I Define Who I Am: Ageism is a Cultural Issue, Not a Personal Problem

Season 4, Episode 2
Guests: Dr. Lalia Rach, Executive Managing Director, ALHI; and Donna Kastner, Founder, Retirepreneur

What impact does ageism have on women in business? Dr. Lalia Rach, executive managing director at ALHI, and Donna Kastner, founder of Retirepreneur, discuss their experience and perspective on the role that age plays in career development.

 Podcast sponsored by Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach.  

Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach


Listen to more Dare to Interrupt podcasts: www.MeetingsToday.com/Dare-to-Interrupt.

Meet Our Guests:

Lalia's Social Media Links:

Lalia's Bio:

Photo of Dr. Lalia Rach, executive managing director of Strategic Consulting Services, a division of Associated Luxury Hotels International.
Dr. Lalia Rach

Dr. Lalia Rach is the executive managing director of Strategic Consulting Services, a division of Associated Luxury Hotels International (ALHI). In this role Lalia is responsible for developing and delivering strategic and managerial consulting services to member hotels and clients. Each service is custom designed so the information, guidance and training result in greater value to the organization and the attendee. She is known for her practical, informative and entertaining presentations whether a keynote speech, a workshop or as an MC for a conference.

An audience favorite as demonstrated by repeat engagements and survey feedback, Lalia prides herself on uniquely crafting each presentation to fit the needs of the client and their audience. Her first book, Managing the Book on You: Rewriting your Leadership Story!, is available on Amazon in paperback, audible and Kindle. It is designed as a workbook to assist leaders in advancing their success and to better manage old impressions and views held by others within the organization about their leadership ability.

As the founder and partner of Rach Enterprises, a consulting firm that takes an uncommon-sense approach and delivers genuine ideas that challenge tradition, Lalia served as a trusted adviser to senior level executives at many leading organizations.

As a university educator, Lalia served as dean at several top hospitality and tourism programs. At New York University her leadership ability resulted in the creation of one of the world’s most innovative graduate and undergraduate programs in the business of hospitality, sports and tourism. As the founding dean of the NYU Preston Robert Tisch Center, she was responsible for the creation of the first graduate level concentration in Revenue Management; published the first wholly focused study on women travelers; raised funds for the purchase of a permanent home for the Center on the NYU campus; and lead the expansion of the NYU Hospitality Industry Development Conference as the premier event within the global hotel industry.

Among her awards and honors are: Influential Women in Hospitality: Hotel Management magazine; Smart Women in Meetings: Visionary from Smart Meetings magazine; the Top 25 Extraordinary Minds in Sales and Marketing from Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International; selected as one of the 33 Most Influential People in the Travel Industry from Travel Weekly; featured in “Meet the 25 Most Influential Women in Travel” by Forbes Life Executive Woman; recipient of the Professional of the Year Award from Big Apple Chapter Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association; and recipient of the Special Hospitality Award recipient from NYC & Co. She holds a B.S. and M.B.A. from the University of Wisconsin and a doctorate from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Donna's Social Media Links:
Instagram: @kastnerdonna
Twitter: @DonnaKastner

Donna's Bio:

Photo of Donna Kastner.
Donna Kastner

I work with community leaders to help them activate age-friendly measures that will benefit all generations. With a special focus on two types of communities, here's how this plays out: As a Del Mar Encore Fellow with The Dayton Foundation, Donna is working with city government leaders to help them gauge needs and design plans that enhance livability.

Using the AARP Livable Communities model, initiatives might focus on a number of issues, including housing, transportation, health/well-being, employment, civic engagement, etc.

Securing grant funding to support these initiatives is also within Donna's scope. Viewing events as "pop-up villages" of sorts, Donna will often assess and recommend adjustments to create event experiences that resonate with all generations.

Considering that the age 60-plus segment now controls 70% of discretionary spend, Donna is also helping event organizers to better serve this audience with learning experiences (F2F and virtual) that speak to encore career pursuits.

Donna is a champion for those who are too young to be done and an advocate for richer cross-generational exchanges, because that's where breakthrough ideas are found.

More About Our Host:

Photo of Courtney Stanley sitting.

Courtney believes that transforming past experiences into impactful conversations through raw, authentic storytelling challenges the status quo, connects people from all walks of life and results in great change for the world.

  • Courtney is the youngest member to have ever been elected to Meeting Professionals International’s (MPI) International Board of Directors
  • She is the recipient of Smart Meetings’ Entrepreneur Award, MeetingsNet’s Changemaker Award, the Association for Women in Events (AWE) Disruptor Award, the MPI Chairman’s Award and MPI RISE Award.
  • Named Collaborate and Connect Magazine’s 40 under 40 and a Meetings Today Trendsetter.
  • Recognized as one of the event industry’s most impactful change-makers.
  • Serves on the Events Industry Sexual Harassment Task Force, AWE’s Board of Directors, MPI’s Women’s Advisory Board, is a Meetings Mean Business Ambassador and is the co-founder of the award-winning movement, #MeetingsToo.
  • Named as a 2020 Meetings Trendsetter by Meetings Today

Connect with Courtney:


Courtney Stanley: Hello everybody, this is Courtney Stanley and welcome to another exciting episode of Dare to Interrupt, a listening experience where you have the opportunity to sit in on honest, unfiltered conversations with leaders who are considered to be the most influential, inspiring and innovative leaders in the world of events, hospitality, business and beyond. Throughout their careers, these leaders have dared to interrupt conversations, their own comfort zones, and sometimes even societal norms to hustle toward their greatest levels of success.

Today's episode is sponsored by The Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach. 
I am so excited to introduce you to today's guests. That's right, we have two women joining us for today's conversation.

Here with us we have Dr. Lalia Rach, executive managing Director at ALHI. And Donna Kastner, founder of Retirepreneur. 
Ladies, it's so great to have you with us today. We are in the second month of the year already. I'm curious, what word would you use to describe 2023 so far? And Lalia, I'm going to toss this first question over to you.

Lalia Rach: Well, Courtney, it's delightful to be with you today. So, thank you, first of all. Secondly, and I'm sorry, I can't use just one word. But here it is: wonderful possibilities.

Courtney: Oh, I love that. What does that mean to you?

Lalia: Well, it's just the beginning, and it's a brand-new year. And just imagine all the things that you can have accomplished and change and be proud of in the next 11 months?

Courtney: Well, I really love that. Is there a specific focus or goal that you're personally working on this year?

Lalia: Well, I tend to work on a similar area all the time. And that is I'm because of what I do is leadership development, I always think I should work on my own. So, I focus on one aspect of my leadership development that I know needs a refresh or needs more attention. There's also that as well, I have to be honest.

And so, I'm looking forward to what I'm doing this year by the end of the year saying, Okay, this is what I accomplished.

Courtney: Well, I love that. And I'm a big fan of self-awareness and self-growth. So that is awesome, Lila. And Donna, it's so great to have you here, too. What would you say would be your word to describe how 23 is shaping up so far?

Donna: So, I'm currently stunned because I actually wrote this down as you asked the question. And the word is possibilities, folding out like a piece of paper in front of you. I didn't have the wonderful adjective of ‘wonderful possibilities,’ but I feel like we're operating in an environment right now where many different things are possible.

And it's all in your mindset and your preparation and where you're headed. And I think it's preparing for wonderful possibilities. And sometimes surprising disruptions that might change your whole course. So, it's all good, but I almost fell off my chair.

Lalia: Donna, but isn't that lovely that we already have that connection?

Donna: Yeah, it is. So what would you think if I said that I think there's a certain point in your life and your career path that possibilities seem to present themselves, or you see them more. And I think of midlife and raising families and mid-career. And maybe I just didn't see the possibilities as easily as I do now.

Courtney: Well, I love the serendipity. So, for the audience, the three of us have never actually been in a virtual space or anywhere together at the same time. So, we're really getting to know each other in this conversation, too.

So, I love the alignment that's happening already. I love the serendipity. I think that's great. And Lalia, you're gonna hop in and add something to I think,

Photo of Lalia Rach and a baby.

Lalia: Well, I think possibility has always been a part of my life. And you made me think about that, Donna, when you characterized it in a couple of segments. And I know that wasn't it for you. But it just made me realize, because I always see myself as responsible for my career.

So, that says to me, what is possible. And so, thank you, I really appreciate you helping me think about that a bit differently.

Courtney: Well, Lalia, I want to dig into that a little bit because you mentioned, you know, the work that you do. Just very briefly, you talk about being responsible for the direction and the progress in your career.

So, I would love to give the audience an opportunity to learn more about you and what you do. Would you give us a high-level overview of what you do? Where you work and if you want to include any bits and pieces about your journey to get to the place you are now? We'd love to hear that, too.

Lalia: Okay, Courtney, I'll do that. Thank you. Well, I think first I just want to say that I was born into a hospitality family. So, I've been in every aspect of the industry all my life in some way. The majority of my career, though, was spent in higher education. And I was a dean at various schools’ centers. My longest tenure was at New York University. And I was the dean of the Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management.

Now, as an academician—try to find one that is not also a consultant of some type. And so, I have had a consulting business for decades. And I left higher education in 2013 and went full time into consulting with the rise of Covid. Consulting, as a leadership and strategy development consulting, it really went by the wayside.

So, I in fact, reinvented myself again, most recently. And I had an idea, I would approach four different companies. And because I felt each one of them for different reasons could take my idea. And that was that they would develop a consulting division within their company.

And so, the first one I went to was ALHI, Associated Luxury Hotels International, of which Mike Dominguez is the CEO and president And I've known Mike, he's been a client of mine and a colleague of mine for, I guess, 20 years. And so, I went to him first. And he loved the idea. And so, that went forward from that. I've been with ALHI since the end of April of 2021, and I am developing a consulting division for them. And we now have, with myself, six consultants, and we provide both tangible and intangible areas of consulting.

And as I said, my specialty has always been strategy and leadership development. So, what I also want people to know, because while I'm very proud of those tangible aspects of my career, I'm also proud that I'm a fairly decent human being, that that's not always the case. And I say fairly decent, because we all have our own issues and concerns, but I really like people. And I really like to be of service to people.

And so, if you're ever looking at what defines me, I would say it was those two issues. And I also have a great sense of humor.

Courtney: We'll have an improv section, improv comedy in the middle of the podcast, to feature Dr. Lalia Rach—that's all a joke. But that's wonderful. And it's great to just hear a little bit of background and what you're up to now, and I am a big fan of Mike Dominguez. He's a good friend and such a visionary.

So, I'm not surprised to hear that he saw great value in the service that you offered, and that you're working so beautifully together today. That's wonderful. 

Lalia: Yeah, it was a lovely, unexpected opportunity, and possibility…

Courtney:…Possibility! I knew you were gonna go there. Yes. It was a great possibility. Okay. And then Donna, I want to ask you the same question, too, because we want to get to know you a little bit as well. Will you share with us the work that you do, and also, you know, what inspired you to be the founder and the owner of Retirepreneur?

Donna: Sure. And my path is not exactly efficient. As far as my career path, a lot of twists and turns. I started my career as a high school band director, and did that for five years. And there's something about that as early years that continues to run through. And when I look back now, I can see some threads running through, but I love bringing people together, you know. And in the band and in high school, your team works together for a product. Fast forward, throughout my career…

So, I'm a wife; I'm a mother of three wonderful millennials who are out in the world doing amazing things. And they are all over. They're not in my backyard. And so that makes things interesting for our family. So, we traveled quite a bit. They challenged me to challenge them a little bit.

But I made a mid-career pivot to the events industry and joined Conferon, which became Experient, which became Maritz, and had a wonderful tenure with them. I lead their training division of internal training for their staff across all the different offices. Crazy. As a person, I had one kid in college and two in high school.

And I thought, I kind of do this Retirepreneur thing. So, I told my husband—we're on vacation—I'm like, “I think I have to resign.” And he calls that our most expensive vacation ever. Do you ever have in your heart— I was thrilled and happy, but it wasn't necessarily…there were a few things I needed to pursue.

And this Retirepreneur was one of them. And I think I was starting to move into my late 40s, early 50s. And starting to think for even for my own life, what's next? I have always been that person that is kind of five years ahead of herself. I think today, the world is changing so fast. It's maybe two to three years. But I am constantly looking ahead.

And fast forward to today, Retirepreneur was me living my journey out loud, saying, ‘Wow, I'm watching events and wondering if it felt like those 50 and older were less, maybe visible, in the conversations than maybe younger generations were, and I understood the even why events were focused in that direction we needed to bring on new generations. I think what's served me personally is I am forever curious. And I love having conversations across all generations.

But what I came to find, and this is with what I'm doing with Retirepreneur, is we have to change the conversation. There are times that I see peers in my age group, you know, “Let me tell you what it was like back in the day.” It's like, okay, that's not gonna work. Guess what, we're not the smartest people in the room anymore.

But I think it's the collective wisdom across all generations when really the breakthrough ideas happen. So, I couldn't be happier.

I'm also a Del Mar Encore Fellow with the Dayton Foundation. And I'm working right now with nine communities in the Greater Dayton, Ohio, region, helping them to adopt age-friendly practices and a new, remarkable program designed by AARP. And I still have my paddle in the events world.

So, for Age-Friendly Cities, there are a lot of big ideas that apply to events, because events are often like a little pop-up village, right? And trying to design an event that is age-friendly, across the board, it's sparking good conversation.

Courtney: I want to hear more about what Retirepreneur is. Can you share what your company is, what it does, who it serves, and also the reason why you felt so inspired to make this your current journey and your current passion project?

Photo of Donna Kastner and a baby.Donna: Yeah, my husband wants to know the same answer to that. But I think what started as probably a ministry of sorts that I could see that, holy cow, so how does this conversation happen? And what will I do in my 50s and 60s and beyond. But it did evolve into a business of sorts. I host workshops for people.

Typically, you know, there's no age limits, but it's appealing to people that are maybe five years or so from what has typically been seen as a retirement. I think even the concept of retirement is something that needs to be revisited tremendously. Staying engaged in work, we care about staying connected with people is the top longevity driver.

So, why on Earth would we go, you know, full career, 90 miles per hour and then stop on a dime? 

So, Retirepreneur ushers in conversations for people that are moving into this next stage of life on “what will I do next?” And that answer is different for so many different people?

So, it is…I did do some coaching. Candidly, that's not the thing I desire as much as I do bringing people together. I'm a conversation catalyst. I love to bring people together for these conversations. I love to even share my own vulnerability around some of the things I do work well, some are not. Honestly, sometimes it's like, “Okay, here's what I thought it was. And here's what didn't work.”

That even seems to disembark the best dialogue and some of the workshops that I'm hosting and facilitating, and some people in the PCMA world may know me for the hackathons that I was designing or co-creating with Jimmy Murdock. We did that for several different years. And that speaks to that. Being curious. bringing different-minded people together for some good, fascinating, what-if conversations.

So, Retirepreneur is often event-driven. It could be a number of things. I'm working with some organizations, helping them even figure out, “Hey, what would happen after retirement? Is there some kind of contract or bench of talent that we create from people that retire?” So, it's a lot of things, Courtney.

Courtney: Yeah, it sounds like you've got your hands full and a lot of really meaningful projects. And I love that you emphasize the passion that you have for bringing people together and having these important conversations. And, you know, a lot of times these conversations happen in, you know, the hallways, or they happen, you know, kind of outside of the main room.

So, to be able to take the stage and amplify some of these conversations and important messages, I think, is a wonderful thing. And that's exactly what we're doing here today. So, I want to open this conversation in more of a broad way.

And I want to because, I know, Donna, in getting to know you a little bit and just reading about the work that you've done, a word that you've used a few times is ageism.

And as we've had these conversations on this podcast over the years, one question that we typically get from our audience members is, what about ageism? What about age? We haven't talked about ageism, what are your thoughts around ageism? Does it exist in our industry? Have you experienced ageism yourself?

Donna: Ageism is a real thing. And in all of the diversity, equity and inclusion dialogue—and great conversations happening—I think somehow age is something we don't pay as much attention to. And I believe that we are often products of our own experiences.

So, if you've been, you know, surrounded by people that are older than you that maybe aren't a positive force, or they're lecturing. Then that's going to be your perception of what older people are like, and that might be limiting. I still think the Progressive Insurance commercials make me laugh out loud.

But between Dr. Rick and then what's the invasion of the ants, we have ants in our house? And like, all these older stereotypes, and like you're not helping me? That is not the only way older people look, but some do. Some are like that, you know, and all generations have a whole set of different people. But I do think we leap to conclusions sometimes a bit more quickly, for older people.

And did you notice I'm not using senior citizens, I'm using the word older people. But not all older people are terrible at technology. Not all older people… there's certain assumptions we make based on what we've observed in our own smaller sphere of people. And we have to be careful. As with any type, or category, we have to be careful not to make broad brush strokes.

There was a panel I participated in a couple of years ago. It was just about stereotypes in general. And I feel like throughout my career, on occasion, being female, was a challenge. And now I'm like, ‘Well, I got two [unintelligible] coming at me right now. I'm getting older, which we all are, and I'm female.

But I do think the age piece tends to be…I spot it more…but I need to be kind and understanding. Because sometimes people will say things and they'll be like, it's like what did they say, “coach in private, praise in public.” Sometimes I'll pull someone aside and say, you know, when we were talking about ABC, and you said this, it kind of felt a little ageist, and tell me what your thoughts are on it.

But you know, I just think we have to shine a light on it and say, you know, “Hey, not all bad, not just once we crossed 60—we still can use digital devices. And sometimes we can use them pretty darn good.

Courtney: Well, I think that's very true. And I’m laughing right now just watching her laugh. I'll come back to you. Lalia. It's funny, because you mentioned AARP and doing some work with them.

And also, you mentioned the Progressive commercials. I find the Progressive commercials hilarious because, I think they do tend to reflect some stereotypes that are easy to just have a laugh at, in a good-natured way.

But it's funny because my dad is a member of AARP and he received their magazine every month. And there was an article in AARP about the Progressive commercials and how offensive they were.

So, do you feel like…I know you said that they're funny and you had a good laugh? Do you feel like those types of commercials are offensive? Do you feel like, yes, stereotypes are not always applicable to everyone, but what are your thoughts on them?

Donna: You know, we have to lighten up, okay, because we're navigating new territory, and I do laugh out loud, louder than anyone else in the room when those come on.

But, you know, it's like greeting cards, you know, over the hill. Oh, my gosh, did you get your walker yet? You know, all of those things in combination do not make a path ahead that, understand right now that living to 100 will become mainstream in the next couple of decades. And so, we need to kind of reframe our thoughts around aging and sitting idle from your 60s to 100 is not advised for the individual or for society.

So how do we reframe that? So again, I do it in a funny way. I try not to make people feel bad. And if we keep ignoring it, we can’t have good conversations.

Courtney: Right. They love it and toss the mic back over to you. I see writing things down. And I see you just, you know, responding to some of the things that Donna has shared. What are your thoughts on this conversation?

Lalia: Well, I don't disagree that there are a lot of isms that challenge us. And so, it's not…I think it's how you respond to it. And I think having someone like Donna, who is willing to say, “Hey, wait a minute. You need to think a little broader, or you need to think differently.”

I think it doesn't matter what ism we're talking about. That's extremely valuable. And I'm very truthful. And I mean what I say in that. However, if I'm going to put it personally to me in my career, I mean, in addition to being female, I am heavy, I am a lesbian, I am now older—well, I just can't roll up into a ball. I mean that sincerely.

So, I've always looked at whatever it is, whether I was the only woman in the room, whether I was the heaviest person in the room, whatever, it doesn't matter. I had to decide if society was going to define me. So, but this is a personal/professional.

What Donna's talking about is an overall cultural change, and societal change that has to happen. Because, you know, you think about retirement. Not that long ago, we lived very linear lives, and we no longer live linear lives. That's what we're talking about here. And so, you could track someone based upon the age they were. And you can't do that anymore.

I mean, think about, you know, children whose parents are in their 60s and their children. I'm not talking they're teenagers. They're not adults, they're children. And it's not unusual. It used to be that it was only the man that would have younger children, you know, all of this.

We're in a time of great change. And without people, seriously, like Donna, things will hang back too long. And ageism is one of those things that now has to come forward.

But you have to know, from my own personal professional perspective, it's different than how I look at society, just very frankly. And that's to me…that's not a challenge. It's just a read. And I'm aware of that.

So, when I'm speaking more generally, I'm in complete agreement with her when I'm talking about my own career. Not at all. Does that make sense?

Donna: Because, yeah, I can appreciate I love this conversation that we're having. And it is we're all coming at it from different perspective perspectives and life experiences.

Courtney: Yeah, I would agree. I think that makes a lot of sense. And something that you said in your response, Lalia, caught my attention. And that was the question of am I going to let society define me?

For me, hearing that really comes from a place of knowing who you are, self-worth, knowing your value, a place of deep confidence. And I love that I love to hear that.

And I think something that you know, a lot of times we hear in passing conversations in books and movies and whatever, we hear women specifically make the comment or something to this effect of “Gosh, I really found myself in my 50s.” Or you know, like, “I wish that I had appreciated the body that I had 20 years ago because I thought all these things were wrong with me.”

And so, I see that you're catching on to what I'm saying here. So, my question as someone who is in my mid-30s is, “So how do you feel like you got to the place of really being able to say, ‘am I going to let society define me?’”

Lalia: Well, I'm a battler? I mean, that's the first thing you have to know. I mean, I was, you know, it's in my nature. So, that's just the reality.

But here's the question I would have for you if you don't mind: Courtney, who do you want to please the most? Who do you want to prove yourself to the most? Who decides for you if you're a success? 

But I guess at the end of the day, what I've always felt is, it's my career, it isn't yours at all. And why I can admire things about your career that you're doing in your 30s that, for example, I wish I had done in my 40s or even 50s.

What I would rather do is say to me, to you, not to me to you, “How do you do that? Tell me about how you got into that. Tell me what moves you in that. Meaning, I can't be just like you.

Seriously, if we were so much alike, but I can learn from you. And then in return, because you shared with me, maybe I could share something with you if it's appropriate. But I've always been a believer, and I do a lot of coaching. I do a lot of development work with companies and their leaders. But at the end of the day, it isn't about me.

And yes, I have a very healthy ego. But it is about what do you want from, shall we say, this stage of your career as an example in your 30s? And roughly speaking, what would you like to be different by the time you're in your 40s, if we want to do it chronologically, but there are a lot of other ways we can do it, you know?

And so, I've always been, I can learn from you, but I can't mimic you, imitate you. I can't be you.

Courtney: I think that's such a lovely way to combat comparison. Because I think a lot of times, you know, this having some sort of mentality or struggle, where really the root of the struggle is not feeling like enough, not feeling good enough, not feeling thin enough, not feeling young enough, like whatever the enough is, I think that a lot of times that state of struggle comes from comparison, and it's whether it's society, you know, projecting certain ideas or ideals onto you; whether it is looking at that person that is younger, or that's next to you or that seemingly doing better in their career.

It comes back to the idea or the reality that we're comparing our worth, and our value and our success to the person that's to our left and to our right. So, I really like the way that you framed that, because I think that is an opportunity to actually combat that comparison that we are challenged with very frequently.

Lalia: And you know, I don't know if Donna feels this way, but I'm sincere. I would much rather have you under judge me because of your bias. Because you know what? In the end, I'm going to win. Because you under judged me.

Courtney: That actually thrills me to hear. 

Lalia: I'm dead serious about what excites me---the competitive nature in me. You see, I won't go after you--so I'm not some whack job—but my point is that if you do dismiss me, and that's what ageism is. I mean, we all know it—the isms—when we see them.

When we receive that rejection, that dismissal. You know, most of us are pretty logical, sane people. And so, we know when there's that thing, and that's why I'm saying, you know, as being the only woman in the room, I would know very clearly when I was being dismissed or being almost, you know, patted on the head with what they were saying. And that's when I knew, I'm good.

Courtney: Mm hmm. Yeah, I have to say I am also a competitive person. And it's more so it's with myself. It's very internal, which I think is important as someone who is, you know, a business owner and entrepreneur and someone who's creating, inventing. You have to have a bit of that competitive spirit to make progress.

But I love an underdog situation where you've been under evaluated, you are positioned by somebody else's bias as the underdog. Oh, I love it, it gets my blood pumping, because I know that I'm gonna come out and I'm gonna play. Oh, yeah. Like, let me prove you wrong. Give me that beautiful joy at the end of this race where I get to turn around and say, “Let's do this next one together.” Like, I just love that. I absolutely love that competitive spirit. 

Donna: Can I jump in on this a little bit? Nothing gets me excited, then like, I'll show you—there's that dynamic. Okay. But I do think so. And I love this under-judging me, and then, you know, I'm going to show you. But I think with ageism, sometimes where it gets a little dangerous is where I don't even get a chance to show you because I was excluded from the conversation to begin with, because you made assumptions because of my age.

And so that's one lane. I'm just saying it, you know, I've pushed my way into things, and I got it. But I just think that there was an element of that. But I just think everything is not ageism. In times, I think we throw flags and say “that’s ageist—no.”

Lalia: But Donna, I'm seriously not disagreeing with you. But I think almost any ism can be told, in essence, ‘We know you don't understand, because you're not one of us,” whatever it is. And so, I'm not saying you're wrong, because I do it. And but you know, our blind spots about bias are what really drives me around the bend. And that's what you're talking about.

That's why I don't agree with, and I don't want to get into anything, but I don't think it's me being woke, I think it's me being a better human being. And there aren't some things that I don't agree with—everything that's happening in the world.

There are some things I struggle with. And I know I have bias. There's no person in the world that doesn't have bias. I think my concern is when we just decide, we don't want to deal with it. We don't like it, there's been too much of this crap, if you'll allow me to use that.

And so now it's ageism. And what does she mean, that commercials are not appropriate? And they probably don't even hear you say that you laugh out loud. See, to me, we should be having these discussions. And we should be able to clearly say to people, ‘Hey, you do need to look at that a little differently. Ageism…it is going to rapidly make people aware of what they're doing.

Because there isn't going to be the numbers of employees at the level we want them to be at in a short period of time. if we don't change our thinking,

Donna: Yes, I agree. And I also think that when we get into the, you know, this is the end of the age thing, but for me at least, I don't want to monopolize this.

But when you cross into your 60s, there's an early part of that segment that you're like, I don't know. And then there's a later part that is older age and this is some of the conversations we're framing as it relates to communities. And mobility and transportation and healthcare.

And I think, like my mother is 88 and I’m 65. And we have some awesome conversations. But we have different preferences, different needs. And I think in general you don't just cross a line and then you’re old. Someone's framed it as, and I don't know if it's me, in denial, but late adulthood, there's a point where you are starting to maybe ease down the time, doing the things you really wanted to do all along, taking some time for travel. I'm finding that in my own life. It's not everybody's life. 

Lalia: How many people down do you know that are actually retired? And by retirement, I'm going to define what I mean. Because retirement means you are not working. It doesn't mean you're working part time. It doesn't mean you've changed careers. It means you're not working. You're doing other things, but you're not being paid for it. So, how many people like that do you know?

Donna: Of my peers? In my age group? I tend to surround myself with a lot of different people, so that's a hard one. But it's a very good question. I do know, people asked me, “You're still working? What are you doing? When are you going to retire?” And it's like, have you met me?

Lalia: Well, I guess my point for asking it is, I know very few people who are actually retired, that they do not work for money. Okay. I don't know many. And I'm not saying I know everybody, because I don't, but I know quite a few people. What does surprise me, and here's where my ageism reared its ugly head.

So, I meet someone—I'm not gonna say even what gender—and they're 46. And they're retired. And I'm like, well, first, I hate you.

But secondly, I mean, that they have enough money to do that. Secondly, it made me do some research. And there isn't a lot of research about what I'm calling early or non-age retirement. And I find, see, there's another twist on this, that you're reminding people of Courtney's generation are really looking at life differently.

Now, this person who's retired told me clearly, they may go back into the workforce in a number of years in something that they want to do. You get the point. I'm like, well, still, I hate you.

But anyway. I think we're putting all of our norms up on their ears. And we're saying, and I agree with you, if you see that's the problem I have with most any ism, when you look at a person and you decide based on what you see that they don't have quality, that just I mean, you know, but I also find my own ageism, is often a reverse ageism.

Donna: That's an interesting dynamic. And I will tell you, I think in the events industry, there are more people getting joy out of their work, at least from my observations. And I think, so when you retire, and you're not being paid for your work. Often those that stopped sooner maybe didn't have as much joy during their traditional…

Lalia: …so, they also have a crapload of money. Let us be frank, they're not living off of ramen noodles.

Courtney: Donna, I want to circle back to something that you mentioned in your initial response to this conversation. And that was in saying that you have personally experienced stereotypes that have closed doors that have not allowed you into spaces and opportunities because of those stereotypes?

Can you share a little bit more about what those experiences were and how you were able to get yourself in those places that you needed to be to make an impact, add your value…

Donna: As a high school band director back in the ’80s, you didn’t see a lot of women in that position, okay? There was sort of a, you know, one of the interviews that I had, the vice principal asked me if I cried easily. And I watched because the person before me was a tall man that came out of the room and they're shaking hands and, “Okay, we'll be back in touch.”

And then they brought me in, that question came up about midway through my interview, and was one of the first times, one of the few times in my life that I could just hit it right. And I said, “Did you ask the gentleman before me that question?”

And one, the principal told me that they had a lot of good candidates, that might have been the deciding factor in choosing me. Two, the vice principal, at the end of my tenure, when I resigned because we were moving, he came to me and said, “You have shown me something; I was wrong in asking.”

So, he actually could see something new. And I'm just telling you that because that's the most profound example I ever had. But I think we just show up and we contribute and then beliefs are changed. When I say I know I don't have concrete proof that would stand up in a court of law that I was not chosen because of my age, but I have some pretty good suspicions on occasion and I don't spend a lot of time dwelling there. I want to keep showing up, and showing, “Here's what an engaged person that wants to contribute, and cares about the totality of the team, looks like.”

Courtney: I love that story. And I love that I love the ending of that story. I love that you were able to not only put yourself in a position to earn your stripes and earn that that opportunity, but also that you were able to teach something along the way. I think that's very cool.

I want to transition this conversation a little bit in a different direction, because we're coming close-ish to the end of our time here. Lalia, you wrote a book. Can we hear more about it? What's the book about? What are your favorite parts of the book? Give us a little bit of insight.

Lalia: Well, I really thank you for that. I mean that I'm extraordinarily proud. I finished it last year. It had been on my bucket list for 20 years. I always had a reason why I didn't do it. And it's called Managing the Book on You. And the other title is Rewriting Your Leadership Story

What do I love about it? It is leadership development. However, if all you do is read it, don't buy it. And this is the author telling you that because it's truly a workbook designed for each person who reads it. And so, it's…I'm a storyteller.

And so, I tell stories that in my career, my clients have experienced as leaders, and how they've dealt with it or haven't dealt with it. I tell stories of my own leadership development. And they're all built around—I love quotes—and so they're all built around quotes. At the end of each chapter is a workbook. And that's why I'm saying, if you're going to buy it and just read it, it's not enough because you have to do the work because it's your career.

And if you want to develop, some of the things you'll do very easily, quickly, other things will take you even two months to complete because you need to think, you need to review, you need to talk to other people.

But see, I'm responsible for my career. I'm gonna go back to that. And that's how I look at leadership development. I don't have to do it all on my own, but I have to be responsible for it. And that's really at the end of the day. That is what my book is about.

And so, I'm smiling quite broadly because I'm very proud of it. And so, I really thank you for giving me the opportunity, Managing the Book on You.

Courtney: I love it. Yeah. What is the most memorable piece of feedback that you've received from somebody who purchased the book?

Lalia: So, two things. One, people who I've actually coached have bought the book and they said, reading it, “I could hear your voice in my head the whole time.” So, I will tell you from that, I then read the book, because it's in Audible as well. I mean, you can get it in paperback and Kindle, but also Audible.

And so, hearing that from someone, I made the decision, I will read the book in Audible. But the second thing is someone who I've worked with, I've not coached, but I've been a consultant for their company. And so, we've come in contact. They knew me but they didn't know me.

I did a webinar to show people how to use the book for a certain company and they said, publicly, that reading the book really opened their eyes to my ability to be vulnerable. Me, because I tell stories about myself that don't always put me in the best light or…there's no real “I'm really good at this type of thing.” Because I had to develop, too, and that's what I'm trying to show people, that even if you look at someone and think, “Oh my god, they must have come out of the box fully formed.”

It's not true. Not at all. But what I really want to find out is, and that's what I made myself look at, is what were some of those seminal things that happened in your career that forced you to recognize you needed to change or you needed to have different conversations with people, because I think for many women, and it's not written for just women, but a lot of women do relate to it. And we have a difficulty having those direct conversations sometimes.

Courtney: And what a great action item for our listeners today to take away, to ask yourself the question, “What have been some of those bigger moments in my career, whether they were tough, whether they were wins. Where do you see opportunity for growth and improvement?”

I think that's a really great action item and a reflection opportunity for people. Donna, I want to ask you a question about leadership. What do you believe is the greatest opportunity that leaders have to develop their teams and the people around them?

Donna: The greatest possibility?

Courtney: Okay, we'll go with the P word. 

Donna: Oh, that's a really good question. I think it's giving them some freedom to go at whatever challenge has been put before them. You know, setting a project forth, and I guess this is more around delegation.

But you know, understanding that if a project is…you're giving your team a project, understand that they may get to that end result in vastly different ways. And giving them the freedom to move, move along, giving them the support, if they start to get uncertain, and they want some feedback. I think leaders, that's a hard thing to let go like that.

But if you've got the right people on the team, they'll find their way. And even the process of doing that is going to be a growth process. So, I don't know, I think leaders stepping back just a little bit, but being there in a supportive way, too.

Courtney: I think that's great advice. And I always appreciate hearing from anybody and everybody who has a different perspective and has had different life experiences than me. So, I really like that. That advice. Lalia, we're getting into our final question for the podcast.

So, I'm gonna have you respond first. And then we'll let Donna close this out today. If you could share one final piece of advice with other women in business, what would it be?

Lalia: Well, the first thing, I want to thank you for this, this has been lovely. I mean that wholeheartedly. Donna has been…I just learned things in thinking differently, and the same from you, Courtney.

So, thank you. A piece of advice. While the first thing I always say is advice is free, so you can throw it away. I think that's my piece of advice. Does it resonate with you? You know, I think there are a lot of people with great ideas and all in books, and it doesn't matter what it is. But does it resonate with you? And that doesn't mean I didn't like what I heard so I'm going to ignore it. I don't mean in that fashion.

But we all work so hard today. And so, I'm looking for times that can resonate with me, like this hour. And I'm serious about that. And I find more and more, then instead of just following what I think is appropriate, or is a best seller or however you want to look at it. I'm instead using that lens of did it resonate with me? And what does that mean? Because I'm going to end where I started. It's your career. It's not anybody else's. So why admire other people's careers?

It's my career that matters to me. And thanks for having me.

Courtney: It has been a true pleasure. And Donna, I'll let you close out our conversation today. With your final piece of advice for all of the people who are listening today. What are some lasting words you'd like to leave the audience with?

Donna: So, specific to this thought of the final phases of a career? It's just no, it does get to this resonate piece. There are certain superpowers that throughout your life will be affirmed. So, are you listening and hearing that?

And conversely, there are some that are, like, “You are not the most patient person I've met in my life.” Okay, I gotta shore that up. But that will never be my strength. You know, staying in the swim lane where you swim faster, it's likely giving you more joy than you ever would want.

And at this phase of life, I choose joy. So, and I'm going to echo what an incredible conversation today, both of you have opened my eyes in ways I never thought.

Courtney: Did I choose joy? I love that. What a great note to end that on.

And I want to thank both of you so much for sharing your perspective, for having a healthy conversation, for bringing different ideas and opinions to our conversation today.

And audience, as always, thank you so much for listening. Share what you learned from this episode with us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram by following at @meetingstoday and me at @Courtneyonstage, and be sure to never miss an episode by subscribing to Dare to Interrupt on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts and more.

Be bold, own who you are and keep daring to interrupt my friends. Until next time…



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About the author
Courtney Stanley

Courtney is a keynote speaker, writer, podcaster and career success coach with a background in experience design, community engagement and leadership development. Courtney is the host of Meetings Today’s “Dare to Interrupt,” a podcast that provides a platform for the event, hospitality and tourism industry’s most influential and successful women to share their stories of adversity and success, unfiltered.