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91-year-old woman at Silicon Valley firm smashes older worker stereotypes

by Take Two®

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Michael Pollak, Flickr Creative Commons

IDEO is a global design firm ranked No. 10 on Fast Company's list of the Top 25 Most Innovative Companies.

It's considered innovative not only for the work it does, but the people who do that work, like 91-year-old Barbara Beskind. Writer Bonnie Tsui profiled her for the latest issue of Pacific Standard Magazine.

"Barbara is such an important component of the work that they do now," said Tsui. 

Beskind, who has extensive design experience, landed at IDEO after writing a letter to the company. She received a call a few days later, and her new job soon began.

"Her philosophy, I think we can all learn from," said Tsui. "She says, 'I expect change every day. There isn't a day that I don't.' So you just design for it, you prepare for it. She has macular degeneration -- she's losing her eyesight -- but she figures out a way to handle it."

And, Beskind is a hit with younger workers.

"Usually when she arrives, there's an email that goes around the office, 'She's here!' And everyone is buzzing," said Tsui. "She's an integral part of the company culture now, and everyone talks to her like a peer."

Tsui thinks that Beskind is a glimpse into the future of the workforce.

"So many Americans now are going to be working longer, living longer, and the capabilities and the knowledge that they [older workers] have in all their experiences is something that companies and businesses need to take advantage of and be aware of how to fully rely on," said Tsui.  

It goes without saying that Beskind is an anomaly, and our current attitudes toward older workers could be the problem.

"This culture of agism that we have here in our society, it kind of affects how we think about our abilities," said Tsui. "They've done studies on memory tests, and older people might perform worse than younger people on these memory tests because they expect to." 

As for Beskind, it may not come as a surprise that she has no plans to slow down any time soon.

"She keeps telling me that she keeps trying to retire. She's tried to do it five times," Tsui said. "And every time, it never sticks."

To listen to the full interview, click on the blue audio player above

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