Not retiring: why age diversity needs to be more diverse

We keep talking about intersectionality, but, when it comes to age diversity, are we actually doing it?



A recent YouGov poll from the makers of EDGE Empower diversity and inclusion software found that three quarters of 50–64 year olds do not believe that those from ethnic minority backgrounds face greater discrimination in the workplace than white employees. Furthermore, 17% of older workers believe that white employees face a higher level of discrimination, a view that younger workers largely reject. And 85% of 50-64 year olds claim that those from ethnic minority backgrounds face no greater discrimination in accessing new jobs whereas over half (51%) of 18-24 year olds agree that they do.

It’s a stark difference of views between the generations – between a generation brought up in a world of work where racism was tolerated and where, in many professional settings, there were hardly any non-white faces [this was certainly the case in the media organisations where I worked], and one which is much more aware of the subtle and unsubtle ways it operates.

One would like to think that things are progressing, but how much? When it comes to age diversity there is a worrying lack of diversity among the experts and, but extension, many of the panel discussions. I’ve trawled the websites and the only BAME people I can find in age diversity organisations tend to be doing the finances. Why is that? We keep talking about intersectionality, but are we actually doing it? We know that role models matter. We talk about how important it is to have job adverts showing older workers so they feel the ads don’t exclude them. But we don’t walk the talk when it comes to diversity experts.

I was talking to someone about this the other day. She said that she worries about the lack of diversity because it makes people think their stories are not reflected in age diversity work. Is that a result of the lack of diversity in the middle and higher levels of the professions back in the day, outside particular sectors such as medicine? Where are the older BAME role models in industry?

A Colourful View from the Top, a new book just out by Jonathan Mildenhall, tells the stories of 21 BAME leaders. Mildenhall kicks off the book with his own compelling story, from growing up on a Leeds council estate in the 1970s and “being spat on by angry, hateful National Front supporters as I left school”, to rising through the advertising world and landing top roles at Coca-Cola and Airbnb. The book is important and a step in the right direction. We need age diversity to reflect a broad range of experience. Age diversity cannot be in a little bubble apart from other forms of diversity and inclusion. That only encourages those who refuse to see discrimination for what it is because their colleagues were not able to speak openly about it when they were younger or simply weren’t in the room at all.

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