We MUST do More to Tackle Ageism at Work

Until recently, women finished working roughly five to ten years before men, often after working part-time hours for many years beforehand.

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This was often by choice and we assumed it’s what women wanted and needed.  But, as in all areas of modern life, times have changed.  More of us work later into our lives, not from need, but because we want to.

That’s why recent articles suggesting that all of us (male and female) would work best if we only worked 25 hours a week so concerning.  Based on a 2016 study, the rationale appears to be that our stress levels and performance drops after that time, so there’s little point in us being there.

How offensive!

Yes, if someone wants to work less and can afford to, then that’s great but to suggest anyone SHOULD do something because of their age smacks of ageism and generalisations that don’t help us when we’re already heavily prejudiced against in the workplace.

As an example of how we view older people, you only need to read the comments of Ben Broadbent, the Bank of England’s governor, who was roundly trounced after suggesting our economy was ‘menopausal’.   What does that even mean?  In transition?  Suffering from Hot Flushes?

No – he just meant old and not beneficial, a sadly widely held view of many 50-year-old women.

To suggest anyone SHOULD do something because of their age smacks of ageism

Grace Fodor, founder of of pro-age beauty brand Studio10 called attention to the impact of this prejudiced view in her piece ‘Older Women at Work’.   She believes that despite a 5.5% increase in the number of women working after 70, we still assume women are less dynamic and focused after their 50s, saying:

“We all know that whilst compulsory retirement is no longer legal, there are other ways to undercut and undervalue a member of staff who is perceived to have outlived their purpose.”

A University of Kent piece suggested that that up to a third of people not in work are 55+ – and not through choice.  In a country with an ageing population this makes little sense, especially after a report from Ageing Better demonstrated that older workers are crucial to the UK economy.  As more of us live into our 60s, 70s and beyond it stands to reason that more of us need to be in work and want to feel valuable.

Samantha Evans, founder of Jo Divine, refused to face mid-life without a career challenge. The sex and intimacy expert works more hours now than when she was 40 by choice.

Her sentiments were echoed by Susan Gafsen, who co-founded Pep and Lekker with her sister-in-law in their 50s.  She said: ‘We are working harder than ever and smashing it’.

Of course, our intrinsic views of age and hierarchy are part of the issue.  The old myths around bosses being older than their teams, older members of teams being stuffy or difficult and anyone over 50 being less interested in promotions, or less keen to work long hours don’t help.

There are already considerable laws in place to protect our rights, but until ageist views are really challenged in public, enforcing them is nigh on impossible.

Regardless, with alternative evidence highlighting the benefits of the stability, calmness and consistency older employees bring to their teams, it makes sense that we all work together to stamp out ageism at work once and for all.

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