A friend of mine, in his early 50s, went to an interview for a new job recently. He’s a highly qualified and experienced marketing director, producing enviable results for a global, ‘knowledge based’ company headquartered in Wales. For those who know the difference between sales and marketing, he’s at the top of pyramid in terms of insight and creativity. One of his passions is amateur dramatics and his social life includes friends of all ages – he doesn’t even think ‘age’. At his interview he was devastated to be told that they were looking for someone more ‘hip’; someone who wouldn’t dream of wearing a suit to an interview. His knowledge, his results and jazzy personality meant nothing. His experience is an example of the endemic ageism that could slow the country’s economic recovery, say a slew of expert reports.
‘Soul destroying ageism in the recruitment process could be the final straw for over 50s made redundant in the pandemic’, says Rest Less, a jobs site for older people. ‘Workers aged 50 and over have a wide range of skills, know-how and experience, but they are all too often shut out by narrow views of their age.’
The City Watchdog found that during lock-down over-55s suffered larger cuts to their earnings than any other age group. Their pay has fallen by 23 per cent on average, while millennials and middle-aged workers have had smaller salary cuts of 19 per cent and 17 per cent respectively. They have also seen the biggest drop in number of hours worked since the outbreak, according to separate research by Rest Less. Older workers who had not yet retired had been impacted disproportionately and some were "now confronting real financial hardship and challenges ahead”. The sad thing is that people in this age group are likely to be supporting elderly parents and grandparents, often sacrificially.
“With birth rates having declined for decades, the over-50s have been the main driving force behind the success story of employment growth in Britain in the years leading up to the pandemic. Crucially, they will be just as essential to any recovery of the economy on the other side,” says Rest Less. The report makes interesting reading.
Employers, employment support services and policy makers need to ensure that age isn’t a barrier to the economic recovery, says the Centre for Ageing Better’s Patrick Thomson, Senior Programme Manager for Work.
But it’s easier said than done. Ageism is so much a part of our culture that most people are not even aware of it. It is like the air we breathe. We acquire it when we are young and reinforce it throughout our lives. Most people become aware of it only when they grow old enough to suffer some discrimination in employment or some disparaging remark or “joke” about their age. Bias is invisible, and highly personal. Consider the following case, where a 47-year-old father, Mr N Clements, was awarded £7,580.14 in compensation after being rejected for a job with Guys and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust on the basis that the young, female team manager would be ‘uncomfortable’ asking him to do things because he had an 11 year-old daughter, although his qualifications and experience made him the top applicant for the job. Other comments made by the team included questioning whether Mr McClements was too experienced, whether he was too senior and how he was 'very different' to the woman he was replacing.
The tribunal Judge, Tony Hyams Paris said, ‘We concluded that the point (she) was making was that she would find it difficult to manage someone who was much older than her; the reference to the daughter was to illustrate the maturity point.'
There should be no ageism amongst Christians, who know the Scriptures and the value God places on older people (Leviticus 19:31). But although we are ‘not of the world’ the fact is that we live in the world and are affected by it. Many might reflexively feel that a 47-year-old father isn’t a good fit for a team of young twenties despite his skills being just what they need, not realising that that is an ageist, and a sexist attitude.
Ways of recognising ageism and addressing it in ourselves are given in ‘What’s Age Got To Do With It’ which shows us all how to live the way God intended from the beginning.