Ben Broadbent, the Bank of England’s deputy governor, was widely criticised as “lazy, sexist and ageist” and forced to apologise last week after describing the UK’s underperforming economy as “menopausal”.
His comments caused uproar, and rightly so, with the Women’s Equality Party summing up most women’s thoughts when they tweeted: “Very telling that older women are seen by economists as unproductive and ‘past their peak’.”
But sadly, it’s not just women who face ageism at work - it’s men too.
Last week, the RSPCA’s interim chief was given a six-figure settlement amid claims he was turned down for the permanent role because of his age.
Michael Ward, 57, alleged 'unfair treatment' during the charity's recruitment process - with the job instead going to a 37-year-old.
It seems that ageism remains the last workplace taboo.
In the wake of the UK gender pay gap revelations last month, it’s widely accepted that having a truly diverse team, with a mix of different ethnic backgrounds, physical abilities, religions, genders and sexualities makes for a stronger, more productive team.
But the one factor constantly forgotten is age.
Older candidates with a wealth of experience, knowledge and expertise are often overlooked in favour of younger candidates when being considered for new roles. Or worse, they’re forced out of existing jobs.
Of course, financial factors may be a consideration - younger candidates are usually thought of as cheaper. But it’s hugely short-sighted, not to mention illegal, to discriminate on age alone.
The UK has an ageing population and our retirement age keeps increasing. We’re working further into old age than before, often through financial necessity, but sometimes because we want to, so we’re not retiring until well into our 60s, 70s or beyond. Jobs for life are rare nowadays. And who wants to do the same job forever anyway? We’re increasingly switching careers more than once or enjoying a portfolio career.
Once we reach our 50s, 60s and beyond, we all have vast amounts of transferable skills that shouldn’t be dismissed. Similarly, it’s not always the case that older people will need a higher salary - sometimes, they just want a job. Writing someone off as being ‘overqualified’ is an outdated attitude.
There are ways you can combat ageism with how you write your CV and the language you use in interviews - but it shouldn’t be down to the individual. It’s wider society that needs to change.
A brilliant way to combat the problem is anonymised CVs, a move insurance giant GoCompare announced this week. In a bid to improve gender balance, they are introducing not just all-female shortlists, but are asking that any data irrelevant to a person’s suitability to the role is removed - such as name, dates, which school they went to and crucially, their age.
They’re also deploying software to eradicate age-biased language in job adverts - something more employers should adopt. Too often they're loaded with words that instantly make older applicants feel excluded, like ‘“energetic’”, ‘“fresh’”, ‘“flexible’” or they’re inviting applicants to join their ‘“young team’”.
Then once in the workplace, older employees can miss out on promotions or the chance to build their careers, as the corporate social culture, training opportunities and ‘down the pub’ after work networking are frequently focused on what younger workers want. Team bonding at Laser Quest, at the local nightclub or a summer sports day are not generally going to be appealing to an older worker - so they miss out.
Time and again, older workers are sent the message that they’re no longer valued and left feeling marginalised or even ostracised.
Ageist stereotypes permeate society - bosses should be older than their employees, more mature workers are stuck in their ways and won’t accept guidance from younger line managers, they don’t understand new technology and don’t want to learn so they’re not given training. There’s bias that more mature workers are less energetic and less productive - hence the “menopausal” slur about the British economy.
We shouldn’t stand for this anymore - older workers are undervalued and it doesn’t even make business sense to ignore them. The latest stats have found that older workers stay in their jobs twice as long as 25-34 year olds, so employing an older person can be better value as you’re not constantly spending money trying to replace people.
Older people are up to date with social media and the latest technology too - they invented the internet and they’re taking over Facebook.
The latest stats also say are more productive and reliable than younger employees. Businesses should be going above and beyond to cherish the valuable experience, knowledge and expertise that older employees can give, rather than making them feel they are past their sell-by-date.
In fact, Mr Broadbent, a report earlier this year stated that the over 50s are crucial for the future of the UK economy.
It’s time businesses started employing the right candidates, regardless of age, and adopt age-friendly workplace cultures. It’s time ageism was banished once and for all.