Article by Ceri Wheeldon
I have attended many sessions at conferences on the topic of Diversity in the Workplace.
With the retirement age increasing ( here in the UK the official pension age is now 66) , and increased pressure on those over 50 facing redundancy as a result of the pandemic, it is more important than ever that the contribution of older workers in the workplace is not just recognised, but welcomed.
When it comes to diversity in recruitment – many companies will state that they are a diverse employer, and include age inclusivity in their diversity statement – alongside BAME, LGBT and disability, including their diversity statements in their recruitment advertising, but when it comes to their corporate imagery , the ‘age inclusive’ element is noticeable by its absence.
More than 30% of the UK workforce is over 50 – more than 9 million people, yet take a look at the recruitment/careers pages of most large corporates and you will be hard pressed to find images of any 50plus workers – and certainly not 30%!! There are many images of individuals from different ethnic groups – but virtually none representing other groups in their diversity and inclusion statements ( including age) .
Just before lockdown, I gave a talk on the benefits older workers are able to deliver to the workforce to a group of HR professionals. One of the questions I ask in my talks is how many recent hires have been over 50. Nobody knew- stats were kept on other diversity initiatives – but not age. Only one person could say that they had hired anybody over 50 in the previous six months. It was remembered as they viewed this as the exception rather than the norm. Could it be that employers are so age inclusive that they don’t need to think about keeping stats – or is it the case that they don’t take age inclusivity seriously.
Diversity statements do not necessarily equate to age inclusion
Looking at a range of job advertisements, many of the ads placed by larger companies are primarily age neutral – and include a diversity statement. Smaller companies however, with no compliance department looking over their shoulder often present job roles , company culture and the recruitment process candidates will have to follow in a way which candidates may feel is not age inclusive. From requesting video submissions with a statement as to why you should be considered for the job, the language used to describe the role/culture, and the gamification element of the selection process itself (50 plussers did not grow up playing computer games) , many aspects of the process are not age friendly.
This does not even take into account the unconscious bias individuals over 50 encounter when looking for employment. It is acknowledged that those over 50 will take longer to find employment than their younger counterparts. Some become disillusioned and simply give up, becoming economically inactive or taking early retirement. Others use their many skills and talents to set up their own businesses – demonstrating the very skills that companies have judged them to be lacking in!!
With a great percentage of the over 50s currently furloughed facing redundancy in the very near future , it is imperative that age inclusivity is more prominent when it comes to the diversity agenda. The government focus appears to be on the young workers affected by job losses – but let’s not forget that older workers need help too.
Many employers have been proactive in reaching various diversity targets including gender, disability and BAME. Lets hope that age diversity is an initiative that is taken seriously. Currently only 50% of individuals are still employed in the year before they reach retirement age. This has to change. It is for all our benefits. For many reading this retirement may seem a long way off, but ageism is the one ‘ism’ that we are all likely to experience unless we are proactive and change the narrative now.
Let’s not just pay lip service to age inclusivity , but ensure that our recruitment processes and the working environment activity support it. Let’s hope that seeing images of a company’s workforce will include 30% of those over 50 will become the norm.
Real age inclusivity changes lives for the better and contributes to the economy . Let’s embrace it.