Article by Ceri Wheeldon
Often people believe that there is age discrimination in the recruiting of new employees, but increasingly I am being told that individuals are trying not to reveal their age to work colleagues due to fear of being considered ‘old’ leading to exclusion in projects, consideration for promotion, and inclusion in social events.
In a world where we are living longer, and expected to work for longer – far longer than we had perhaps anticipated, why is it that many feel compelled , not to lie, but certainly not to be open about their age.
A couple of recent incidents come to mind. I happened to meet somebody who was a marketing director at a large communications company. I thought she was a great role model and would be a great interviewee for Fab after Fifty. She declined – although she loved what the site represented- she said that she simply could not afford for her work colleagues to discover that she was in her 50s. She believed that it would compromise career opportunities for her moving forward.
Not drawing attention to age at work
At another event – where the topic was ageism in the fashion industry, several people in the audience stressed that it wasn’t just in the fashion industry that ageism was rife, but that although we may now be seeing more grey haired models in the media, they felt that they could not allow their own hair to go grey as it would draw attention to their age at work. They felt that there was definite discrimination beyond the age of 50.
I was a speaker at an event on the ageism in the workplace – when I asked if anyone had experienced ageism at work, not a single person raised their hand, however. At the end of my presentation, many people came to see me one on one and said that they had in fact experienced ageism yet felt that they did not want to admit to it publicly in case it drew attention to their age.
How do we overcome this perception? Legislation is in place to guard against age discrimination at work and yet mindsets do not appear to have changed. In the last century life expectancy has increased by 30 years , but the concept of what we consider ageing to be has not.
Older workers are assets in the workplace
At 50 we probably have 15 to 20 working years ahead of us – some may choose never to retire. We cannot, and should not feel the need to hide our age at work when research shows the invaluable contribution ‘older’ workers bring. Research indicates that having just one ‘older’ worker in a team can increase productivity, that older works are more adaptable to change than younger workers, and that decision making abilities improve at 50 and beyond.
Older works are assets in the workplace – and the economy needs us to work – especially as the population ages with fewer younger entrants coming into the workplace.
We have to overcome inbuilt prejudices and perceptions relating to age. The ageing population presents many challenges, but also opportunities.
Ageing, and the experience and wisdom that brings is an asset – not a liability.