THE BLOG

The Problem With Age

12/10/2017 13:52 BST | Updated 12/10/2017 13:52 BST

I believe in the importance of judging an individual on their skills, competencies, experience and unique talents when identifying their ability to do a job. Sadly, however, there are still a large number of employers who consciously and unconsciously allow their view on a persons age to determine their judgement on whether the said individual has the capability to do a job.

Typically when the creative industry addresses diversity they often refer to race & ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class and disability - and rightly so. Too often, however age is a characteristic that is overlooked but still very much a problem.

Take it from an entrepreneur whose just turned 30, I'd be lying if I said that the statement: 'You don't look old enough to have achieved all this,' was alien to me. Unfortunately, it's something I hear time and time again. For me, it always begs the following question, 'How old are you allowed/supposed to be before it's ok to start achieving things?'

Likewise, I've heard many women share their experiences in finding career opportunities after reaching the brilliant age of 50. One particular female candidate told me of a question she was asked once during a job interview in her early 50's; 'Won't you want to retire soon?' This made her feel 'past it' and as if it was downhill for her career from then onwards. This manager may have been asking speculatively and out of curiosity but it's important to think about the language you use when speaking to people and how it makes them feel.

During my career as a Showbiz journalist I had the pleasure of interviewing the actress a really successful Hollywood actress and I remember her sharing with me her views on age and they way it is perceived within the film industry. And like many actors she shared views around this idea that once a woman hits a certain age Hollywood decides they are only suitable for roles where women are either demoralised or demonised.

I was compelled to write this piece after my ability to find a C-suite professional for a creative business was called into question because, 'How could someone so young know and be connected with so many CEO's and especially those from such a diverse range of backgrounds?'

This question really did highlight something very wrong with the way we judge people and their ability to do their job really well.

The Equality Act relating to age

According to the Equality Act, there are only a few exceptions where age can be used as a factor to determine our ability to do a job. As ACAS explain, it's only under the following circumstances that employers may consider age within the selection process:

• If there's an objective justification for treating people differently. For example, it could be necessary to fix a maximum age for recruitment or promotion of employees. That being said, this needs to be proportionate and in response to a legitimate need.

• If the discrimination is covered by one of the exceptions or exemptions. An example of this could be pay related to the National Minimum Wage.

• If there's an occupational requirement that a person must be of a specific age. For example, if you were producing a play and there were certain parts for older or younger characters.

So if you don't meet these circumstances, there's no acceptable reason to use someone's age to justify whether they could do the job or not.

Unconscious bias in the workplace

It's no secret that unconscious bias exists during the recruitment selection process. I've seen, first-hand, how it's resulted in talent being dismissed as 'too old' or 'too young' without any consideration for their experience or knowledge.

Here are just two examples of the feedback I've received from hiring managers considering a shortlist submission:

Employer A - "Not young and cool enough. I expect they'll have quite dated views."

Employer B - "Great ideas, enthusiastic self-starter. But probably more branding than substance, they might have a great profile but I'm not convinced they can do the job."

These employers overlooked the skills and accomplishments of these candidates because of their bias towards age.

Overcoming the stigma

A report by the Institute of Leadership and Management recently revealed that 61% of managers say their over fifties workers have low to very low potential to progress. Now for the more shocking part - this is despite them scoring highly in assessments of their expert knowledge and skills, and their ability to understand customer needs.

And it's not just the over fifties that face stigma; so do the under thirties. A report by General Insights showed candidates under thirty were considered unpredictable. It was believed that they don't really know how to work and would be distracted should something better come along.

Then there are those candidates that aren't considered too old or too young they are stuck in the 'middle'. Research from the CIPD has detailed that those most likely to be feel stuck are those from BAME backgrounds. In August 2015, the CIPD released research which identified the stereotype threat - reminding an individual that they are a member of a group that tends to perform less well at something that can impair their performance in that task or vice versa.

Age is (usually) nothing but a number

If you're looking to hire, keep in mind the legitimate reasons for taking someone's age into consideration. It's also worth bearing in mind the following few points:

• There's no set age by which you start to achieve things. Some candidates could be in their twenties with an incredible CV and skill set. Others might have experienced setbacks or have chosen a different initial career path and, because of this, might not have started achieving the specific requirements for the said job until later in their lives. There's no right age - there's only the right experience and knowledge.

• Your audience and customers will likely be diverse. They'll come from different backgrounds, be different ages, and have different experiences. So if you only hire younger people or older people, you're limiting the connection you could make with your audience.

The age myths busted

There are a few things I'd encourage businesses to consider them the next time they're recruiting.

Think about access for mature talent.

There are graduate schemes and entry level opportunities aplenty, whether they are fixed-term contracts, learning and development opportunities, mentoring programmes, professional coaching, or simple networking events, but there is little activity for those maturer and more experienced candidates. Those who have had the pleasure of creating a long-term career still have ambitions, development and learning opportunities and this should be thought and about and encouraged through company culture.

Young people have great ideas but can't implement them.

Creative and Tech businesses can be guilty of engaging with young people in an attempt to focus on future talent, drive innovation, discover inspirational ideas, and remain competitive and relevant. Yet will lack trust in the young person's ability to deliver on their ideas. Why? Because they believe they're not old enough to know how? The reality is, just because they're young, it doesn't mean they don't have the knowledge and experience required. Don't believe me? Google the term 'rising stars' and you'll find a number of people who have gone on to achieve great things, despite the opinion they are too young to do so.

Remember to stay interested in the best not the best new version of you

If we really want businesses within the creative industry to be just that - innovative, market-leading and pioneering, we need to change the way we think. We need to ensure that people who have the ability to do a job are given the opportunity.

Only when we have a diverse workforce can we be truly confident that all perspectives and ideas are taken into consideration.

It might not get mentioned at Diversity and Inclusion Forums as often as some of the other protected characteristics but ageism is still just as common.