Not retiring: Better together

Why we need to tackle ageism at both ends of the spectrum…



There’s been a lot of talk about ageism of late, particularly against older workers. And that definitely seems to be the experience of many older jobseekers. They tell us regularly in our surveys that they find it hard to secure an interview, let alone a job offer.

ATS systems seem to weed out people who don’t follow a traditional career trajectory or those without formal qualifications, for instance, a degree even though they may have decades of experience in the field and even though they started work at a time when the percentage of people going to university was significantly smaller. People recount tales of eye-rolling at interview or barely disguised disinterest which they put down to their age. At the same time as we are talking a lot about diversity there is also a parallel discourse about getting a ‘good fit’ with the organisation and ‘shared values’. The two sometimes work against each other.

Yet ageism also exists at the other end of the spectrum against the young. There are countless examples of biased terms used against young people, for instance, references to ‘snowflakes’. Young people face a lot of barriers to getting on any kind of ladder – career, housing and so forth. Many have heavy student debts and the student loan barely covers the cost of housing, let alone eating. Covid has had a huge impact on their social and educational development. Social media has opened up all sorts of Pandora’s boxes and they are only too aware of all the bad things happening in the news because they are bombarded with information 24/7.

That’s why young and old need to come together to talk about these issues and to find common ground, rather than allow themselves to be divided. I was talking to a young woman trustee the other day. She had led an organisation for Muslim women which brought young and old together to mentor and learn from each other. The process was mutually enriching, she said. There is so much life and work experience that is useful, even if we think it might not be relevant any longer. While technology and job titles change, the basic functions often remain similar and having experience of how to overcome the typical challenges – poor communication, engaging people, resilience… – can help others who may not have dealt with such issues outside a text book scenario not involving real people. This is also why workplace reverse mentoring programmes can be so powerful.

The conversation was inspiring and optimistic – something that is often lacking these days. Ageism is bad whichever end of the spectrum you are on. It may need different solutions, but the basic premise – not to make assumptions and to question ingrained biases – remains the same.

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