We need to reframe “ageism”

We need to reframe “ageism”, the experience of an employee is an asset to an organisation, not a liability. A combination of the fresh perspective and energy of youth combined with the expertise and experience of older employees should be a winning formula.

Ageism is sadly still very prevalent in the workplace, older employees are more likely to be made redundant and once unemployed find it significantly more difficult to find work than younger people. The impact of COVID-19 is significant for women across the board. Women over 50 are the second most affected group after under 25’s in terms of being furloughed or being made redundant (Institute of Fiscal Studies)

It’s estimated that only 7% of organisations include age as part of their diversity and inclusion programmes, why isn’t this a priority? 

The reality

What we know is that women are more affected by ageism, it starts earlier (at around 40 vs 45 for men)  Women are more likely to be rejected during the recruitment process and less likely to hired or promoted into management roles. There are still not enough women in senior leadership positions (the 2020 target of 33% set by the Hampton Alexander review is unlikely to be met) and progress on getting women on boards has largely been met by appointing non-exec directors. 

Where are all the women? 

Women who have worked hard and navigated challenges in their careers are then faced with the menopause. The average age for reaching the menopause is 51 and it’s thought that the perimenopause (where many of the symptoms can begin) can last for 10 years before a woman is officially deemed to be menopausal. 

Although one in four women have very few symptoms 75% have symptoms that are both physical and psychological and for 25% those are severe and debilitating. Symptoms such as anxiety, loss of confidence and motivation can really impact performance.

Many women going through this transition will leave and others reduce hours or relinquish responsibility without asking for help.

Women are also twice as likely as men to be an informal carer for an elderly relative (ONS 2019) Providing flexible working options is crucial to retaining this group.

Women we speak to report not feeling “relevant” or being “invisible” labelled difficult and excluded from both work projects and social activities. These women are often reluctant to admit their age and when applying for external roles underplay their years of experience as they fear their age will count against them.

The result, organisations lose their most experienced female talent. Women leave to become consultants, work on a freelance basis or start their own business.

The opportunity

Women 55+ are the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace, yet these women are often not valued, supported or given the opportunity to use their experience

Organisations need more female role models and mentors, particularly for their female employees. Women who have been in the workplace for 30+ years have decades of experience and inevitably have had to overcome adversity, develop resilience, show adaptability and deal with change.

The skills that entry-level employees need to develop are their soft skills, the EQ to enhance their DQ, better communication, listening, relationship building and how to collaborate. Older employees have developed those soft skills. Mutual mentorship and a process for enabling a talent exchange would benefit both these groups and the wider organisation.

A Multigenerational workforce is a reality for the future, so make sure your organisation values youth and experience. Let’s celebrate experience rather than underplaying it.


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