How can we address age bias at work?

Our survey shows a lot of perceived age bias in the workplace. We spoke to two women about their experience and what needs to change.

Older lady sits in armchair looking pensive


A survey published this week shows over two fifths of older workers have experienced age discrimination at work, with the recruitment process being the worst offender. We spoke to two workers who are over 50 about their experiences. Both wished to remain anonymous.

Karen now works for the Test & Trace initiative after three months being unemployed. She says that in her previous job she has experienced being sidelined and not invited to a high-profile social event, not only because she was part time but because she was “not the face of the company”. She says she recently had a video interview for a job she was a good fit for with a young interviewer who “barely concealed his initial shock at seeing my image”. She was not successful.

Asked what she thinks employers need to do to show they are not biased against older workers and welcome applications, she says: “I think most employers ARE biased against older workers and don’t try that hard to hide it!  They don’t want a 50-year-old woman on reception when they could have a 20 year old… blonde hair and slim figure versus grey hair and a bit more of a rounded figure… It’s all about image and not experience or efficiency.”

She adds: “If employers are genuinely not biased against older workers, they need to not use words such as dynamic, fast-paced, young, first-time job, will suit graduate, etc.

“I’ve worked for employers who say they want younger employees as they are ‘easier to mould’.  They don’t want experience (which comes with knowledge); they want innocents who will not dare to question what is put in front of them as fact, for instance, we don’t take our full lunch break and we work additional hours unpaid if asked, it’s just what you do…”

Gina works two part-time jobs in the higher education sector, but has not been made permanent in either despite asking many times. Over the five years she has worked in one university job, she says everyone younger than her has been given permanent contracts and that she has also never been given any responsibilities, nor any time to conduct research or to try for higher qualifications which have been offered to everyone else. She has not been shown how to use any of the IT to deliver sessions remotely and has been told that she has to watch videos and work it out herself.

She has asked for more work at the other college job, but they can’t afford to give her more. She says the problem is that experienced, older people are more expensive to employ. She says: “I think they need to encourage applications from older teachers/lecturers so that they can support the younger ones. Possibly, and I do not say this lightly, older people need to be prepared to work for less money.”

She adds: “There’s a feeling that you can’t ask for anything because it causes tension. You have to be prepared to work on without drawing attention to yourself or they will start to make work more difficult for you. Employers need to value the experience and expertise that older people bring to the workplace and write on the advertisement for the post that they welcome applications from people over 55.”

Comments [1]

  • eva chan says:

    I am a nurse in NHS. My boss asked me repeatedly to retire to make way for younger person without other valid reasons. No real help when complained to Union and Senior Management. Totally agreed with the author regarding challenges we face as older, experienced workers. There are people supporting Donald Trump when he discriminated Joe Biden, only 4years older?

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