself of a gap-fill job stacking shelves on nights as a 30 year old and having a (female) manager appear 40ft away and yell ‘I need you to work faster, young lady’.

    I honestly don’t remember what I said, but it was offended, loud and sharp. I do remember her disappearing for the rest of the night.

  43. Sarah*

    I’ve been dealing with this for a long time. I would not take the advice to change your appearance or voice. It’s not going to change anything. I dress how I want and I don’t speak differently. When this comes up at work I first try to diffuse it with humor and gently let them know I’m in my mid 30s with a mortgage payment. You can also say things like ‘I’m not sure how this applies to me. I’ve been in this field for blank years.’ If this doesn’t work the best advice I can give to you is be assertive and confident at work. I’m outspoken, and eventually people catch on that though I might look 25 I know what I’m doing. Do I always feel confident? Not at all. However just fake it until you can feel that way. You are not alone in this, so many people are dealing with this and it can be extremely demoralizing. You know that you have the expertise to do your job, and please don’t let this get you down.

  44. Orange You Glad*

    I can relate to this letter and many of the comments. I’m in my mid-30s and have had to deal with comments and attitudes that I’m too young to be trusted my entire career. I’ve been with the same company since I graduated from college so I can understand some people remembering me back when I was new and green but I’ve worked my way up to management in the last 13 years so it can be frustrating when I am not taken seriously. For me, one of the positives of the shift to working from home is that more of my communication is done via email instead of face to face. I think now my message is taken a bit more seriously when it’s written (and my certifications are listed in my email signature). I have always dressed and presented myself in a professional manner, but that doesn’t always help.

    And for all the comments about being lucky to look so young (it’s always the follow-up when someone realizes they are wrong in their assumption about me) – it’s not lucky, it sucks. I just want to be treated as my age and respected for my experiences and contributions.

  45. Ginger Baker*

    I also look VERY young. I wasn’t overly concerned for a long time due to the nature of my job, but in the last 8 years or so I have taken to “casually” dropping comments that address my age. It is not uncommon to hear me say in random watercooler conversation at work of the following: “Wow, kinda nuts when I think that I’ve been doing this job for twenty years now” “I saw that meme yesterday about the 80s actually being FORTY years ago, WHAT EVEN. Am I really that old?” “Not sure what I want to do for my birthday this year, for my 40th I had people over but with Covid…” “I’ve been thinking about Monica Lewinsky a lot lately, how different might it be now? I was only a little younger than her yet still felt like it was somehow not a major power imbalance issue? I’m glad to see the youth these days pushing back hard on that”

    And on comments in the moment like “when I was young, I also” type stuff: “[laugh] are you suggesting I am still that naive at 30?” “Now that I’ve been doing this work for over ten years, I would like to…” “…wow, do I seem that young to you? I’m definitely mid-career :)” NOTE that the point of these direct responses is not to avoid any discomfort. It’s possible managers hearing this will feel awkward about having made such an egregious comment. That’s okay! That’s their awkwardness and feeling it will help them remember to not stereotype people based on perceived youth in the future. Just let the moment sink in for a sec and then move on. If anyone replies with some big apology or whatever, just keep “Yep, I get that a lot! Anyway, about the issue with the reports…” in your back pocket.

    As with other similar situations where you have to push back in the moment or “drop” background information, I super SUPER recommend practicing these out loud, maybe with a friend. The more you have said them, the easier they will flow in the moment.

      1. Ismonie*

        I would. Poor woman. I don’t think discussing sexism/sexual harassment should be off-limits in the workplace.

        1. Ginger Baker*

          Yes, same. I absolutely think discussing sexual harassment and the ways society reacts (which I hope is somewhat better now, though that clearly is not always the case even during the #MeToo time period) is valid at work, particularly when discussing sexual harassment *that occurred in a workplace*. Indeed, I think keeping these topics under wraps only keeps us from moving forward.

      2. Foila*

        Honestly, Monica Lewinsky has done such a truly phenomenal job of creating a positive, thoughtful identity and image out of a really horrific public shaming, I’d say she’s interesting for reasons that go far beyond the original scandal.

        1. Ally McBeal*

          +1! I really appreciate what she has done with her life/career – she’s clearly taken the time to process what happened to her and how she can leverage that to make a difference.

  46. Miss Chanadler Bong*

    Your coworkers just sound obnoxious. I definitely look younger than I am (I’m 26 but look like I’m maybe 18). When I had this happen was earlier on in my career and when people knew that I was in my first job, and actually some of the advice was helpful especially from coworkers who I knew well. I’ve never had it happen now that I’ve been in the workforce for almost five years. Even when I was at my first job, my first manager it was always obnoxious, miniscule advice, and it was pretty much daily. It drove me crazy.

    As far as what you can do to combat that, I find non-verbal communication did more to counteract it than anything. A raised eyebrow, an “are you serious” look shuts it down and makes people uncomfortable, especially if you maintain eye contact. If they don’t get it, nodding politely and saying, “Well, I’ve been in this field for a decade now, so I think I’ve got it” and walking away will do more.

    And also (and not that I believe that this is your fault, but this is something that may help) make sure you carry yourself with confidence. You’re an expert! You should walk around confidently. I’m only five feet tall, but I walk around like I’m taller, if that makes sense. My one coworker actually thought I was older, and one thing he said was because it was how I carried myself that made me seem that way.

  47. PTC*

    It’s interesting that we get older we may find the need to appear much younger in the workplace. There is always an “-ism” that likely will cause a person to not bring their true completer self to work (or cause them to tone down certain things). Straight white males have the easiest time in most industries, as they don’t really have to start adapting how they appear to their managers and peers until they get 50 or older.

    1. PTC*

      I’ve also been an “offender,” suggesting to a new-to-me direct report after several months of virtually managing them that they might be interested in being part of the company’s “young professional” (mainly under 30s) group. Fortunately, they did a great job in schooling me that they likely were not the right age for this group.

  48. Jam on Toast*

    When I started teaching at college, I was 32, with two children and a graduate degree. I was photocopying something in the staff offices and got taken to task by another faculty member. “Students need to do their photocopying in the library!” they snapped. Someone else hissed under their breath, “She *is* a faculty member” and there was awkward back-pedalling. Even now, in my early 40s, I’m still mistaken for being much younger than I am, which confused me greatly because I think I look my age. When I turned 40, which is solidly middle-aged, I was teaching on my birthday. I mentioned it to my class and the age ranges they guessed at ran from 25!! to early 30s! I just have one of those faces.
    I make sure I am professional and dress appropriately but I don’t go out of my way to justify the way I look or talk about my age. If it gets really bad, I just make the offender call me Dr. JamOnToast and that usually settles the matter.

  49. Purple Loves Snow*

    I have had this happen many times as well. I am 40+ and often get mistaken for a practicum student (or being under 25). I have 15+ years in my career field. I often look (and act younger as I work with kids) than I actually am.

    I usually say something along the lines of “I am way older than I look and act with my kids”. I factually correct that I am not a practicum student and have been in my current role for X years. After reading Allison’s blog for a while, I would begin to pull out the phrase “what an odd thing to say to someone with 10 years’ experience doing technical/expert job.” Also tone really is important, Allison often says to say it in a breezy nonchalant way, like of course they will understand it and stop doing it.

    I found my clothing really impacted how other’s viewed me, so I always ensure I was wearing dark was jeans with a blouse and blazer/cardigan with very “adult” shoes. I never wear just regular jeans, t-shirt and kicks as it makes 20 years off me and makes me look like a high schooler. Clothes always have a not so subtle way of impacting how other’s view you. It might be worthwhile to review/edit your current wardrobe.

    Good luck, and please send in an update (us readers love them).

  50. LittleRedFox*

    No advice really – I’m in the same boat. I’m tagging this to come back and read through comments later.

    I am a 34yr old woman who’s been working in this field since I was 18 and I constantly get the “just starting out your career” stuff.

  51. Nonprofit Lifer*

    I’ve been in a similar boat. (I’m in my late 30s but until recently I had people assume I was the intern.)

    Things I have found that help:
    – Drop references to the passage of time into your conversation. “Back when I started out it was like this, but after the big software change five years ago we basically had to start over.”
    – Talk about younger people as a “them.” “I’m so glad I graduated and started my career when I did, new graduates these days and even kids in their twenties have such a harder time of it. I really feel for them.”
    – Joke about how other people think your young, “Oh man, a couple of years ago I was at this trade show, and this guy asked me what college I was considering. I didn’t know how to say ‘Um, well, I considered X, went there, graduated, got a job, and worked for ten years, so I have to say I think X works out pretty well.”

    You don’t have the ability to use clothes and jewelry as a signifier, but when you possibly can, do let your hair go grey. I’ve greyed up more in the past two years (thank you pandemic) and while my face looks exactly the same (friends from high school comment that haven’t changed at all), the on-person comments have majorly decreased. I also part my hair so that the grey is as visible as possible.

    1. londonedit*

      I’ve definitely done the ‘I’m so glad I graduated when I did; back in my day you could still get an entry-level position without having to fork out for a Master’s and do a ton of work experience, and tuition wasn’t £9k a year…’ thing and it’s quite effective! I’ve also used ‘I cannot believe Wakeen was born in 1997…I spent most of 1997 in the one pub in town that we knew would serve us underage! It was hilarious when people started having their 18th birthday parties there…’ and ‘Wow, yeah, 20 years since 9/11…I remember it was just before I was heading off to start my second year of uni…’. It’s an easy way to make sure people realise you’re older than they might have initially assumed.

  52. SamIam*

    I’ve had the same problem but approached it from a different angle than has been discussed in the comments so far. Whenever I start a new job, I politely insist that they send out my professional summary with my introduction. When I introduce myself in meetings for like the first year at a new job, I include a two sentence (10-15 second) overview of my experience. And when I weigh in on an issue in an setting where I know I’m likely to be underestimated, I start my sentence off by saying, “Look, in my 15 years of experience…” or “When I was with X company in 2006…” or something similar. This might be a little aggressive but it works.

    …and like others have said, it does get better with age. I’m now 38 and I’ve found in the past 2-3 years I have fewer male colleagues assuming I’m 24.

  53. Number Cruncher*

    This is a real story that happened to me 2 days ago.

    I recently gave my notice at my current company where I am in senior leadership. I am a female in my mid-30’s (but I look young), and I have been with the company through rapid growth for many years, actively involved in executive level decision making and strategy, and I lead a large team. I can say with confidence that I have earned a lot of respect over the years for what I do, and my company made me a generous counter offer to reflect that (which I declined).

    My CEO made a trip to my office in a last ditch effort to convince me to stay. His approach was the following:
    “Let me ask you a question…have you talked with your parents about this?”
    “Are they are advising you to do this?”
    “Your dad thinks you should do this?”
    “Because if I was your father, I would recommend that you stay where you are.”

    For context – not that it is needed – my CEO has absolutely zero information about me or my family. My decision to leave the company was in large part due to treatment like this, which is extremely common at this company and in this industry. Apparently I can be trusted to make rational, thoughtful decisions on behalf of the company and our 1000+ employees, but when it comes to my decision to leave the company, I need my dad’s blessing.

    For what it is worth, I was outraged and let other leadership know about it immediately. They were very supportive and understanding, and apologized on behalf of my CEO. He will never understand how condescending it was.

  54. Daisy-dog*

    Have you tried smoking and not wearing sunscreen? If those don’t work, there’s always meth. /s

    (Flippant answer to show solidarity with how annoying this whole situation is!)

    1. jenny20*

      it might be flippant, but sometimes I do like to turn it around on people making the ‘young’ comments.
      I don’t look young, I just use sunscreen / take care of myself.
      YMMV. I’m fine being abrasive to my co-workers/clients when they deserve it ;)

      1. Number Cruncher*

        YES. It is so important for those who are comfortable with calling out this behavior, in the moment, for what it is – and have the political capital to do so – to do it. It’s not always comfortable, but I do feel I have an obligation to correct behavior when I see it to hopefully protect the women that come after me. I rarely take it personally when it happens to me (unless when it is especially egregious), but I worry for the quieter members of my team.

      2. Daisy-dog*

        Yes, hydration as well!

        Though another reason I look young at the moment is a huge zit on my 32-year-old face.

  55. Irish girl*

    So I don’t have a ton of advice. At my day job, most people I worked with were over the phone or by email so the looking young didn’t come into play much.

    But where it did impact me was when referee adult men’s soccer games. They always looked down on any female and a young one would get especially remarked about. There wasn’t much I could do other than my job which proved them wrong quite quickly that I wasn’t what they though. Walking on a field of over 50 men at 24 and them thinking I’m 16 and then handling their BS better than some older men spoke for itself after the fact. Using their comments of “What are you 16?” and throwing it back “thanks for the complement but I’m 24 and have been doing this for 10 years” would get them to back off a bit about my age and how I could handle them. Killing them with kindness and putting them on notice at the same when they were being jerks worked well for me.

  56. Curly Sue*

    I could’ve written this post as well, looking forward to reading through the comments. Very similar experience in certain situations – I’m a woman in my late 30s, in a highly specialized STEM field with two advanced degrees. Ppl have also discounted my work input in the past, mostly my male management, due to how young I look. My current jerk of a manager used to refer to me as “young lady” all the friggin time. I think the latest set of harassment training may have cured him of it. Not work-related, but when I was buying face cream last week, the store clerk thought I was 17 – huge compliment at my age hehe and it was also b/c I was wearing a mask in store and had a ponytail. All that to say is, I really get the OP.

  57. LCS*

    Totally agree with the PPE thing! I’m almost 40 working in a field role in oil and gas and wearing clean and shiny gear is like a flashing beacon that you’re new. I definitely get granted a lot more respect when it looks like I’ve been through a few battles.

  58. blink14*

    I experienced this when I first started my current job, I was in my late 20s but looked early 20s, and even now in my mid 30s I repeatedly am told that I looked about 7-8 years younger. And I don’t mind that! Like you, LW, where it becomes a negative is when you’re not taken seriously because of it.

    I’ve found two approaches – humor and being assertive. Humor is a great way to gently break that you are not, in fact, just out of college, but are well into your career. Things like “oh back in my day, we didn’t have WiFi at my college” or “oh do you remember such and such pop culture moment, I was X age when that happened!”. Once you start linking your age to experiences that people can relate to on a wider scale, I do think that helps the perception.

    Being assertive at work is really important when going through this kind of thing. Speak up, be direct, be polite, but be someone that your coworkers can depend on for knowledge and help. Engage in conversation about topics you are skilled in, contribute to conversations where you have valuable information. Hopefully over time, that helps coworkers realize you are more experienced than they may perceive, simply based on what they think your age may be.

  59. Belladonna*

    I have/had this problem too. Some things that have worked for me:

    Telling the biggest gossip in the office my actual age. (I was pregnant and unmarried, and there were a few pearl clutchers.)

    Replying to statements like “when I started out” with “oh yeah 10 years ago when I started out, I had the same issue.”

    In water cooler chats: Referencing old pop culture and joking about how I don’t get current pop culture.

    Mentor junior coworkers.

    Offer expertise and be a likeable know-it-all.

    All of these suggestions are to subtly influence a feeling in your coworkers’ minds of your age group.

    1. Number Cruncher*

      Agree with these, they are very effective, and I have used many of them myself!

      I just want to say what a bummer it is to have to essentially pretend we aren’t “young” for others to take us seriously. As someone who is heavily into current pop culture, I don’t think its fair that say *my interest in the Real Housewives* has anything to do with my competency at my job. I don’t think grown men who spend their free time playing video games or run out to the new Marvel movie on opening night are judged as harshly. There is something about “stereotypically female” interests that are considered more juvenile than “stereotypically male” interests. I definitely don’t make mention of the last Ariana Grande concert I went to…but make sure to talk frequently about things I do that the people around me find to be “more adult”.

      But life isn’t fair and I guess it’s all part of the game!

  60. Andrea Prigot*

    It can help to dress more expensively – e.g. leather jacket, fitted blouse (not t shirt), real gold earrings, expensive watch, stylish blouse. That says you have funds and are not just starting out.

    1. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

      That’s why I specified that I have a uniform and work in a messy job. This is the type of work that requires steel toe boots, hard hats, and protective coveralls.

      Even if I had the option to choose my own clothes, a stylish blouse and expensive watch would be destroyed by lunchtime the first day I wore them. Jewelry would make me look out of touch and inexperienced. If you wouldn’t wear it while crawling through a muddy ditch full of brambles, it’s not work-appropriate for my job.

  61. Serenity Prayer Stuff*

    If you are consistently getting promotions and positive feedback, this seems more an annoyance than a career hurdle, which is actually not meant to minimize it but to recognize the level of importance it requires.

    If you get annual reviews/opportunities to talk with managers, you can bring this up at that time and ask how they want you to handle it when people minimize your experience.

    None of us are going to change centuries of human nature with a great comeback, certainly the “when I was starting out” stuff can be countered with “In the decade I’ve been doing this job” but that’s just surface level.

    As a pop culture stand in, if you watch NCIS:LA nobody ever is surprised when Sam takes town a bad guy in two seconds, but in the episodes when Nell went into the field it was always a big deal of a surprise when she took down the bad guy.

    Little Nell is a trained agent, but she’s 5 foot nothing so it’s not expected. Sam is 6’3 and a navy seal. Human nature expects more of one than the other.

    1. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

      I don’t think it’s been a career hurdle until recently, because I’ve only recently reached a point in my career where being seen as authoritative and experienced matters. As a lower-level technician, my supervisors promoted me based on my technical skills and reliability. I’m now at a point where I’m ready to move into supervisory/leadership positions… where being perceived as young and inexperienced is a big hurdle.

      I’m also not sure where you’re going with your NCIS analogy. Interpreting it as charitably as I possibly can, it sounds like you’re saying it’s human nature to expect less of someone who looks young…. but that’s exactly why I’m asking how to appear older.

  62. Anon for This*

    Lots of good advice here about presentation and attitude, which will help. But I have to tell you as a woman in a male-dominated field that, while the youth-related comments may go away, the taking down to you probably won’t. I am really tired of having to prove myself over and over again with male co-workers. (And even the occasional subordinate who thinks he’s a hot shot!)

    Put on your most authoritative persona, own your experience, and fire back where possible – you may well have more experience than some of the self-styled mentors.

  63. Amethystmoon*

    I’ve had things like that repeatedly happen to me and I am in my 40’s. Granted, I do color my hair because the grays are uneven & splotchy, and would just look funny. But I guess we are all supposed to have visible wrinkles to look like we have experience? It does not help that our workplace dress code has been super casual for years.

  64. Gnome*

    I’m a 40yo woman in a male dominated field in a male dominated industry.

    I have found that referencing my kids (yeah, gonna have to pay teen car insurance soon, not looking forward to that) during social conversations had helped.

    Obviously, that doesn’t work for everyone.

    Similar things that might help would be to reference “these young people” (or otherwise cast yourself as part of the “older people” cohort, or talk about how your cousin who is just out of college is making all the mistakes you made a decade ago and it’s hard to watch, say things like I can’t believe my X year reunion is almost here, etc.

    It’s crummy if you have to do this, but if you use language that makes them associate you with THEIR group, it might help because you are training their brains to think that way. Heck, I had an aging-parent issue onc that caused a completely different attitude to develop in a coworker since they were going through something similar. That coworker is about 30 years my senior.

  65. Webeh*

    Do you have other colleagues who are experiencing similar challenges? Or, a senior colleague who you’d feel comfortable enough to ask to become your advocate? Perhaps you could talk to them and make an informal agreement to be each other’s supporter when participating in meetings together. (E.g. You share an idea and your colleagues reinforces with “that’s a great idea” or builds upon on it to further iterate the idea. You do the same in return.)

    You can also try doing the same for the folks who typically talk down to you, which may make it clear to them that you’re a professional ally. That may cause them to eventually stop (or reduce the amount of) talking down to you overtime. This tactic has worked for me in the past. (But, I’ll admit not always.)

    I’ve been in similar scenarios to what you’ve described and found that the outcome of defending yourself can go either way. They may listen to you and correct their behaviour. Alternatively, they may think you’re overreacting and ignore your feedback. (It really depends on how receptive they are to feedback.)

    Another option is that if you ever go job searching in the future. Try to screen for this type of behaviour during the interview process in an effort to avoid a similar experience in your next role.

  66. Boof*

    LW, sounds like maybe you have babyface? + perhaps some other factors at play. There’s a lot of possible ways of working with this, depending on your preferences and who it’s coming from
    1) advertise 10+ years professional experience to anyone you start working with – maybe it’s making sure it’s on your company profile, email sig, business card, whatever intro materials make sense. But especially new coworkers/bosses, slip it in there somehow. Make it obvious.
    2) dye your hair gray? J/k (unless you want to, it seems like it’s a thing now??) – but it’s probably worth dressing as formally as within your work’s norms if you are ok with that.
    3) if people start to say somethign dismissive look puzzled and again, say something like “I must stress that in my past 10 years of working in this area XYZ really makes the most sense”, if they comment on age say “nope! over 30!” bluntly and matter of factly.

    That’s all I can come up with.

  67. Elizabeth*

    I mention my age (a lot). I mention my grown-up children and talk about their ages. (And I recommend that women of child-bearing age who are interviewing do the same, simply because it can head off prejudice from employers who might prefer to avoid mothers-to-be.) I occasionally talk about how I’m going to the gym nowadays because once I hit 45 I decided to take my health seriously. Or how I’ve been a Buddhist since I turned 40. It sucks that we should have to do so, but you’ve already realised that inserting your age into conversation is getting that info across to people. As for the “When I was starting my career…” advice, if it comes from a peer you can always chime in by agreeing. “Yes, me too! But now that I’ve been in this career for more than fifteen years, I find that…” and “Isn’t it amazing how things have changed in the past decade that we’ve worked in the industry?” and anything else you can think of to show that they’ve missed the mark.

  68. YoungButLookOldAndTall*

    I have had the experience of never being thought of as younger than I am and let me assure you, as a woman in their early 30’s in a male-dominated industry I still get disregarded, talked over, and had my experience questioned. Looking older is not a magic bullet to being taken seriously, and as authoritatively as I speak it doesn’t necessarily lead to people listening to me. The only answer I can come up with is it’s either (1) sexism or (2) when you look taller/older/speak more commandingly it can go the opposite direction and people become threatened by you and then try to take you down a peg.

    1. Manders*

      Unfortunately, yes, this has been my experience too. It’s not the kind of thing I can go to HR about, but it’s definitely there.

      1. YoungButLookOldAndTall*

        Yep, it can be very veiled. I’ve also had the experience of speaking/writing in my normal tone of voice and being told I’m too abrupt, my tone is wrong etc….it’s just my voice y’all this is how I speak to friends and family!

  69. Anonymous Koala*

    This used to happen to me all the time. I’m also 30, female, and with a high pitched voice, and I was mistaken for a high-school student until I was in my mid-twenties. I’ve found that superficial changes like hair and makeup help a little, but what helped me most was altering the way I spoke to people and interacted with them. I’ve learned to speak a little more slowly (which naturally modulates my voice to a lower pitch). I was also in the habit of raising my pitch at the end of my sentences, which makes everything sound like a question – once I stopped that, things improved a lot. I also found that as I got more knowledgeable about my field and really began to believe in my knowledge and skills, I naturally began to speak with more authority on subjects, and that made other people think I was older and more experienced.

  70. Some Internet Rando*

    I am surprised how sexist some of the advice is. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

    You should not have to change anything about yourself – your hair, your clothes, your voice.

    I think you should present this exact problem to your supervisor for their input BUT what you are really doing is signaling to them that this is going on so they can reflect on their own role.

    Separately if you are able to make your comments/feedback in writing you might get a more neutral or unbiased reaction compared to in person. But really I think you need your supervisor and co-workers advocating for you. And I like the feedback that you should gently push back. “A lot of people think I am young but I have been doing this for over a decade!”

    Some of this is age related and may change over time. Some of it is sexist and may not change.

    Its annoying.

    1. Nea*

      No one should have to change anything about themselves, and yes, because LW is a woman a lot of the advice sounds sexist.

      Except… it’s not. Perception bias is a thing and it cuts across gender.

      My father talks about how he had to completely change his wardrobe and hire a vocal coach to erase his accent. In his case, a southern man up north was seen as a hick, not a fully trained STEM professional – so he had to look and sound northern to be taken seriously.

    2. Alice*

      Most of it is not “sexist advice” — it’s advice that answers the specific question OP asked in light of the fact that we live in a sexist world.

    3. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

      I haven’t found the advice sexist. I asked for practical strategies for reducing the negative impact of sexism/ageism on my professional development, and that’s what they’re offering.

      It doesn’t mean any of us think that’s how the world should be, but we don’t live in a perfect world. Turning this into a big confrontational thing is not something I have the energy or desire to do even if I thought it had a chance of succeeding. I’ve picked my battles already… this one wasn’t even a runner up. I just want to find a way to slide around this hurdle with the least amount of friction possible.

  71. Manders*

    This isn’t fair, but most of my female friends who’ve succeeded in tech and other male-dominated fields have really worked hard on developing a work persona that’s blunter and less warm than they might necessarily like to be. I do think there’s a lot of subtle discrimination going on with women being read as younger and less experienced–it’s happened to me, and the only thing that made a dent in the problem was making big changes to my appearance and behavior at work (and I still feel like I have to be on guard about it happening again).

    Now that I’ve taken steps to make it clear I’m in my 30s, I stopped getting “You’re so young and inexperienced” and started getting “Well, you must be planning to have kids soon.” It feels like a battle I can’t win, and it can be very demoralizing.

  72. Another health care worker*

    She shouldn’t have to change her appearance or voice.

    I don’t really have this problem anymore, but when I did I would say “I’m a lot older than I look” or “people seem to think I’m young for this position, but I’m really not” etc. I’d deliver it in a sort of brusque way, and never got follow-ups.

  73. Babyface boomer*

    I am 58F. My new coworker is about 1-2 years older. When she first started here, about 2 years ago, she tried to condescend, talking to me like I was a teenager. Literally calling me “pretty girl”, or “little girl”. I did the gray rock reaction. But she was persistent, I finally told her “stop. We are practically the same age, and I don’t like comments on my appearance”. And I repeated myself the next couple of times that she tried that. She finally self corrected a couple of times, and she would look to see if I smiled. Gray rock.
    She finally stopped. But in her case I think it was a power play to combat my seniority. She did get verbally aggressive once when I wouldn’t take the bait. Again, gray rock. She has realized that she doesn’t need to have power over me. I’m a hard worker who doesn’t try to shove off my work on her.
    But, people often think I’m in my forties. (Thanks mom and dad for the genes!).
    My suggestion is to respond with “yes, when I started my career 10 years ago…but a lot has changed since then.” If they ask “well, how old enough”, answer “old enough to know better . But age is irrelevant, what matters is experience, which I have plenty of with this xyz situation.”
    Good luck!

  74. Allison*

    Oh my gosh, not only has this been me at times throughout my career, it’s been on my mind a LOT this week! I’ve been in my job for 6 months, only now just getting a chance to really show the team what I can do – my immediate team knows I’m awesome, some of the higher-ups and people on the other team aren’t convinced yet. They talk to me like I’m some wide-eyed 20-something who just started in my line of work yesterday, and I’ve been doing this for almost a decade! I’m in my 30’s, I’m senior level for a reason! But they talk down to me, and talk over me in meetings, and belittle my opinions when we don’t see eye to eye on something. It’s frustrating, to say the least.

    But my baby face doesn’t really help, does it? I still look like I’m in my early 20’s. Working in an office, I can compensate for that by wearing super professional clothing, but working from home, people see my top, and my living room is often too hot to layer a blazer over my blouse. I feel like I’m being punished for wearing sunscreen and staying hydrated!

  75. nnn*

    In addition to any other strategy, you could also talk like you’re old. You can also throw in phrases like “When I was starting my career…” or “Back when I was young…” Back hurts? “I’m not as young as I used to be!”

  76. Dasein9*

    Yeah. I’m a trans guy, and that often means looking younger than one’s age, so I feel this hard. In my 50s, here, and people sometimes still speak to me as though I’m much younger.

    If you wear glasses, ask your optician for advice on frames that help you “look your age.” (This may change according to your face shape, etc.) If you don’t wear glasses, consider a pair of frames with non-prescription lenses. People really do listen more to people who wear glasses.

    Another area for consultation might be a voice coach. This could be a very short-term thing, not weekly lessons.

    If your work area has cute stuff or toys, you may want to cut back on that a bit. It sucks, but “playful” can read as “young,” even though it’s not true.

    None of this should be necessary, of course. But, as mentioned above, the world is imperfect and these are strategies for navigating its imperfection.

  77. Thetis099*

    I am sorry you are experiencing this. I worked in a similar field with mostly men for many years. I know what you are talking about. My strategy was to be patient and let my ability to do the work speak for me, but that wasn’t enough. I had to be willing to get fierce at times. Don’t be afraid to have that reputation – try getting touch with your assertive side if you have not yet done so. Some people will respect that and knock it off. Being fierce when absolutely necessary may shock them into seeing the problem more clearly. Stop it as soon as it starts and do that every single time. Remind them of your credentials. Set those boundaries and hold them. You have earned your place there. If you can’t get them to stop this may not be the best place for you to advance your career. It may be time to consider taking your talent elsewhere.

  78. quill*

    Not that you can change this, OP, but I wonder if you’re relatively thin. People abruptly stopped assuming I was 20 when I developed something of a figure at around 27.

    But also I’m in a pretty gender equal field with people of all ages.

  79. Fabulous*

    As a 36-almost-37-year-old female who constantly is pegged for 10 years younger — coupled with the fact that I only just started my family, and the fact that I have a *really* flattering-yet-still-professional picture on my IM — I feel like I am constantly reminding people in everyday conversation that I’m in my mid-thirties. I think I’ve dropped that info 3-4 times with my current manager in the last year and she seems surprised almost every time I mention it… Keep mentioning it in everyday life. One of these time it’ll stick!

  80. I also look young, apparently*

    This isn’t exactly the same as LW’s situation, but when I was in my late 20s I set a meeting with the head of my department to state my interest in a promotion from Teapot Inspector to Senior Teapot Inspector. I had only been at that job for a couple of years, but I had worked as a Senior Teapot Inspector at a direct competitor for four years previously and took a lower title in exchange for escaping a very toxic company. Anyway, Department Head kind of looked at me like “Oh, honey” and started talking about how early I was in my career and what were my reasons for seeking promotion and it was obvious that she 1) thought I was newer than I was, 2) had forgotten about my previous experience (she definitely knew at one point, since she was the one who reached out to poach me from the other company) and I was irritated but I just said something like, “Well, in my time at Other Teapot Company I blah blah blah…” in a pleasant tone and she realized her mistake and we moved on (and I did eventually get the promotion).

    I don’t have any tips on how to look older since even now in my mid-30s with my hair actively going grey I still get people who are skeptical when selling me booze, but a similar approach to my story might work in some situations (e.g., somebody saying “When I was early in my career” you could respond by saying “Ah, interesting, early in my career my experience was that…” which does the job of correcting them without sounding confrontational).

  81. mreasy*

    In my experience, I’m afraid gender isn’t just playing a role, it’s likely to be doing much of the work here. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. I’m happy to be at the stage in my career where I can push back on this stuff but it’s not easy.

  82. Supernonymous*

    I had a teen volunteer think I was a fellow teen volunteer, once. I was in grad school!!

    Since you’re turning 30 soon, can you ask a work friend to get you a giant “30” birthday balloon?

    Honestly, the only real solution is to reference your age enough that people you work with regularly know how old you really are; there’s no real solution to casual work acquaintances, sadly.

  83. jenni o*

    There are too many comments here to check, but what about vocal tone training? I find sometimes it is the tone/inflections of women in their 20s/30s (not just appearance) that can undermine interactions with men. There are coaches that specifically train women how to sound more mature/professional than their years. That plus the body language advice above might be the switch you need.

    1. Number Cruncher*

      This reinforces the bias. The idea that the way that women naturally speak is unprofessional is what needs to change.

      1. Jackalope*

        It 100% needs to change AND if the OP doesn’t want to deal with the hassle of trying to change it (or prefers to wait until she’s at a higher position or authority or whatever) she can choose to try some of these suggestions and see if they work. If she wants to push back on The Way Things Are Right Now she has our full support and vote of confidence. If she just wants to find ways to stop dealing with the sexism and ageism she’s experiencing right now at work, these ideas may help. And that’s what she wrote in asking about, so that’s why people are suggesting it.

  84. BunBun Babbin*

    I will say it honestly doesn’t get much better. As someone who just turned 35 and people still think I’m between 20-24 upon first meeting me. Doesn’t matter how I dress, makeup, etc. I have perpetual babyface thanks to genes and good skin (my first job, people thought I was 11…I was 18!).

    The only way I have found to combat it is to drop hints like “oh when I graduated from university in YEAR….” or “Yeah, I worked at COMPANY for 10 years and they did…” or any other phrase that would indicate I am older than perceived. That would confuse people and either they would ask my age or I would give it based on their confused looks. Once I say “Oh I’m 35.” It leads to the usual “BUT YOU LOOK SO YOUNG”, and I do a chuckle and go “Yeah I get that a lot but I’m 35”. Then they are able to move forward.

    However, there are some people who cannot accept you are your age just because of your gender and your youthful looks. With those people I am always more brusque and blunt. Like, “I’m 35. I know, I don’t need t ” (or whatever). And just be very matter-of-fact about it. People don’t always expect us to be so blunt and matter-of-fact (because we look like sweet wee babies to them), to it kind of puts them in their place. At least temporarily.

    1. BunBun Babbin*

      Also I will say about all these comments about saying to watch your tone/vocal intonations, cut your hair BLAH BLAH BLAH. Ignore that crap. I have heard that junk advice for years and it DOES NOT help. I have had my hair short, mid and long (currently it’s mid-back for me which is the longest I’ve ever had it). I have heard women in their 50s speak with vocal fry and they don’t get called on anything. It doesn’t matter! If you look young, you will be perceived as young regardless even if you speak and try to dress like a 60-year-old man.

      Head up, shoulders back, CONFIDENCE. I am not going to change who I am just to satisfy some dingdongs about how they think a woman in their mid-30s should speak/look.

      I mean, as long as your not Cher from Clueless you’re fine.

  85. KickingWorm*

    Do you have any coworkers/managers/mentors that don’t treat you that way? Could you ask them to vouch for your experience? I had this same problem and I found that the best way to shut that down was for my coworkers and managers to push back on anyone who was treating me as a new hire. Sadly, hearing it from my own mouth, dressing differently, or wearing make-up was not as effective as an older engineer telling someone that I knew what I was doing. Luckily for me, I never had to ask for their support. They just did that. If that’s not an option, the next best thing was preemptively dropping how long you’ve been with the company during conversation.

    When you get to the other side and you’re the older coworker, remember to not treat people like that!

  86. Abogado Avocado*

    Same problem as you when I started as a lawyer. Was 30, looked a lot younger, and male lawyers and judges frequently mistook me for the paralegal, the court reporter, the clerk, but never the lawyer. Which was highly embarrassing in front of clients and made me wonder why I spent all that money on law school. I complained bitterly about it to a sister lawyer I trusted. She said, “People remember 30 percent of what you say and 70 percent of what they see” and encouraged me to “dress like a lawyer.” When I said I didn’t want to follow the “dress-for-success” model that John T. Molloy was then flogging, she pointed out that I could still dress professionally even if I didn’t want to default to the boxy navy suit and floppy tie combo that Molloy suggested.

    Although I lived in a southwestern city where bright colors and prints are the norm, I searched for clothes I liked that read “professional” (solid darker colors, no prints) and paired them with low-heeled shoes that also read “professional.” Several items I picked up at secondhand stores and Goodwill (I’m a big bargain shopper). Also limited the jewelry and cosmetics I wore. Interestingly, the male lawyers and judges started to treat me as a lawyer and, more important, treated me more seriously. The misidentification and the corresponding comments from male colleagues and judges about my age, my figure, my marital status, etc. diminished.

    I don’t know, OP, if something like this will work for you in your environment. In my case, clothes are like armor and effectively signal how I want to be treated.

  87. Imaginary Number*

    I’m disappointed in the number of folks who are suggesting “dress differently”, “change your voice”, or “change your mannerisms.” Especially those who are insinuating the OP isn’t dressing or acting professionally.

    I have had similar problems up until a few years ago. I started at my current company at 30 after leaving active duty military, and a lot of folks assumed I was a recent college grad. I’ve found that making folks really uncomfortable has the best results. When someone says something like “when I was your age” or “when I was early in my career …” I’d interrupt them and ask them just how old they thought I was (because some of these folks are retirement-age and everyone under 50 is young or “early career” to them.) Even if they refused to guess (because of the stupid taboo about “women are ageless and guessing anything older than 25 is rude”) it usually challenged the situation enough to put a stop to it.

    1. Anonymous Koala*

      Making people uncomfortable definitely shuts this kind of thing down and it’s a great way to go if the letter writer’s comfortable with it. But this kind of thing happens to me and other women I know ALL THE TIME and sometimes pushing back on sexism that’s so ingrained in our society (you look young! It’s a compliment! ugh) requires more social capital and energy than people might want to spend. That’s why small changes to appearances or mannerisms might be preferable to some people, and we shouldn’t shame them for that or put the onus of educating other people on them.

  88. Storm in a teacup*

    I’ve had the same problem – not only have I always looked young but I’m also v short and don’t have kids which adds to it.
    Now I’m in my forties I thought it would stop (I have grays!) but some people really don’t notice details.
    I’ve always made a point of telling managers my age and in meetings where I feel my experience isn’t being acknowledged I reference ‘ in my 20 years experience…’ or ‘last time I came across this xx years ago…’
    I found speaking up more authoritively and confidently made people see me as older.
    This hasn’t happened for the last 6-7 years until most recently with a team mate who is the same age. I’m more senior but have struggled to give her feedback on a few things as she assumed I was a decade younger than her despite multiple conversations where my age was clear! I found myself getting increasingly frustrated with her comments, which were often patronising, making reference to how much younger I was. I finally shoehorned a comment into a chat last month about feeling very perimenopausal for her to realise we’re the same age!

  89. EmilyG*

    My people! I wish I could say this gets better but I’m now in my mid-40s and people still mistake me for being significantly younger. One lowlight for me was a senior person who asked me a few years ago if I had kids (whyyy) and when I said no, tried to cover up their awkwardness with “Oh, no worries, you have lots of time!” and then tried to on with talking about their own kids.

    I too don’t like the advice on changing your look or style, because it reads as “seem less like a woman,” and what if we just became comfortable with women having power? For one thing, I’ve read about research showing that linguistic novelties tend to appear first among young women, and people complain about them, but 20 years later, everyone says those things. Saying “like” was seen as practically contemptible in the ’80s but I notice among people 10 years younger, both men and women say it all the time, pretty unapologetically. I bet that could happen w/ vocal fry. I think if I tried to lower my voice, I’d come off like Elizabeth Holmes, and as for short hair, I’ve tried that and with my fluffy blonde hair, it made me look like I was FOUR.

    Some things that I think have worked for me:
    – Good bosses who publicly underline my experience and authority so I don’t have to. Tbh, it sounds like OP’s great managers aren’t that great, and maybe getting another position (which also more clearly delineates more of her experience as “past” too) could put her in a better environment.
    – Becoming old enough that even if people are off by 10 years, I could still have the same kind of professional job, so, whatevs.
    – This is a manner thing, but the steely gaze referenced above–I don’t think I do this very often, but I can when needed.
    – If someone is being particularly annoying, I connect with them on LinkedIn so they can be gobsmacked by my years of experience and education. I’m talking “visible change in demeanor after the lunch break and email check” measurable effects on this one.
    – Generally not caring as much about what other people think (kicked in a lot harder around age 40!).

  90. L in DC*

    Just want to say I’m sorry about the crappy situation, OP. I think I would be in the same situation but since I am in the military, the rank on my uniform signals my general age range. Can’t say that I haven’t encountered ageist attitudes when I was a younger officer though.

  91. Heffalump*

    No personal experience, but some years ago I read a book (whose title escapes me now) on navigating the work world in general, and there was a section on this issue. The author’s suggestions:

    Use your influence to get your employer to hire people younger than yourself, without revealing your agenda.

    Drive a smart, quiet car, even if it isn’t new.

  92. Engineer_girl*

    My suggestion is to bring this up with your direct supervisor or whomever introduces you to people. One thing I have found very helpful that my boss does in meeting is to introduce me and, if it relevant to the discussion, mention my credentials/experience. It acts to explain why I am in the meeting but also also means my words carry the extra weight. And it always sounds better to have someone else mention your 10 years of experience than for you to..

    I realise that some of the problem is with your supervisors, but I bet a donut that if you explain that people in meetings often fail to understand your background that will help make them think about it as well.

    Another option is to volunteer to give a short presentation in your area of expertise. This is a great time to outline your background/training etc.. So 10 minutes on Safety and the Care of Tribbles. Even better if your boss introduces you with those credentials as they can also mention awards, promotions etc..

    At one point in my career I was sitting in a room with 40 other people, mainly engineers and realized that, aside from the two admins, I was the only woman there. I was also one of the youngest in the room. I was short, skinny, with very blond dyed hair and the technical expert in the subject matter under discussion.

    Two things I noticed. When I was introduced there was an automatic assumption that I was younger and possibly the admin. But, once I was known, there were some advantages. I was remembered. I didn’t blend in (as I couldn’t) so it was helpful. It also really helped that I was working at a very prestigious brand-name university at the time so that lent me credibility.

  93. Healthcare Worker*

    Language! I was in a similar situation when I started my career (40 years ago) and worked diligently on mastering my choice of words and tone of voice. I eliminated “I think” and “possibly” before most statements; the statement stood on it’s own. I ended statements with little ambiguity, no “maybe?” intonation. I listened closely to professional women whom I admired and noticed their word choices and intonation and added those to my vocabulary. Record yourself and listen, ask your friends and trusted colleagues if you sound confident, or is there trepidation in your voice. I learned to jump into conversations more readily, which almost seemed rude to me, but it gave me more opportunity to participate in conversations. Presenting myself as self-assured gained me additional respect among those I was working with in the male-dominated field of healthcare. This may or may not be applicable to you! Good luck!

    1. Mental Lentil*

      There have been studies on how women tend to temper their language in this way, but men don’t. I completely endorse this advice.

      1. PT*

        I have gotten in trouble at work for not tempering my language in that way. You need to know your audience.

  94. Not A Manager*

    I think you can address it head-on, or by implication. Head-on would be, “Thanks, Bob. Actually, I’m 32 years old and I’ve been doing this for 12 years. Can we stop acting like I’m new at this?” By implication would be, “Thanks, Bob. I also found that to be the case when I was starting my career 12 years ago, but I wonder if things have changed since then. Do you think someone new to the workforce would agree with us?” You could add something even more clunky, like “We’re practically dinosaurs by now.”

  95. Cris*

    I encounter this at my job sometimes, and what I’ve found works amazingly is just being more firm. My instinct is to be agreeable, and it’s amazing how most people back down when you push back a tiny bit. Absolutely not combative, I just channel my inner upper-level manager when I have those types of conversations.

    E.g. “I’m really not comfortable with that plan.”
    “I’ve seen this go badly before, so I think we need to do X.”
    “I understand it’s cheaper/faster/whatever to do it X way, but in my experience I’ve seen Y go wrong.”

    When someone says “When I was just starting out…” respond with. “When I was just starting out I thought Y too, but I’ve been doing this for ten years and I know blah blah blah.”

  96. NeedRain47*

    Your direct supervisors should know better and I’d advise politely pointing out that you are not a beginner… repeatedly if need be. For others, the comments may be irritating but if they don’t impact your day to day work, it’s just easier to let it go.

    I worked at a university and although I was 25 when I started, people in other departments thought I was a student worker and it only gradually dawned on them that I wasn’t just slow to graduate after about a decade.

  97. Yampers*

    I had this problem for years in my field (where there is a years-long training period before you can work unsupervised and I was often mistaken for a trainee years after completing it). I found changing my style of dress (in my case it was wearing heels and skirts, which most of the training people don’t wear) helped. It also helped to present myself and speak confidently. Avoiding “Do you think we should—,” instead of just stating what we should do, or ending statements with a question mark. Also avoiding saying “I’m sorry” too often.

    Eventually I got old enough that I rarely get those assumptions (and it’s more of a complement when it happens!).

  98. Robin Ellacott*

    Ugh, so frustrating, and I’m sorry.

    Is it possible to ask your manager or anyone else who may deal with the people who are patronizing you for support?

    I used to have a very young looking team member who tended to get kind but infuriating “helpfulness” so when I introduced her to anyone I said “this is __; she knows more about ___ than anyone here and she’s been doing [task] fr a few years now, so if you have questions she will know the answers!” And I would encourage people to use her expertise, which was actually considerable.

    If you’re the first point of contact for all these folks that may not work for you, OP, but maybe you can get some colleagues on board at least. Good luck!

  99. VermiciousKnid*

    I, too have had this issue and I have one piece of advice: use the machine against itself. Find the biggest gossips in your company (or industry!) and drop the information that you want spread around. “I keep having encounters where people talk down to me because they think I’m young. I have 10 years of experience! I thought I’d be past this now that I’m 3o!” They won’t be able to resist a nugget like that and soon everyone will know how experienced you actually are.

    And while this probably isn’t want you want to hear, once you’re in a position for a few years, people’s interactions with you start to reflect your history with them, rather than their assumptions. Stick it out. If you do good work, that will impact how they treat you more than how you look. It shouldn’t be that way, but that has been my experience every place I’ve worked.

    Good luck OP!

  100. L*

    I had the opposite problem — due to not going to college and starting my job about 5 years earlier than the average person, people have thought I’m early 30s since I was about 21. I found correcting people on my age would come up naturally in conversation because I can specifically point to X experience that clearly says my age (“Yeah I was too little to remember 9/11” , “Yep I am a fast typer — knew how to do it before I learned how to write”). I once had someone tell me things were different for “her generation” in high school when she was a year younger than me and my boss tell me her brother graduated high school very recently only to find out we graduated the same year.

    I know it’s not quite the same problem but since I was respected in my jobs, I wanted to make a point that I was a young woman and knew what the hell I was doing. If you’re able to just naturally correct people and act like they are weird for assuming the wrong age / experience level, it will help. You can also directly speak to your manager and tell them this is annoying.

  101. Cle*

    I have plenty of tips, but most of them revolve around appearance and it doesn’t sound like you’re looking to change that. As stupid as it is that appearance matters, it does. I think the advice you’ve gotten focuses on appearance because that’s probably the most effective thing you can change about yourself to effect the problem. (And yes, you can change it, even if it’s impractical/annoying, or you have to have your uniform altered or whatever.) If you feel this issue is effecting your goals or your day to day, it’s worth reconsidering.

    Beyond that, I’d be direct in what you say. Sometimes it might be a little blunt, but honestly I think it’s pretty rude for people to assume anyone’s age, so you’re only returning rudeness with rudeness. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years so I experienced , too.” “Of course I’m old enough to drink. What would make you think I’m not?” “I started this career a decade ago.” followed by a stare. Avoid the instinct to smile or laugh because it’s uncomfortable when these remarks come up.

  102. anonymous73*

    Call them out on their comments in the moment. Make them think about what they’re saying. If you’re getting this type of treatment from your managers, setup a meeting and ask if something you’ve done in your work would prompt those statements. In other words, turn the awkward on them. You don’t need to figure out how to look older. You need to make them realize they’re treating you like a child when your work product says you’re perfectly capable. If you’re worried about coming off as rude, they’re the ones being rude.

  103. cityMouse*

    It’s funny that this still happens, isn’t it, in this age of gender fluidity and increased social awareness.

    I hear what you are saying loud and clear. I’m a female, working in a male-dominated industry, and got a lot of that until I hit 40 and learned how to develop a stone-cold look that usually works. Then I hit 60 and it was like my youth in reverse – ignored and irrelevant due to age again. So odd.

    Like many others have said here, remaining calm and being assertive is the key, but it does help to have a touch of scariness. I’ve been told my look can “kill at thirty paces,” and “I’ve learned not to piss you off.” I have developed that stone-cold iciness and it does serve me well and also keeps me from saying anything I might regret, as I’m quite a verbal processor. Silence is a tool and armour, for me. If someone is being particularly condescending to me, I may resort to a well-placed, “I was the first woman in this city to do this back in 1979,” but I do save that for special occasions. I often think it to myself, and then start grinning, and that helps too.

    I’ve never worried about my appearance at work, as I don’t think it’s overly relevant because we wear uniforms. I don’t wear makeup but that’s a personal choice. I don’t think we need to change our appearances to appease or influence other humans. As long as we are wearing clean clothes that fit more or less, what we look like or wear should not be a factor. Of course your results may vary!

  104. JMM*

    I wish I had advice for you. I mostly deal with people over the phone, so I don’t have anything physical for them to go by. I have a “young” voice, even though it is lower register. Aside from the usual number of misogynistic comments I’ve gotten throughout my career, the comments like yours have never gone away. I still get “kiddo” from customers. I’m 48. They know I own my own company and employ people. So, yeah. I’d love to crack that code too.

    For situations where I do need to keep the conversation going and I know that what I am proposing really is the right thing, I usually do preface things with, “In my 15-20 years of doing this, I find that…. ” and “We used to do that about 10 years ago, but since this change, we found that x works better because of x, y and z” Sometimes people get the hint. Sometimes they don’t. It is so frustrating.

  105. Lacey*

    Oooh, I feel for you. I get mistaken for being in my early 20s often and I am in my late 30s.
    I used to think it was because I worked in an office with people 20-30 years older than me. But when I started my latest job, a couple coworkers were startled to realize that I was the same age as them. And in fairness, I thought they were younger too, so we’re all just horrible at estimating ages.

    Usually it just takes some time, but you’re also dealing with some condescending people so when they act condescending you may need to say, “Well, I have 10 years experience doing X and I’ve found that…”

  106. tjamls*

    I would mirror it back: “yes, when I was starting my career (X years ago)…” I did this once with someone who told me as we stood in the parking lot that when I get older I can look forward to buying a new car like he just did. I was in my 30s and said, “yes, a few years after I started my career, I was so proud to buy this (gestures at then-10-year-old) car new.” He got the hint.

  107. alas*

    Just a question–is this a field where the average age is 50? I work for the US Government and let me tell you, half of my peers are in their fifties. Half the people I manage are in their 50s. I’m 33 and I’m still the youngest person I know at work. I’m still considered early career and I’ve been here since I was 19.

  108. Bees! ! !*

    Oh I feel this. I’m a 28yo, 5’4”, baby faced white woman in engineering (office setting.) I’ve been the youngest person and only woman on my team wherever I’ve worked. Other folks have mentioned some great stuff to try, but these are my big ones:

    -try to build a rapport where you can rib your coworkers a bit. Pattern it off how they act with each other. This has helped me present myself as chill and relatable, and when there was a problem, made it MUCH easier to address it in a jokey-but-serious way that they took to heart without getting defensive and taking it out on me.

    -YMMV on this one, but: Swear more. Middle aged men love to assume that I am sweet and delicate, and a couple of well-placed cusses go a long way to counteract that. It also keeps them from apologizing for swearing in front of *me,* which I haaaaaaaaate.

    -Use your frustration at this! Anger is a great motivator for me, so when someone is talking down to me, interrupting me, etc, I channel that and let myself respond in a way that’s more brusque, bitchy, or blunt than I would otherwise. It might feel rude, but if you’re like me and default to being polite and a little too deferential at work, it’s going to come out as exactly situationally appropriate.

    I guess these are more tips for fitting into an older male dominated culture when you *are* younger, since that’s been my experience, but I hope they help anyway.

  109. Michelle*

    Consider whether you’re willing to change up your appearance somewhat. I had this problem when I was younger and found that making tactical choices about what I wore and whether or how I wore makeup could make a difference. I’ve counseled younger co-workers to also pay attention to tone of voice. There are vocal habits (fry, high pitch, raising your tone at the end of a sentence) that can make you sound younger. And definitely call people out–preferably with an amused tone–when they say something flat-out wrong. “Actually, I have more than a decade in this field. I just look 19.” said with a smile can work wonders.

  110. Infosecretariat*

    I’ve had similar struggles. Things that helped me:
    -a more severe, serious haircut (approx chin length)
    -taking a look at my overall presentation & what I could do to “age it up” (hair/makeup/jewelry/clothes) a bit.
    -having my work clothes professionally tailored (the perfect fit seemed to help project a more mature image)
    -bringing in objects to subconsciously communicate my age, like a “University of Teapots – Class of 2000” coffee mug, any framed photos that might somehow suggest I’m older than I look.

  111. Them Boots*

    OP-I work outdoors in a hot, sweaty, often dusty job and have an apparently very youthful look and am often in a position where I give advice or instruction to people older than myself (who are often cleaner/wearing better clothes). Some things that helped appearance-wise are cliniques 24 hour workout mascara-it only comes off in warm water (that post work shower) or a monsoon rainstorm, their CC tinted moisturizer/spf 15 sunscreen (pea sized amount smears well over freshly applied regular moisturizer) under more sunscreen, seems to gloss over minor imperfections & gives more polish without being actual makeup that smears & runs, and clear lip balm applied often. (I used to use tinted but it stained around my lips & i needed a mirror). For my long hair, it’s still a ponytail but a blunt cut seems to engender a more professional response-IDK! But it does. For me, that works better than a bun and a french twist is just not gonna hold up. Otherwise, there is being-and the Don’t GAF confidence from it- the subject matter expert. That means give your advice, stand by it, and unemotionally let the sh*tshow roll out when they ignore your advice. If you can emotionally step away and avoid the ‘i told you so’ body language (very hard!!), people who were so so wrong to ignore you don’t get as defensive and are less inclined to keep ignoring you to ’prove that they know what they are doing.’ It’s total paternalistic/ageist BS but that’s the world we live in. If you can be fully neutral about this sort of thing, let the chips fall where they may and remain neutral while picking up the pieces, it builds your Don’t GAF and that is the best way for us Youthies to get taken seriously. Good luck!!!
    (PS: when i tell you i have tested the makeup above, i mean i have been out in downpours fixing pipes/roofs/downspouts & alternately clearing brush in 98 f degree weather)

    1. Them Boots*

      Edited to add: I now have an earned rep as a subject matter expert and am rarely hearing the “when I was your age” (often when they have a few years still to go to reach my age!) or the “I’ve been doing x since before you were born”(ok, but since our management keeps promoting me instead of you, maybe you should stop with that comment? Because all it signifies is that I learn faster than you) type comments anymore. Now I only deal with comments from people new to our organization and my team educate them for me just by demonstrating that they take me seriously. Ie. Paying attention to what I say, following my instructions or collaborating with me on alternative solutions and generally acting as if I am the subject matter expert-that I am!

  112. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    Oof, that sounds super annoying. And it sucks that you’re having to put so much mental energy into managing other people’s weird stuff. The best advice I have is to try to bring back the conversations to the issue at hand as quickly as possible, to make sure you achieve whatever objectives you have for the meeting. It’s probably going to feel rude, but they’re the ones making it weird.

  113. stefrr*

    There’s a lot of good advice here for addressing the comments in the moment.
    Another thing I would do is enlist your boss to help. Something like, “I’m wondering if I could get your help with something. I experience this problem of people thinking I’m younger than I am, and I think it affects how my work and expertise is received. (give examples like these). I think I’d be able to work more effectively if people didn’t have this mistaken idea about my age. I’m wondering if you could be on the alert for when people may make comments about my age or experience and set the record straight? (give examples of what they could say) I think it could be meaningful coming from you.”

  114. 2 Cents*

    A big thing for me has been making sure I’m making declarations instead of questions or “do you think” or “I think.” Instead, it’s “this needs to happen.” It’s hard for me because I like qualifying stuff but it’s helped people stop questioning my authority/judgement on stuff I’ve been doing for nearly a decade!

  115. Market marketer*

    This used to happen to me. I address in the moment— a coworker said they were twice my age and I said “Oh wow— you’re 60? I wouldn’t have guessed!” I also work my age into conversation a lot, whenever I can I mention that I’m in my 30s.

    With your boss, talk about your anniversaries or experience— wow, been in this field for 10 years now, crazy! Yeah when I was an entry level technician— boy that was 10 years ago!— I had this client… when I first started out ten years ago I thought I would be more general but over the years I’ve decided to specialize…

    In meetings, if you all do introductions, do not laugh or smile and introduce yourself with your years of experience and any other credentials you have, such as projects you’ve worked on. Good luck!

  116. PM*

    I’ve discovered no one knows how to read ages, most particularly people presenting as women.
    What’s troubling/confusing about your letter OP is that it sounds like these are people you work closely with (your managers, e.g.) who should know your actual age! If you’ve never corrected them, definitely do so. I agree with all the suggestions for pushing back in the moment (“Well I’ve been doing this for 10 years and…” “I’m not sure I’d consider myself entry level after 10 years…” “Actually I’m [age], so I’ve seen how [historic tech thing has changed]”). Just keep doing an excellent job, that’s kind of all you can do.

    For new people, visitors, guests, etc, I do think dressing “sharper” can help if that’s a commitment you’re willing to make, but with people you work with daily they’re just being rude if they don’t take your cues.

  117. Annabell*

    I have the same problem!! I’m 30 but people think I’m about 20. It’s very hard when people think I don’t know what I’m talking about because they assume I’m too young. I am also in the process of applying for law school and I’m wondering if I am going to be seen as a 20 year old or if I will be seen as just a student.

  118. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

    I think there’s a lot of good advice here. I think a change of hairstyle might help. I’d suggest discussing this issue with your hairdresser. Also, perhaps glasses even if you don’t need them. And you haven’t mentioned your voice, but watch your intonation and your pitch. I’ve worked on speaking with a lower pitch and it’s possible. Of course, this may not even be an issue, as you’ve only mentioned your appearance.

  119. Ruth (UK)*

    I can relate to this. I have youngish face and am quite physically small, leading me to often be read as much younger than I am, or at least more so in the past.

    I work administratively at a university. When I was in my late 20s people would assume I was an (undergrad) student and ask me what I was studying and stuff. People would also express surprise when they found out my actual age. Someone did actually once ask me if looking so young caused professional problems for me. (Random related aside but once when I was about 23 and considering going into teaching, I volunteered at a highschool and got mistaken for a student and told off for not being in proper uniform [I’d dressed smartly and it apparently looked close enough that I was in incomplete uniform rather than being not-a-student [further aside but almost all schools have uniform in the UK].

    In terms of managing it:

    One thing I’d say is that around 30 you may be reaching a turning point for this. The reason for this is that a lot of the things that make a late 20s/early 30s person look ‘young’ are not the same markers that will make a mid 30s+ person look young. For example, I think a key reason I often got read younger was because I am small. But once I was in my 30s, my face etc just doesn’t look young enough to be read as ‘not fully grown’ and so no longer is a marker of being younger looking.

    Another thing you might find handy is to try and reference your age/generation just a little more. Not so much you’re constantly bringing it up so it’s overkill, but just enough so more people actually know your age and are reminded of it. There might be a casual way you can do this without necessarily giving your age as a number but implying it like maybe recalling a memory like “so this one time when I was in primary school, so it’d have been the early 90s…” etc or “about 10 years ago when I was doing my degree…”

    In terms of dress/presentation I would say that unless you’re dressing especially youthful (like in a way that’s stereotyped for a younger generation than your own) then there isn’t necessarily loads you can do here, and in fact sometimes trying to ‘dress older’ when one looks young can actually be counter productive and make you look even younger in a sort of contrast or by the fact it can look like you’re taking conscious lengths to ‘look older’ if it’s not your usual style.

  120. Girasol*

    I don’t know that changing your hair, dress, and manner will necessarily solve the problem. I went at age 50-some from 20+ years in a pretty diversity-positive company into a very old fashioned company. I was quite gray, reasonably athletic, and my dress habits don’t accentuate the feminine, so it’s not like I looked young. But I was treated like a teenager on her very first job by the senior men and also by a few women who were their special favorites, even though I was pretty obviously older than all of them. Alas, I haven’t much advice. The sudden trip back to the 1950’s left me so aghast that I just stood there with my mouth open and thought up incredibly clever come backs when it was too late. Looking back, I think I should have gone with “Did you just say that??” or a look that conveyed the same comment, but I’m really awful at doing such things in the moment.

  121. CRM*

    For the mentoring piece, it might help to be direct and specific with your mentors about what advice you want from them. I’m sure your young appearance (and, lets face it, gender) doesn’t help with their perception of you, but it could be strongly aided by the fact that they don’t know how to mentor people who aren’t early in their careers. I know that it’s necessary to mentor people at all stages in their careers, but I see it happening far less often for people who are more experienced.

    For example, if you have a meeting scheduled with a mentor you could pre-empt it by saying “I’ve been doing strong work in position x for the past 5 years, and I’m would like to discuss your thoughts on how to take the next step in this field” or “After my work on project X, I’m particularly interested in taking on more of Y. What is your experience there?”. If they start giving advice about early career stuff, you could pivot the conversation by being straight-up and saying “I’m actually hoping to discuss Y, given that I already have a lot of experience with (early career thing)”. The key is to not be defensive and remember that they are just trying to help you (unless they are truly being condescending, in which case it’s time to find new mentors!).

  122. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Humour is another technique I’ve used when this has come up. Things like:

    Person: ‘oh when you’ve done this job a few years you’ll know what you’re doing, don’t worry’
    Me: ‘mate, I’ve been doing this since dinosaurs coded in FORTRAN’

    Person: ‘you probably don’t even know the pressure of a mortgage and real issues yet’
    Me: ‘mate, I wish. Been there, got the t shirt, done that…okay maybe not in that order’

    Person: ‘when you grow up you’ll realise…’
    Me: ‘I’m 6 foot 1, if I grow up anymore I’ll be hitting door frames with my head’

    That sorta thing. This works better in my experience when the comments have been made in front of others – deflecting condescending remarks by making the others laugh can put an absolute stop to them.

  123. sometimeswhy*

    I’m so sorry, OP. I am screaming toward 50 and I still get this. The thing I use to reset people’s paradigm is casually mentioning that my “oldest” is in their 20s. It helps that I come from a region where having children young is typical and currently live in an area where having children later is typical so they instantly reset me to about 10 years older than I am. Sometimes you can see their brains short circuit a little. It’s fun.

    Obviously it’s not a universally useful strategy but earlier in my career (when I didn’t even mention having kids because oh god that’s a whole OTHER kettle of women in the workforce fish) I would drop other temporal markers. Like I went to the 50th annual [Big Deal Industry Conference] when I was new to the workforce and watch them do the math. Or that I’d done a service based placement with a commonly known duration before I started college in the 90s. Less focus on age and more on how long I’ve been at this.

  124. Christy7h*

    I had this same issue for years. I’m petite and just turned 40 – consistently carded/look 20. In first jobs did have to drop in my age/mention experience frequently.
    Hated having to do it, but it worked.
    Around 35, got a new job right below executive level, managing managers. In this one I dropped my years of experience into conversations repeatedly for the first year and it helped considerably. Also getting closer to 40 helped.
    In general: confidence, looking people in the eye, speaking with authority, taking out the ummms and uhhhs from my speech, also mentoring others (so people saw me in that sort of role) all helped.
    A suggestion – next time you start out with a new manager, or you have a good one on one with a manager who is open to suggestions, maybe posit the question to them – “I know I look younger than my age and am often confused for having considerably less experience than the 12 years I have. Do you have any suggestions?”
    I brought this up once, and even gave a comparison “12 years of experience, in fact Bob and I started on the same day and I have this grad degree” – honestly naming the problem to a manager who was open to hear it helped. They didn’t have any good advice, but it called out the issue without specifically saying “you are the one underestimating me.” Which helped in their actions.

  125. sometimeswhy*

    I’m so sorry, OP. I am screaming toward 50 and I still get this. The thing I use to reset people’s paradigm is casually mentioning that my oldest is in their late 20s. It helps that I come from a region where having children young is typical and currently live in an area where having children later is typical so they instantly reset me to about 10 years older than I am. Sometimes you can see their brains short circuit a little. It’s fun.

    Obviously it’s not a universally useful strategy but earlier in my career (when I didn’t even mention having kids because oh god that’s a whole OTHER kettle of women in the workforce fish) I would drop other temporal markers. Like I went to the 50th annual [Big Deal Industry Conference] when I was new to the workforce and watch them do the math. Or that I’d done a service based placement with a commonly known duration before I started college in the 90s. Less focus on age and more on how long I’ve been at this.

  126. Former Young Lady*

    With the caveat that people’s inability to see you as a mature professional is a THEM problem, not a YOU problem:

    TV has, in the past couple decades, finally started to acknowledge that there are women over the age of 28 on this planet, and that we aren’t dying to be mistaken for ingenues. Look at how Hannah Waddingham carries herself in “Ted Lasso,” or Julianna Margulies in “The Good Wife,” or Kate Winslet in “Mare of Easttown” (for a blue-collar version). For a case study in middle-aged women acting VERY casual (and not especially dignified), check out any scene from “Baroness von Sketch.”

    As we age, we generally do speak in a lower register. You don’t have to do a whiplash-inducing, overnight, Marianne Faithfull-esque two-octave drop; just dial the “sweetness” down a little bit. Speak as though you’ve just had some black coffee, instead of champagne.

    And then there’s posture and gait. Sit up straight, stand relaxed but with your shoulders back. Put an arm akimbo, here and there. Note how (healthy) older people move; our strides tend to get a little shorter, and if we’re more sure of ourselves, we walk with purpose — but we don’t scurry. We take up space. Use your nose to point in your intended direction of travel when you’re going from Point A to Point B — you’ll be surprised how many people yield to it!

    And yeah, glasses, if you can. Extra credit if they make your nose look a little sharper when they’re on.

  127. MansplainerHater*

    I highly recommend the book “Feminist Fight Club” for some “fight moves” to help counteract being treated in a sexist way. Because even if you change your clothes, your hair and your voice, you will still encounter some of the same issues. I was a PM and still being told to adjust how I talked, to take notes in meetings and to plan parties/grab coffee.

  128. CommanderBanana*

    Oof. There’s no one magical solution that works for everyone to be perceived as older or more authoritative. For me it was working on my communication style. I have a tendency to speak quickly and use my hands a lot.

    My org has hired a bunch of new staff, and in looking at their bios I am always surprised that they are not, in fact, barely 21, because they look it, partially because things like long, unstyled, center-parted hair, no makeup, and skinny jeans and sneakers do in fact make you look younger than you are.

    Personally I find throwing on a brooch instantly adds gravitas. :) Call it the Madeline Albright effect.

  129. Not your typical admin*

    I experience the same thing. Because of a genetic condition, I’m short (just barely 5 ft tall), petite, and look younger than I am. After college, I worked as a sub in our local middle and high school part time while looking for a full time jobs, and was mistaken for a student several times. One thing that works for me is to dress a step up professionally from what was expected. It gives a more authoritative presence. If someone mentions age, and assumes I’m younger than I am, I’ll laugh it off with a comment about good genes and leave it at that.

  130. Hex Libris*

    There’s a lot of good advice here. I don’t really agree with modifying your appearance or altering your voice, because that’s just not something I would be willing to do for this cause. I fully support developing your own version of The Stare, which has many uses. Make sure your bosses and coworkers are occasionally reminded of your chops in casual conversation by referencing professional experience from a while ago. And a combination correction and redirect is almost always a good way to deal with this — “I’m familiar with the problem, it’s been an issue since I started in the field a decade ago. I find the best way to address it is X…”

  131. Ozzie*

    I had this recently happen with the new Director of my program. He spoke to me as though I was just starting my career, despite my 5 year tenure at this company alone. It was paired with a number of gender-specific micro-aggressions, that he doesn’t seem to reflect at other female employees…. so while I don’t have any advice, I can at least commiserate.

  132. WantonSeedStitch*

    I do not agree with the advice on changing your voice and hair and clothing. Changing the manner in which you express yourself? Possibly. Being confident and assertive in how you speak isn’t always enough to make others take you seriously, but it is damned helpful. I agree with those who are recommending addressing the behavior of the managers, colleagues, etc. who are talking down to you:

    “When I was starting out in my career, what helped me was…”
    “Yeah, I wish I had known that back when I was starting out! But now that I’m ten years into this career, I feel like I need a different approach. What do you recommend?”

    “At your age, I [thing that is relevant to people 10 years younger than you]”
    “You know, I’m aware I look young for my age, but I’m actually 30. I’ve been in this field for ten years, and it’s getting really tiring having people assume I’m very young and don’t have much experience.”

  133. AdequateAdmin*

    I definitely agree with the other suggestions to subtly reference your years in the field.

    I’m in a similar boat as you. I look very young, present very feminine, and have a naturally higher pitched speaking voice. My field is weird in that it’s becoming more female dominated, but majority of the people at the top professionally and academically (the “old gaurd” if you will) are male. One thing I found was that consciously pitching my voice lower in certain situations tended to land me better results. Not to the level of Starlord imitating Thor, but closer to my sisters speaking voice. (She is lower pitched and usually pegged as being older and taken more seriously, even when we were teenagers.) With one of my previous supervisors there was a massive difference in the way he responded to me, even in casual settings.

  134. Anon4*

    I’m a litigator in NYC in her mid 30s. This happens to me ALL the time. Its a little bit of a different experience for me as my co-workers and bosses all know me and respect my work, but I deal with attorneys from other firms, judges, etc., almost every day. Some know me and others don’t. I’ve had male attorneys many years YOUNGER than me attempt to lecture me. The only upside in my fields is that I can often skew things to my advantage, as my adversaries tend to underestimate me.

    As for advice, I honestly don’t know. I’m not changing my hair or my clothes. I do tend to drop my voice into a lower pitch when I want people to take what I’m saying seriously. I also like to try to make it clear that the person who is assuming something about my age is embarrassing themselves. (I.E. “Oh looks like they sent a first-year associate to cover the conference.” is met with “George, who are you talking about…” and a skeptical glace that conveys concern for this man’s cognitive abilities.”) I also tend not to respond to people who like to drop the “in my 20 years experience” intro’s because them you’re just giving them what you want. If I counter “well in my 10 years experience” I’m just playing their game. I say “Ok. Anyway the thing we’re here to talk about today is…” Or, “I see. Well, the court rules require us to do it this way.” I realize this may not be particularly helpful when dealing with internal people but maybe you can tweak it to work for you?

    That being said, it doesn’t always work for me ha. It’s just one of those things that if I let it bother me I’d go insane.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      Yeah … let’s not play the age/years = something meaningful game.
      Sometimes a 23 year old can master something well in a short amount of time and be 100% on par with someone who’s been doing it for 10 years.
      I fought this as a 20-something, when people tried to shoot me down or minimize my experience. It helped for me to keep “I have lived an entire lifetime, thus far” as a mantra. And then just stay focused on the actual topic and demonstrate my knowledge of whatever we were talking about.

  135. Kit*

    I’ve found it helps to be explicit early and often about what I need in a conversation. I try to avoid allowing people to come to their own conclusions about what their role is in a conversation, especially well intentioned managers.

    For example, where I used to just describe a situation, I now lead with “This is an FYI because you may be asked about it in ”. Similarly when asking for input, I don’t just ask, I also tell them why they have information or authority I don’t. “You have final approval on this, here is my recommendation, is there anything you need from me before giving the green light” or “This project needs to account for the Marketing department priorities, because you are the main point of contact with them, I need your input on XYZ.” or “This is my piece, but it will need to be incorporated with other department’s, who is the right person to talk to”

    I also use the phrase “putting aside” a lot “Putting aside the longer term concerns”, “Putting aside the issue with” “Putting aside the reporting aspect” (aka let’s stop talking about this totally irrelevant thing you brought up) and follow it up with “I need ”

    None of this makes my face look any more my age, but it puts people at ease when they are talking with me and reduces the unsolicited advice significantly.

  136. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

    I once has someone at a trade show assume that my boss was my mother when I was 27 and she was 34! It was mortifying and she was so incredibly offended that she was petty and mean to me for the rest of the trip. Even at 50 I am commonly mistaken for at 10-15 years younger than I am.

    It really was a rough go in my 20’s and early 30’s trying to get people to take me seriously. I combatted it with a combination of trying to be overly competent in every interaction (which got exhausting) and many references to my experience with changes in the industry that had happened years ago. Nowadays I just mention that I started my career in Yellow Pages advertising and they then think I’m even OLDER than I am!

  137. Office Rat*

    This happens to me a lot. I turned 50 today. I have had two careers where people thought I was significantly younger than I was. When I was a nurse, I had a case manager dog my every move and in front of a family talk down to me about my age. I responded by thanking her a lot for thinking I was so young when I had ten years in the field and was in my mid-30s. She got very red in the face and cut it out. Turns out I was older than her.

    As an accountant, the same thing has happened. I have 6 years in my field, and I often have folks assume I am in my late 30s, not turning 50 today. My strategy is to bring up my age randomly. This shocks people, but it re-adjusts their expectations. I also bring up my 29-year marriage because it’s a signifier of age.

    In a perfect world, my age would not matter, and being young would not be an issue, but that’s not the world I have to work with.

    1. Scouts_Honor*

      I have now worked at the same place long enough that most of my colleagues figure I have to be close to mid-life, but I am still met with shock when someone finds out I’m over 50. One thing I do is avoid any slang in the work environment, and use big words when I can. If I can’t “look” whatever age they find acceptable, I can sound like it.

  138. Tara*

    Wow I could have written this post myself I am always in the exact same boat. I get comments like ‘I used to think this in the early part of my career too..’ and ‘When you’re more experienced you will learn this…’ etc when I have a decades experience and a degree behind me. I know for a fact I get treated differently – looking foreword to seeing everyone’s advice. I’m no help I’m afraid!!

  139. awasky*

    I changed careers in my thirties to one where the vaaaast majority of people start straight out of college. I also can pass for much younger than I am, and also got a lot of condescension and unsolicited advice about starting out. I deal with it by making pop culture references in conversation that specifically date me, or mentioning things like, when I was in college, Facebook didn’t exist. And sometimes I just say, “I’m older than you think I am.” Sometimes you’ve just got to call them on it in the moment.

  140. Seeking Second Childhood*

    I had a similar problem, compounded by having gotten a second undergraduate style degree shortly after starting my current job The thing I did that finally worked was put up admittedly gaudy memorabilia from my big number college reunion.

  141. MM*

    Get used to starting your comments about what needs to be done with “In the 10 years since I started in this field I have (found that, learned to, etc.)” When that is no enough follow up with “The similar job that I (headed, consulted on, designed) in (Date that is more than 5 years ago.) This reiterates your experience and knowledge in your field without being confrontational.

    1. Stina*

      “That’s great advice for a new hire from someone with AGES of experience…Now, how do we use our experience to resolve X?” or if it’s a serial offender calmly and neutrally stating “that assumption/statement is ageist” and repeating your original concern or request.

  142. Blarg*

    I never found a solution, like many others, but I feel this HARD. I’m now early 40s, and it’s still a problem. Not married, no kids so that doesn’t help people’s inane perceptions. And even though I’ve been in my field for more than 15 years and have a position with a lot of clout, people still seem surprised. I’ve developed all these ways of working my age into conversation — like who the president was when I was born (Carter) or how old I was when certain events happened. Or just how long ago I worked at some agency or had some experience (often long enough back that it’s no longer relevant — ie when I did x job, I didn’t even have a cell phone to call back to the office!).

    And I still look young. Not as young as I did. I will say, and encourage OP and anyone else, to not bother trying to “dress more maturely” or wear more/different makeup. Dress as to what’s appropriate for your job/title. But looking “nicer” doesn’t help. I don’t wear any makeup at all, cause it just never felt right to me. And I just no longer care.

    People will tell you that you’ll appreciate looking young when you get older, which is just weird ageism and again, I don’t think is true.

    People: don’t comment on weight. Perceived age. “What kind of name” that is. Etc. Resist the urge.

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      Yeah, the not married/no kids thing has a way of impacting those perceptions, unfortunately. Working with more childfree/single older colleagues helps a lot, but…yeah, not entirely.

  143. DrMrsC*

    I dealt with this A LOT in my early career as well – to the point that even with my doctoral degree the patients I was taking care of would ask “what are you doing when you get out of school?” I would say, “I am out of school,” and they would say something along the line of, “oh, do you have plans for college?” I had a great manager at one point that would refer to “gray hair credibility”. Now in my late 40’s I have earned the gray hair credibility with my patients, but I have a manager who has literally be in clinical practice for the same number of years as me and still talks to me like I am fresh out of school and leaning “how it all works.” Apparently gray hair or not, patronizing commentary is alive and well.

  144. Scouts_Honor*

    I dealt with this a lot! I mean, really a lot. Now that of a certain age, I’m still young looking *for that age* but look old enough to be recognized as an experienced adult. Looking back at the last 20 years; I can only advise one thing. Speak up. Use questions.

    Manager: “When I was starting my career…”
    Young Looking Person: “I found that worked for me at that point, too. But now, I’m asking for specific input on XYZ before we have a safety failure.”

    Also, casually find ways to drop your years of experience into conversations: “You know, I’ve been doing this for 10 years, but I haven’t seen this exact situation before, it must be pretty unique.”

  145. Sophia*

    Oh my gosh I could have written this letter! I’ve had a boss call me kiddo!

    I think it is sexism! For some reason, some traditional feminine traits are seen as childish. The only advice I have is to change companies/industries. I didn’t experience this neatly to the same level when I was at a gaming company as I do now at a large tech company.

    1. Raine*

      That sort of thing isn’t industry-specific, unfortunately. I’ve been working in male-dominated environments across six different industries for three decades; there are asshats everywhere. I’ve had a triple-degreed individual see my college diploma on my cubicle wall and be astonished I was that educated; he assumed I was “just the assistant”, because most of the assistant positions at that company only required a high school diploma. I gave him the Mom stare and he left, flustered.
      I find being assertive and not apologizing for things that are not within my control while recognizing that stuff happens and I need to own my part in that go a long way to dispelling any age-related concerns.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        Ah, the Mom Stare. I’ve been told I can drop the temperature in the room a few degrees with it, especially coupled with the Are You Done Eyebrow.

  146. Raine*

    Addressing it in the moment helps. “That’s great advice, but I’ve been in this industry a long time and from my experience, I know X, Y, and Z….”
    Don’t apologize for having to clarify, request, or correct something. You are not at fault here! Being firm about having experience to recommend a strategy does not mean you have anything to apologize for! As other have said, women are taught to soften the blow, to apologize for things out of their control, and to minimize our words.
    As for appearance – I always think about how some of the most powerful men in the world can wear jeans and t-shirts and walk around barefoot. Own your confidence like it’s the classiest suit ever and people will react differently. Stand up straighter, look people directly, and if those things make you uncomfortable, practice in a mirror until it feels like something you can put on like a suit of armor when you need it.

  147. Lizy*

    I think my favorite response is “wait – how old do you think I am???” and then when they answer laughing it off like “oh goodness there’s no way I’m that young” or something.

    I hate giving my age. I don’t know why – I don’t care that people know. I’m weird about my birthday, too, so who knows. But I’m definitely at the age (33) where I want to be seen as a professional who knows what she’s doing, and not some young, dumb idiot at the start of her career. I’ve found it helpful to emphasize what I DO have experience in. For example, “you know, I don’t have a lot of field experience, but I got this computer stuff DOWN – I’ve been doing it forever”.

    I had this happen a few weeks ago – my sitter said something about “that’s how I would have acted when I was your age” and I was like “uh… how old are you, just out of curiosity?” She’s only a couple of years older than I am, and I’m 33. When she responded, I just said “oh well I’m only a couple of years younger than you, then!”

    Her daughter (16) thought because I have young kids I must be young and figured I was MAYBE all of 27. Bless her heart.

    1. Maggie*

      YES exactly this! And following up with something vague like, “You realize I’m in my thirties, right?” Or a funny historical reference like, “I grew up in the Beanie Babies era.”

  148. EM85*

    OP, I can relate. I’m 30 but can pass for half my age, and I teach college (male-dominated STEM field, for what it’s worth). I’m well aware that I look younger than many of my students. Being visibly pregnant a couple of years ago didn’t help — I got the side-eye from people who presumably thought I was a teen mom. (On one occasion, a stranger thought it was appropriate to ask if it was planned, because “you look so young!”)

    I naturally speak in a lower register, which I believe has helped me establish credibility. If you heard my voice without seeing my face, you might guess I was in my 50s. I also don’t laugh or smile a lot; I’m polite and treat everyone with respect, but effusiveness just isn’t part of my personality. Despite my youthful appearance, I’ve developed a reputation as “intimidating at first, but actually really nice,” which . . . I guess I’m okay with?

    I agree with the advice other commenters have offered, namely referencing your professional experience or other life events that establish you as a certain age. In my case, that’s my graduate degree, my husband, or my kids (although I understand that some folks may not be comfortable discussing family in the workplace). I also might throw in something like “When I was in high school back in ’06…” Cultural references are hit-or-miss, IMO — I’m a big fan of ’70s rock, even though I was born in the ’90s. YMMV.

  149. Sparkles McFadden*

    Fellow sufferer here, LW. People thought I was new when I had been in my workplace for ten years. Even people who knew how long I was there and were familiar with my credentials ,spoke to me as if I were a naive newbie. Then, of course, there was the whole “Women don’t understand these kinds of things” nonsense. I’m sure I am going to be repeating things already mentioned, but here’s my input:

    There really isn’t a way to look older. The concept that age conveys level of experience is misleading anyway. Someone could be older but new to the field. But, judging by appearance is something people do. The key is not to look older, but to be perceived as more authoritative.

    My approach was to have more presence. I took up more physical space in the conference room during (spreading papers out in front of me), I spoke a little louder than was natural for me (no yelling; just projection). I wouldn’t interrupt or talk over other people, but, I would, eventually take back control. If I had been interrupted, I would say “I was not done speaking yet so I will now finish.” I became well-known for using the phrase “Be that as it may…” in order to brush off some irrelevancy and get back on track. So, if someone would say “When I was new to the workforce, I didn’t know about this…” I would say “Be that as it may, no one here is new to the workforce and we need to stay on topic.” I was always polite but firm.

    I reminded myself that it is not rude to set someone straight. Someone who was trying to be dismissive of me or who was trying to say I didn’t have enough experience so I couldn’t possibly be right about something, was the person committing the faux pas, not me. That meant it was perfectly OK to say “Yeah, I get it, I look young but that’s not today’s topic.” Once, when I was in a meeting with a group of people who were known to shout over other people (especially women) I literally brought a gavel with me and banged it when quieter people got drowned out. (That was later on in my career.)

    Also, it’s totally fine to state your credentials. Your experience is a fact, so if someone is trying to suggest you don’t know something because you have no experience, you get to say “I have been a subject matter expert in this area for ten years, so there’s no need to be concerned about lack of knowledge in that area.” You have to say it dismissively…as in “Yeah, yeah, don’t worry about it.”

    Good luck!

  150. Jemilah*

    This way more about gender than just looking young, but it’s also about older people not willing to accept that they are, in fact, old. I had the same experience in the transportation industry, which is very male-dominated, old, and white. Young women are much less threatening to them, but women are expected to be helpers and learners no matter how old we are, but I have worked with plenty of men who looked young (and were young) and they got way MORE respect, terms like wunderkind or prodigy are used and they are put on the fast track. And it won’t automatically go away when you look older, it will just be differently patronizing.

    It’s totally unfair, but the only way to get out of it is to become much more assertive, and stop caring whether anyone likes you. The very first time you get an inkling that someone is talking down to you, call them on it. If someone says, “When I was starting out-“, interrupt them and say “I’ve been doing this work for a decade.” Don’t be helpful unless it’s clearly your job – never volunteer to take notes or bring snacks or anything like that, and if anyone hands you junior work, make them tell you why, and correct their assumption.

    1. Former Young Lady*

      This is such an important point.

      In my 20s and 30s, I definitely dealt with older coworkers who resented my presence because it shattered their cherished illusion that they were still practically teenagers. (Let’s just say that I worked in industries that skewed older, but where MATURE behavior wasn’t highly valued.)

      I’m within spitting distance of 40 now; the pool of significantly-older people patting me on the head is dwindling, and the last thing I want to do is carry on the legacy myself!

      1. CommanderBanana*

        ^^ THIS

        When I started working after grad school through my mid-20s, I kept having issues with older managers, especially women (I am a woman) that were having a lot of personal issues with aging and kept taking it out on younger staff. It was fairly obvious that this was them projecting a lot of anger and insecurity, but that didn’t make it any less irritating. I’m not being in my early 20s AT you, I just happen to be that old.

  151. Purple Cat*

    The comments today have been helpful, and informative, but so gosh darn depressing how rampant the issue is and that in 2021 women are still expected to change basic characteristics like hair and voice in order to be taken seriously.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      I will say, getting reading glasses has helped me – especially when I lower them to glare menacingly over the rims. :D

  152. i will do it anon*

    Hi LW, I’m a 26-year-old new postdoc regularly mistaken for an undergrad (and, sadly, occasionally mistaken for a high school student). Here is what has worked for me:

    – I’ll go easy on the clothing and makeup advice since that’s not super applicable for your work situation, but I’m short, and I get mistaken for younger when I wear clothes that are too big/long for me (probably the kid-dressing-in-their-mom’s-clothes-vibes), so avoiding that has helped.

    – I also have a few gray hairs now and I don’t color them, which has also cut down on being mistaken for a kid.

    – I’m more private about my “kid” hobbies (video games) than my “adult” or “old lady” hobbies (knitting). I have no idea if this point has any effect on how people see me, but I think it helps too.

  153. Powercycle*

    I look younger than my age but I haven’t been treated like a total newb in a while. Reading the other responses, I’m sure gender plays a role there. During my 2nd fulltime professional job in my mid 20s I was being treated by some like I was right out of school despite having been doing this type of work for 5 years already. And the previous job, our director (in her 50s) treated all the 20 somethings staff like we were misbehaving teenagers. Sure, some staff could be bit lazy at times, and being similar ages we would socialize a fair bit, so she’d often assume we were slacking off more than working. The work and projects still got done though so I don’t know what was the problem. I was so glad when she was promoted to another post.

  154. youngatheart*

    Where’s the “relate” button? I relate so hard, I’m a 33 year old woman, and get told constantly (usually – no, always – by male colleagues) that I will “understand/relate/get it” when I’m in my 30s. I shock people when I say, “I’m already well into them…”

    The other thing that I think works against me is the fact that I’m not married and don’t have kids – and colleagues 5 years younger than me are hitting these “milestones.” I’ve started referring to my long-term boyfriend as my “partner” so that it carries more weight. Sometimes I even wear a ring on my ring finger in big meetings with execs I’ve never met (pre-covid) to seem older. It’s silly.

    Oh, and I’m very short – so heels. Always heels!

    1. CommanderBanana*

      I also wear a wedding set when I’m at industry events or large meetings! I started doing it when I traveled to ward off creeps, and weirdly it does seem to help.

  155. ElleKay*

    I’m somewhat on the other side of this right now. I have a college student who worked for a number of years before going back to get her MA. She is *literally* the same age as me (early 30s) and SOOO unprepared for professional norms and expectations?! I literally want to sit her down and say “We’re the same age! Pull your sh*t together!”

    I guess my point being that age is a number and your experience/ability should be what sets peoples’ expectations?

  156. Queen Anon*

    I’m sorry to say there’s not much you can do about it except get older. I’ve read advice through the years about acting professional, dressing professionally, being sure to wear your hair and makeup in age-appropriate styles – and unfortunately, it doesn’t really help. I know it’s annoying but it does get better as you get older. When I turned 50, my co-workers decorated my desk and sent around a card. Someone asked the organizer “are you sure it’s not her 40th birthday?” That was actually pretty nice! I find it pleasant looking 10 years younger when I’m in my 50s. I know from experience that when you’re in your 20s and 30s, it’s not nice or pleasant at all. You have my sympathies. It’ll get better.

  157. iglwif*

    Aaarrrggghhhh I’ve been there (minus the all-male colleagues) and it’s incredibly frustrating! I’m now in my late 40s and people will still sometimes randomly assume I’m a decade younger than I am, and then sometimes they’ll be super annoyed if I’m not loudly and visibly flattered by that assumption.

    I don’t have answers for how to make this stop, but some things I found somewhat mitigated the effects:
    1. Dressing pretty conservatively and slightly more formally/professionally than the context strictly requires (30yo me apparently looked older in a tailored blouse and pencil skirt than in the “office casual” that was what most people wore at my then job, so for meetings with higher-ups I turned on the White-Collar Professional Cosplay)
    2. A judicious dropping of references to the timeline: the year when I started my first job, the pop-culture touchstones of my childhood, the ages of my parents, how long I’d been married, how long I’d worked at the company, the age of my child (although at least once that last one backfired by making the person, fortunately *not* a co-worker, wonder if I’d been a teen mum)
    3. Audibly appreciating the company pension plan (because people who condescend to younger co-workers also don’t expect younger co-workers to be thinking about retirement or capable of saving money)
    4. When asked to fix someone’s computer, which I frequently was, sprinkling in some reminiscences about MS-DOS, Pine, Elm, the Apple IIe, or 2400-baud modem sounds (the computer equivalent of point 2)
    5. Talk about outside-of-work activities that sound like “what grown-ups do” (for instance, I sing in some choirs and I do several types of textile crafts) but not so much the ones that sound like “kid stuff” (depending on the audience, anything from fanfiction to twitter to Marvel movies).

    It’s frustrating because none of this should be necessary and they are the problem, not you. All these suggestions are 100% about making your coworkers less annoying, which should really not be your job.

  158. Roja*

    I’m afraid I don’t have a huge ton of advice to give you as I was in this place myself until about two years ago (I’m 30 now too). It was super frustrating and then suddenly things started getting better around 27 or 28 as my face and presentation started maturing. I still look younger than I am but I’ve been treated much more respectfully. So you might find this fades away in a couple of years naturally. I hope so!

  159. Maggie*

    BEEN THERE. My face hasn’t changed since I was 15 years old, so I’ve dealt with this too. My favorite response was to look a little confused and say, “You realize I’m 30 years old, right?” The tone is very much like, “huh, are you confused?” Not angry or defensive. You can follow it up with other things, too, like, “Yeah, I’ve been doing this for ten years,” or “Don’t worry, this ain’t my first rodeo.” Just brush it off.

    You can spread it more purposefully to in a way that feels organic. “Oh my gosh, James told me earlier today that he thinks I’m 22! Can you believe that?” Act like it’s funny (and a little ridiculous) that he would assume such a thing, and hopefully the person listening will be like, “… oh yeah, that is… kinda funny… wait, how old are you?” It’ll catch on eventually.

    Sorry you’re dealing with this. It’s annoying.

    1. DataQueen*

      I second this – perplexed and confused is the best way to go. Make them feel ridiculous. “Wait what? I’m in my thirties.” but also my favorite Allison line… “What a strange thing to say to a colleague!”

  160. Pixies' Dust*

    Computer glasses, worn on head or in pocket, “translate” to many people as reading glasses and imply age…as if experience and expertise are synonymous. But yeah, talking about how long you’ve been around or items from the so-distant past can help from a perspective less focused on experience.

    It also helps from an annoyance factor when you get to a level where you’re not longer asked, at least to your face. Unfortunately, that just means the questions about age are raised when you’re not there…so it’s back to strategic pre-emption when possible.

  161. T*

    I’m 39 and while respected as the HR rep here (still new to this role with a great mentor), out of 145 people in the company, only 20 of us are under age 45. The average EE is here 20 years, over 60 years old. My experience is very minimized due to the tenure and age of my colleagues. I try to express extreme respect and I try asking questions to understand more about the situation before offering my answer/suggestion/advice/judgement on how to move forward. Good luck to you!

  162. Hippo-nony-potomus*

    Until I hit 40, I looked like I was in my 20s. The best two things that I could do were to insert comments into conversations indicating my years of professional experience: “back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was starting college…” or “About ten years ago, I worked on a case in which X happened….”

    My other advice – if you can afford it – is to wear very tailored, high-quality clothing. Looking SHARP contributes to gravitas, and does so in a way that isn’t caving in to sexist assumptions (e.g., changing hair or voice). Swap out khakis for tailored slacks, for example. Men do this too.

    1. Nina*

      It sounds like OP has a hands-on job with a uniform where she’s incredibly limited in her options on clothing, jewelry, makeup, shoes, and hair style (similar to mine, I sympathize!) but the other idea could help :)

  163. Erin Johnson*

    You’ve been in this specialism for 10 years?
    OK, this is a smidge disingenuous, and I don’t care:
    Buy yourself a nice piece of jewellery, maybe an aluminium brooch (tin/aluminium are 10th anniversary substances), wear it a bunch, and I’d asked, say “I got it to celebrate ten years as a [5th dan Llama Wrangler]”
    He’ll, even “it was a gift ((from me to me)) to celebrate …”

  164. ccccyyyyyssss*

    I have started firing back “I”m older than I look!” in casual conversations with coworkers. For example, they’ll reference something in 90s hip hop and then tell me that of course I wouldn’t remember that. Actually I do, vividly, so I’ll say (smiling) “Actually I do remember! I’m older than I look!” and they’ll laugh and say “well, I’m exactly as old as I look” or something similar. A chill way to get the point across without a death stare.

  165. Lowcountry Alli*

    I felt the same way when I was your age. It may have held me back at times but most good managers look at your work for promotions, not your age. That being said, I am now 60 but everyone thinks I am in my 40’s which works to my advantage now. People don’t think there’s that boomer. So continue your work ethic and know your youthful appearance will pay off.

  166. Cindylou who*

    I had this happen to be recently. I am over 30 and have been mistaken for a student multiple times (I work in higher ed) and have not been taken seriously and given opportunities because of how young I am perceived. I am also a female, blonde and do have a female body…and i wonder how much that has to do with it.

    I am incredibly dedicated ot my job but have recently had my boss make comments on how I wouldnt know who “gladys knight and the pips were” and in “7 years when I am 30″….But because I had a good rapport with the boss i corrected him in the moment, and said, you know i am over 30 correct? I say that because “this, this and this” has happened in the past which has affected opportunities that have been given to me.

    He took it really well, and said something really telling. He as like “well i was taught to always go younger when discussing age” and how it was taboo and it was safer for him to exaggerate and assume youngness rather than being older. I explained to him that while i understand, it really isnt safe to “assume” anything and that it had been an insecurity for me in the past. To be honest, i felt for him because it did kinda feel like you just cant win, but as long as it was an open conversation we could come to an understanding.

  167. The teapots are on fire*

    My thought is that you can co-opt the people who are giving you career advice: “I really appreciate the advice. I wonder if you can help me with something. Now that I’ve been doing [thing I’m expert in] for X years, I find people still think I’m quite young. This has caused problems when I’ve recommended Y standard procedure and they didn’t realize the thought and knowledge that lay behind this. Of course you understand that in a compliance field this can be a big problem. How can we work on this so people can take these solid recommendations at face value?”

    You’ll probably get some useless recommendations about avoiding weasel words or putting your hair up (though I did in fact find that a good, serious blazer WAS a Magic Credibility Outfit, it’s not going to fix everything), but it gives them the opportunity to join the elite club of people smart enough to recognize you know what you’re talking about and turn them into an ally in explaining to other people that in fact you’re not twelve years old. They can be “in the know”.

    I am, like everyone, stipulating that you should not have to do this.

  168. Slovenly Braid Cultist*

    I can’t call this advice because recommending it feels kind of gross to me, so maybe call it a ‘what has worked for me’ thing-

    In my 20s and early 30s I had this happen a lot; I have a very young face and am fairly short. For me, dressing up a little bit beyond the ‘normal’ level of formality made a big difference. Slacks and a blouse if everyone else was in jeans and polos, real shoes even if sneakers were OK. I am not a makeup person but would do a neutral look for any major meetings or events.

    I hate that it worked, but sometimes it works.

  169. Still Getting Carded*

    I was in the same situation as you OP, but I rarely had problems once I started talking. I didn’t do anything consciously (and I have a “young” voice as well that I didn’t make any effort to change) but I’m trying to think of things that probably had an effect:

    * what people are saying about “owning” authority. My expertise would be very evident in how I spoke and I could always see people (men especially) suddenly adjust their expectations once a few sentences came out of my mouth and they realized. If you tend not to speak technically to non-technical people, is that something you could adjust? Within reason, obviously.

    * In a similar vein, not adjusting vocal timbre, but word choice and way of speaking — if for example you have a tendency to use hedge words, to soften your language, to end on a rising tone like you’re asking a question — it might help to be more definite. I think I tended to always be quite firm in my knowledge and speak in statements, and that likely had an effect. (Not rude of course, but definite.)

    * When you make your recommendations, how clear are you being about your certainty level and the possible consequences, especially if the person you’re talking to is your superior? For example, does it just sound like you’re arguing for a preference, or are you framing it as a strong recommendation based on X, Y, and Z experience you have, and you’re warning of A, B, C possible consequences, and noting your strong opposition if they go forward? My role also impacted health and safety — fortunately I was in a position to not just strongly recommend, but to say no (and I did, frequently, and was respected).

    * Introducing a serious tone to the conversation rather than speaking more casually / off the cuff — when I was still in college I was laughed off by someone about a serious issue and I circled back to him and intentionally began speaking in a way that couldn’t be mistaken for anything other than THIS IS SERIOUS AND WE NEED TO TALK. He took me seriously that time. I’ve intentionally used that other places since to ratchet the conversation into a place where it’s clear nobody can take anything lightly, when that’s needed.

    I still got the occasional person who didn’t take me seriously in a professional setting, but I think I can truly count them on the fingers of one hand (still, it always royally sucked). Best of luck, this is hard to navigate.

  170. SuspectedDragon*

    Can totally sympathize with this! I do career outreach in schools and have been mistaken for one of the high schoolers on more than one occasion. I try to not “dress young” – which can be annoying, because for some events my actual dress code is jeans and a t-shirt. But wearing “serious business lady” clothes helps a bit.

    I also try to drop my age into casual conversation. Mentioning my graduation year, that my 10 year wedding anniversary is coming up, stuff like that. Doesn’t help with the initial perception but I think my general networking circle is getting the message.

  171. El l*

    My guess is that they don’t know how to relate to you, as a young woman in a male-dominated industry. Some industries – such as mine, electric power – also tend to be skewed toward the older, which further increases the understanding gap. I sympathize in wanting to be taken seriously as a grown-up professional, and not treated as though you’re on training wheels.

    While my own experience is for you a for-what-its-worth proposition – I’m a 40-year old male and have a different personality – the trick was to get people to relax in talking to me. So I played up part of my personality, and skipped other parts. I joke, make shared references, and be a lot more tongue-in-cheek whenever I can. I make a point of joking about my faults. I emphasize the things that were big difficulties, as much as possible by the numbers, and am blunt when something isn’t working (and it’s at least partially my responsibility).

    Joking and ownership are my path to relatability and maturity. Might work elsewhere.

  172. Iain C*

    This won’t help you, but I had the same issue and grew a beard. A decade later I got rid of it, once my face caught up.

  173. 1idea*

    I have dealt with similar issues before. If people talked to me like I was young and new, I would often just directly say, well I’m [age] with x amount of experience, so, not that new. If they were trying to tell me something basic I’d say, yes I know, I’m talking about [advanced topic I need to jump to]. Or if it was just irrelevant like the stuff about they were young once too, I might say, ok, but [clarify advanced topic I needed to talk about]. Then fill in with “I know” and “I’m experienced” as needed. I’ve had to do this a lot just to save time and get the respect I needed to do my job. I learned the hard way that it doesn’t help to just listen or wait my turn to talk in these cases, because they often forgot I needed a turn and would just wrap up the conversation after they said their unhelpful piece. This would happen to me with everyone from obliviously sexist people to others who genuinely wanted to be feminists and believed in equality – the ones in the second group would sometimes get better over time. Most people would at least quit repeating basic stuff as if they were helping me once I told them “I know” enough times(different thresholds for different people). I should maybe add that I was working in manufacturing at the time and it was pretty sexist in general, so more subtlety may work in other settings.

  174. Luthage*

    I am a software engineer in an incredibly male dominated industry (video games). This is my second career, so I was on my 30s when I started. Genetics + not having children has meant that I perpetually look younger than I am. While it was technically true that I was just out of grad school, I had the same problems for a long time. There was a lot of uncomfortable interactions that had less to do with “you’re new” and more to do with “you’re young.” During a work event, someone in leadership looked me up and down and then his wife and said “not possible for you to be the same age as my wife.” Which was incredibly uncomfortable for us both and I avoided him as much as possible after. In my mid 40s now and actually had a candidate recently tell me he puts me in my “mid 20’s.” Luckily we passed on him.

    The only thing that worked for me was to let my grey hair grow out. I did it, because I thought it would look cool to dye it with temporary colors (it is), but the instant respect was a happy by product. It was like a light switch. Colleagues, managers, networking and conferences all changed essentially overnight. It also helps to bring up cultural references that point to your age range. I still occasionally have to drop the “with my 10 years of experience…” but it’s far less common now.

    There is very much a gender component at play here. A lot of people are commenting about tone and confidence level, which in my experience never once helped. And actually backfired on several occasions, because confidence in women is not always seen as a good thing.

    Please do remember the problem here isn’t you. It’s the people making the assumptions about you and treating you differently because of it.

  175. CW*

    Tell me about it. I am 32 and almost everyone, especially adults over 45, think I am no older than 25. I still get carded when buying alcohol or go to the bars. Even one lady asked for my ID and saw that my birthyear is 1988 (I was born in December, so not 33 yet), she instantly apologized. Luckily, I haven’t had this issue at work as of yet. From my experience, if you are a mature adult, and I believe that OP is, people will start treating like the adult you are. But the problem isn’t you, it is just that some people just see what they see and assume that’s the way it is. It doesn’t bother me anymore. In fact, it has never really bothered me that much at all.

  176. None*

    I’m in the same situation. I asked one of my close middle age male colleagues how he thought I should combat it. He said just be a man and say “let me stop you right there, my age has nothing to do with the topic at hand or my work for that matter, how do you want to resolve xyz though?”.Works like a charm, I swear. Just redirect redirect redirect.

  177. Damica*

    This is somewhat in jest, but when this happened at my workplace we jokingly suggested the 30-something woman wear a paste-on beard at work and she did (!) and people got the message ‍♀️

    1. Kristine*

      Now that is hilarious. Dang it – I could have used that advice! And I’d totally wear one! (Since one plucks more as one gets older, anyway…)

  178. Anonforthis*

    I would actually encourage you to try a more direct approach.

    I worked in a male-dominated industry in my 20’s that involved time on site at construction sites, plants, in office, and working with a lot of “good ol’ boys” who assumed that because I was a woman, I couldn’t understand the technical nature of their jobs. Because math and stuff.

    My boss and I were 5 years apart, but people routinely guessed that I was 20 years younger than her (so putting me at 20, and her at 40, even though I was 28 and she was 33). Which did not help matters.

    What worked for me was projecting all the confidence. Dressing/hair/makeup that made me feel good, and answering with a no-nonsense reply that got the point across that OF COURSE I’m competent and I understand you. I acted professional, but didn’t pull punches. I let people feel uncomfortable sometimes for saying something stupid to me. If they made an asinine comment, I gave them the ice queen glare.

    You don’t have anything to prove, but sometimes people need to be reminded of that. Talk to them like they are peers, not older people in a different bracket. One of my coworkers used to call me a nickname that rhymed with a fruit. He thought it was cute. So I called him a name that rhymed with a vegetable…to show him how ridiculous it sounded. Two can play that game. I made it a game to “win over” the ornery “good ol’ boys” and get them in my corner by being competent. And I succeeded. They respected me, and came to me with requests for help with projects.

    Confidence is key. Confident people seem “older” because they naturally feel authoritative. Like my new boss — I’m pretty sure she is actually a couple years younger than I am, but dang, her confidence makes it seem like she’s 100% qualified to be telling me what to do. I never think about her age, because she never seems hesitant, or unsure of herself, which are typical hallmarks of youth/inexperience. I don’t know how much of that is an act, but it doesn’t really matter as long as it gets results.

    By the way, I used to be a really shy person. I had to learn these behaviors. It is possible. Good luck :)

  179. HereKittyKitty*

    Casually mention the time you got an AOL CD in the mail lmao

    Okay, joke aside- I’m 29 and almost everyone I work with is 10+ years older than me. Fortunately, my age doesn’t get brought up much. I think part of it is because I’ve learned how to be fairly assertive and quickly claim ownership of projects early on. The more confidence and ownership you can show, the better in my experience. Early in my career when I was 21 I had older folks tell me I seemed more confident in my work than most people my age- so I think this could be effective. Of course, that doesn’t always work, but short of drawing wrinkles around your eyes with an eyebrow pencil, there’s not much you can do there.

  180. Pam Poovey*

    Carry around little cards that say “Actually, I’m 30” and hand them out whenever someone makes that assumption.

    I’m joking, but just barely.

  181. JSPA*

    Drop in a lot of time point references.

    “When I started doing X back in 2009…”

    “It’s been so fascinating working in this field over the past 12 years, and helping to guide the changeover from protocol A to protocol B to protocol C. In that context, my reaction to protocol D is…”

    “Oh, I know what you mean, though of course, that’s not true of me! Can you believe that people who graduated in [year corresponding to what they think your age is] never even used [technology preceding the one under discussion]? It boggles my mind.”

    “Let’s grab coffee before we get down to business. When I hit 30, coffee shifted from nice to essential.”

    Make a show of being sore on Monday morning, and say, “30 is too young to be feeling this sore after a 10K!”

  182. Kristine*

    I had this same problem – the patronizing surprise when I mentioned my work experience, the “when-are-we-going-to-hear-about-a-baby” begging, the “that room is for staff, young lady!” from security guards, even an employee in her twenties asking me if I was an intern (when I was 48 years old)! I also was carded at age 42.
    The worst thing was not being taken seriously. I think I probably even wrote to Allison regarding this.
    I decided to mirror “that look of surprise” whenever anyone made assumptions about my age. I decided to pause and blink, sometimes giving several blinks, before finally saying in a calm but bemused voice, “You do realize you are speaking to someone in her fifties, don’t you?”
    I second the other suggestions about making references to your age. Mine was bragging about seeing the original “Star Wars” in 1977.
    Be excellent in your work, your comportment, your empathy, and in being a team player, and it does get better.
    Especially when one works remotely! Haha.

  183. OlympiasEpiriot*

    Personal story: I was 19, had been living independently since I was 17. Needed to get an apartment or share. I was specifically answering ads where it sounded like the person placing it was older. I dressed like someone older than 19 (basically, I dressed for my job), but, I looked young enough that people always asked my age and, well, it was a problem.

    My hairdresser was also great with color. I brought him a picture of my mother at 19 — she had gone prematurely grey after a terrible car accident — and asked him if he could do that realistically. I spent $200 in the early 1980s to get incredibly accurate and realistic elegant grey in my hair.

    Suddenly, no one asked my age at all. I got a share in a nice apartment and, side effect, no carding, either.

  184. SusieQ*

    I hear you on this situation. I’m a woman in my early 50’s who’s petite and often assumed to be 40. I I lead a key area in a financial services organization, have 30 years of broad industry experience, and advanced credentials.

    While I don’t get unsolicited “early career” advice anymore, my observations, insights, and recommendations have often been dismissed or treated as just an interesting idea. I do find not having presumptive credibility, based on the scope of my current responsibilities and my experience frustrating.

    I had the benefit of a fantastic executive coach who helped me view my situation through a different lens. Even though the ideas I’m presenting might be the best course of action, and I’m speaking from experience, others acceptance comes more readily when you’ve built a trusted professional relationship. My credibility is rooted in others trust and confidence that I understand the broader impact of recommendations, their ripple effect across the organization.

    I’m very aware now why building relationships is critical to accomplishing goals. And where those are in place, I have no pushback or comments based on how I look.

    I well know there are dysfunctional workplaces where this approach is not possible. And some people may not be open to building a relationship. But cultivating people around you who trust you and can be your champion when you’re not in the room, that’s a game changer. Good luck to you!!

  185. raida7*

    “When I was starting my career…” or “I used to be [youthful and irrelevant personality trait] too…”

    Don’t let them get any further, mate.
    hold up a finger and simply say “Hold up, what do you think my age is?”
    You already know it’s going to be pointless for them to continue talking with this mis-judgement, so stop them wasting time.

    Also, when they use this kind of language you will tune out and assume they are wrong anyway, so just act quickly to get rid of it.

    Other than that, I’d pepper a few tidbits like “god it’s been a decade since [schooling]” and if someone is surprised by your age – hold eye contact for a little too long. They don’t do it again ;) because they know you are paying attention to their age-related opinion

    1. Francis*

      Another good trick is repeat the offending language back to them. They say “When I was younger….” You say, “When you were younger?” For some reason most people really don’t like this. They won’t get angry, but they’ll back pedal and be embarrassed. It is a quick way to get people to reconsider their language.

  186. Chickaletta*

    This was me in my 20s. I’m so sorry. I couldn’t find a way to fix it and it sucks, because it does affect your ability to get promoted and paid. I’ve lived that.

    I’m in my 40s now and no longer get comments about my age (or size – I was thin so there were a lot of those comments when I was younger too). I purposely don’t color my hair and let the grays show through. I accept the wrinkles with grace. I have learned to accept compliments about my clothing and appearance rather than turn a side eye, but it has been a long road.

    Side note about how managers and people, in general, relate to younger people: stop assuming that you’re the one needing to provide advice and direction. Provide it when needed, of course, but defaulting to this stance anytime one is around someone who appears younger is a stereotype that reflects negatively on the person offering advice in almost every instance where it isn’t needed.

  187. OTRex*

    I am in a female dominated profession and I’ve had to deal with this as well. One thing I’ve done, or rather haven’t done is that I haven’t colored my hair as it turns gray. This has finally stopped people assuming that I’m 20-something, at 40.

  188. Tiff*

    I’m so sad that the comments are focused on things a woman can do to make her look/sound more experienced or authoritative.

    I would absolutely NOT change my appearance for someone. I have always had people assume I was much younger until recently – probably after my second child was born and I looked more like a tired, haggard working mom (my words and I own it!)

    The other thing that worked is finding a new job.

    1. JB*

      I agree! I get where people are coming from, especially if that’s something they’ve had to do in the past. But I feel like we shouldn’t be perpetuating this further. I think most of the advice on gently/subtly pushing back is a better tactic.

  189. Lizard*

    I too had this problem until I hit 40. Gender is part of the equation, unfortunately.

    My advice is to be ruthlessly competent and no-nonsense. When having discussions with colleagues act confused when they question your age, work experience – basically anything where they are trying to pigeonhole you to their narrative.

    Flip the script and respond to asinine statements like “This is what helped me with my career when I first started out…” with references to what helped YOU when you first got started. Then reminisce about the good old days – trust me, anyone categorizing you based on what they think your age is deserves some pomposity in return.

    Best of luck!

  190. Karak*

    OP, I feel a bit bad and cringey about my advice, because it’s super-sexist, but you need solutions that work.

    1) uniform. Does it fit? Is it too big, or clearly not cut for a female body? If you can, take your uniform to a seamstress to discreetly let out some seams and put in some darts. Clothes that don’t fit or are baggy can make you look childish. Sleeves that are too long or too wide can you “flappy arms” and make you look small.

    2) skincare. You said you don’t work in a place that makeup is appropriate. Do you break out a lot? Consider stepping up a skincare routine. Also consider your brows. I feel ridiculous saying this, but shaped and brushed brows (set with a clear gel, if you can) might make you look more mature.

    Hair. I’m assuming your hair is up or away most of the day in a working environment. Avoid pigtails. French braids, buns, and high ponytails look more “adult”. Most working people with longer hair end up putting it in a low ponytail at the base of the neck with a halo of broken ends frizzing up. It can make you look scattered. Put your hair up at the start of the day. Use bobby pins and basic black bands, no scrunchies or barrettes. The kids say that an off-center or side part is “old”, so consider parting your hair like that (if you can!)

    I want to again emphasize if you’re going to work with a frizzy low ponytail and Albert Einstein brows you’re not doing anything wrong. Your coworkers are being annoying. This advice is only one part of how to manage it.

  191. Stalking Ssrah*

    I wonder if speech mannerisms could play a role? Ask an older person that you trust if there are ways that you talk that come off young.

  192. Canadian Yankee*

    I realize that this is not helpful advice now, but I did want to say that this is a problem that eventually solves itself. I have always looked much younger than my actual age and now that I’m in my 50s, people still assume that I’m a decade younger than I actually am. This is actually a good thing in my industry, which skews young. I’m now seen as old enough to have seniority and experience, but not so old as to be out of touch!

  193. Ray*

    I’m a male in my mid 30s and also experienced this. I don’t think it’s just women only. What I’ve done is talked about my experience when the opportunity comes up like, “when I was a consultant for five years we did [x].” Or, “I had a similar experience at this company.”

  194. Samantha*

    This is the most disappointing comment section I’ve maybe ever read here.

    First, am I the only one who reads the other comments before writing mine? Poor LW has to read hundreds of the same unhelpful comments over and over for a few helpful responses.

    The number of people here who don’t think it’s ok for LW and people in general to directly call out the problem, are part of the problem. I worry for your work friends who think you have their back.

    I hope we can all continue to do better by each other.

  195. Erin C.*

    I’m actually starting to feel (and act) my age now that I have a title befitting my experience, so LW, I hope you get that promotion.

    You’re in uniform, and from what you’ve written, sounds like a pretty industrial environment, so I’m assuming you wear work boots? I think a lot of women look younger than they are when they’re forced to wear ‘male-style’ clothes that don’t fit right. There are some companies now like Xena Workwear (I’m not affiliated with them, I just think it’s a cool idea) that make work boots and safety equipment tailored specifically for women, if you think that’s something that would help you feel/act more put together.

  196. Minnie*

    Story of my life. I was never able to figure out what magic to perform to change other people’s thoughts. Instead, I just ignored them. I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful.

  197. Wiggles the wiggly*

    I completely understand this. An ex-manager told me last year (unsolicited) in the most patronizing way possible that he “meant to mentor me on leadership.” Never mind the years of leadership experience I’ve had at previous jobs. That was when I realized that he tended to talk to me like I was a young 20 something fresh out of college. No amount of “I’ve been married 15 years” or “I have teenager sons” or “back when I worked at such and such” seemed to get it through his head that I was much older than how he was treating me.

  198. Francis*

    Two pieces of advice. 1. Make authoritative statements. (You may already do that, but…) For example, “Aren’t we supposed to keep the level between X and Y?” gives away your authority to someone else. You KNOW the answer. Instead say, “That thing is outside the appropriate levels.” Then get back to work. Another example: don’t wonder, “I thought the specs were revised yesterday.” Say, “the specs were revised yesterday.” You know your stuff. Own that knowledge and don’t give your power away.
    2. Get used to interrupting and correcting people. “Paul. I’ve worked here for ten years.” Or, “Lance, my question is not about that. (Restate your question.)” If you’re in a situation where your manager or boss is aging you down and missing the point, you don’t have to interrupt. When they finish their thought, respond with something like, “What an interesting thought. Back to my question….” This still signals to the person they missed the mark with their first response. I hope that helps!

  199. RumbaWaltz*

    LW, what you’ll want to go for is projecting unconscious competence (Google the four stages of competence for more info)–basically, just an air of breezy confidence. If you live in an area with tourism (or have ever visited one), think about the ways you can tell if people on the street are locals vs. tourists. Emulate the locals!

    Good posture will make a big difference too, if you don’t already have it. Slumping over and/or letting your shoulders creep up to eat your neck reads as insecure or young pretty easily, as will habitually looking down. Keep your eyes up!

    Possibly weird suggestion to help with overall “presence”: ballroom dance classes. Even if you think you’ve got 2 left feet, I promise it’ll help with proprioception, which is a bigger part of posture and projecting physical confidence than you’d think. Plus it’s just fun!

  200. Burned Out*

    I wish I had advice. I find myself in a similarly isolated position. After 15 years in one area of engineering, I was no longer the (nearly) lone female. I just switched fields though, and it’s even worse than when I started working.

    I am again the only woman on the floor (still related to technology but also sidling alongside construction), but now the sexist, homophobic, transphobic comments seem endless. My old office wasn’t perfect but I’d call it’s problems ‘benign’ compared to my new office. Every day I seem to hear things and every time it’s clear that person has already been reported, had the training, and thinks it’s other people’s problem. If someone isnt cracking the jokes, they’re laughing at them, finding them hilarious.

    I only started 6 months ago and already question my decision.

  201. Ffddh*

    This is not going to sound nice. I still look younger. Now people think I am in my late thirties when I am 45. One way to be taken seriously is to look a little butch. Think short hair not Fanny pack. Another is to be a little rough when you speak. Be very direct and do not mince words. Another is to publicize you age. Any time some says “when I was younger” say something like “when I was 25 I felt like that. Now I’m 35. “.

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