Not retiring: Ageism in all its guises

Ageism works at both ends of the spectrum and we should unite to counter it.

Ageism in tech - discrimination sign concept


Ageism comes up in so many of surveys. Older people perceive that the workplace is often biased against them, particularly when it comes to recruitment. Our recent survey shows 56% said they had encountered ageism in the recruitment process [versus just 16% who hadn’t], with the application process ranking highest.  45% of those who had encountered ageism in the recruitment process said they had left out their age and altered their cv to get around ageism.  Many felt neglected and undervalued. 71% said the soft skills gained through years of experience of life are not valued by employers. This led to demotivation and disengagement.

Ageism isn’t limited to the older worker, of course. Younger workers can also experience it and many of those starting work now will need additional support after the Covid years of disruption to their education. It doesn’t make them ‘snowflakes’. It just acknowledges what they have been through – learning from home, sometimes in difficult conditions without the proper equipment, with no interaction with friends except online [with all the pros and cons that brings] or sitting alone in their rooms at university, trying to motivate themselves and feeling isolated from friends and family.

Our world has become more and more divided along so many faultlines, often due to growing economic inequality and politicking. Older people are not all ‘boomers’ who can’t cope with change and want to make things worse for the young. We’re parents and grandparents too. We care about younger people, hugely. We love some of them a whole lot and we often subsidise them, are there for them when they need us, look after their children and so forth. We can see it’s a tough world out there and that they may never move out!

And yet too often we are written off and labelled and bunched all together as a stereotype. Too often we come up against myths that old people can’t do technology, that we can’t learn new things or adapt to change. Yet the world has been in turmoil for decades – who was in the middle of all of that? I speak to people who have spent their lives going through restructure after restructure, multiple redundancies, multiple new systems and new programmes. They have adapted to them all, rebuilt themselves, changed tack or kept going, learning new things all the while. That should be recognised. Yet so often it just isn’t. I spoke to one man who had built up international divisions in a former company, had done all sorts and yet said his current employer had no idea about all of that. What a waste and what a loss for that company.

I was in a meeting in another job a while ago with a colleague who is also older. A new employee had come in and requested a meeting with us to see if she could help us. It felt like she was managing us when we have been doing the role for over a decade. It’s not that we can’t take criticism and I’m always open to new ideas. It’s just the assumption, never stated, of course, that, because we are older, we are out of touch and need someone to tell us what to do. Maybe that wasn’t her intention, but that’s how it came across. And, of course, because we also are prone to the ageism all around us, we internalise it and think maybe it’s us, maybe we’re not that good.

We need to ditch those assumptions or at the very least be more aware of them. The same goes for younger people. Yes, we need to recognise experience, but if we keep harping on about it, how does that make younger people who haven’t got as much of it – just through lack of years lived – feel? We need to value all the things that people of all ages bring to the table.

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