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Thom Dennis

Serenity in Leadership Ltd


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Ageism: 12 ways to slay the hidden DEI dragon

Have we forgotten about ageism?

Age discrimination is the most frequently cited form of workplace bias, with reports stating more than one in ten adults in the UK think their age played a role in them not securing the jobs they applied for. On a global scale, it’s estimated that every other person still has ageist beliefs. 

With demographic trends constantly evolving, a single workforce can now encompass five different generations. Given the increasing retirement age, numerous businesses are failing to capitalise on the potential and power of collaboration within their multi-generational workforce and instead foster bias and unhealthy competition.

The current issues around ageism

There are numerous societal factors at play. People are living and working for longer, and birth rates are in decline. 

We are used to seeing generational pyramids in the workplace, but now over 30% of the workforce is aged 50 and over, something that has never been seen before in history, yet this fact is barely given a nod within most workplaces.  

It is quite a challenge to find solutions to ageism, especially because societally in the West we no longer honour our elders.

A somewhat measly 13% of organisations report age inclusivity being a factor they plan to focus on in the next five years.

We are profoundly ageist. In one study 36% of employees over 50 reported they had been disadvantaged at work because of their age. Companies are still letting go of people over 50 who are considered in effect, a bad look for the company, especially in tech, which is a problem when the youth pipeline is drying up. 

Younger generations are patronised and accused of being too woke and can feel disadvantaged by being overlooked for projects or their thoughts are not heard, which holds both them and the company back.  

Biases at play

Ageism within the workplace manifests itself through hiring practices, promotions, retention, training and development opportunities and throughout workplace culture and conversation. 

While there has (rightfully) been a dramatic increase in attention on gender and race inclusion and diversity, there has unfortunately been little progress on ageism. 

It is quite a challenge to find solutions to ageism, especially because societally in the West we no longer honour our elders. Society often discards them and views them as a drain.  

Employees can miss out on opportunities due to age discrimination, which goes on to create a toxic, exclusionary work environment. Stereotypes and biases around age impact all employees and are detrimental to the organisation at large.

The advantages of a multi-generational workforce 

Having employees with multiple different viewpoints and life experiences all in the same space and an anti-ageist stance means a stronger workplace for the future. This includes reaping the benefits of collaboration, cultivating organic mentoring environments and expanding team-building possibilities. 

It also enables organisations to capitalise on more varied talent and the creativity they bring, enhancing a robust pool of skilled and productive individuals, and stronger workforce sustainability, loyalty and consistency. 

(Organisations must) evaluate the existence of ageism to bring about actionable and long-lasting change.

This all facilitates the preservation of knowledge and encourages the exchange of best practices and diverse viewpoints to build better emotional and cultural intelligence. 

Twelve ways to address age discrimination in the workplace

Here are just a few ways organisations can capitalise on a multigenerational workforce.

  1. Evaluate the existence of ageism to bring about actionable and long-lasting change. Ensure employees of any age feel included and secure at work. Understand what share of the workforce is leaving and what skills and talents you are losing as a result so you can work out how to retain future talent.
  2. Don’t jump to conclusions. A current misconception is that only the younger generations will understand AI. Recognise the skills that all age groups bring, from wisdom and pragmatism, to creativity and positive energy, and don’t assume workers will be ineffectual because of age.
  3. Ensure that all company materials represent age diversity. Check that internal and external messaging, communications and visual displays show age variety to reflect society.  
  4. Ensure policies and practices are all-encompassing. These should be aimed at eradicating age discrimination, including examples, procedures for reporting such incidents, and protocols for addressing grievances. Guarantee equitable opportunities and promotions for all individuals regardless of age because perpetuating stereotypes may lead to potential legal ramifications for your organisation. 
  5. Ask for employee input with policy construction. Don’t make assumptions about what needs to change without involving those impacted.
  6. Prioritise training. Delve deeply into unconscious bias and stereotypes and encompass all aspects of diversity and inclusivity, including ageism. It is crucial to have leadership support to ensure the participation of all employees, management and stakeholders. 
  7. Encourage intergenerational collaboration. Implement reverse mentoring programmes that benefit employees of all generations by pairing colleagues from different age groups to work together on tasks. 
  8. Offer continual advancement to challenge employees of all ages and show they have a future in the business and can feel secure in their job. Assess what are the motivations and needs of every generation in the organisation, in particular the over-50s, but also value and utilise the skills of the younger generations.
  9. Take complaints seriously. Listen to, monitor and most importantly address concerns or complaints around discrimination. Establish ways for employees to report age-related discrimination or harassment, provide guidance for both witnesses and targets and have the solutions in place to take appropriate action. 
  10. Assess recruitment equality. Conduct a thorough examination of recruitment policies, employment terms, promotion guidelines, training programmes and dismissal policies to detect and rectify any occurrences of age-related prejudice. Evaluate the recruitment process to ensure that the description of the ideal candidate is impartial and refrain from soliciting biased data.  As with any type of diversity, at a minimum, the organisation needs to reflect its clients or consumers.
  11. Cultivate a workplace atmosphere that appreciates employees of all ages and values loyalty. Match workers to suitable roles irrespective of age. Adapt and fine-tune by talking about our differences and similarities to re-learn that different generations are not a threat but a valuable learning source.  Encourage curiosity, openness and a willingness to gather knowledge.
  12. Guarantee company social events welcome individuals of all age groups to encourage participation from all employees.

It’s easy for our attitudes to age to go unexamined in the workplace but, as the demographic shift continues to impact organisations, it’s something that needs to be addressed if we want to foster a safe and inclusive environment for all. 

If you enjoyed this, read: On yer bike: Over 50s facing unemployment told to hit the road.

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