Ageism in the workplace remains an issue
Is a number keeping you from getting ahead, staying employed or finding that next opportunity? In 2009, we looked at how ageism affects people’s careers. It’s now 2012, and not much seems to have changed.
Remember the case of Arlene Phillips, then 66-year-old judge on a popular UK dancing show replaced by a host less than half her age? Three years later, the BBC still faces accusations of ageism. The UK Telegraph reports there are now up 30 lawsuits involving ageism and sexism pending against the organization. One former presenter, Miriam O’Reilly, successfully sued the BBC and won a six-figure settlement.
Of course, it isn’t just the entertainment industry that’s affected. Stories like those of Adina Lebo and Barry Everatt aren’t uncommon — both were let go from their jobs after decades of employment and faced challenges trying to find meaningful work.
And then there was the 2009 report about a rise in age-related discrimination claims filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EECO). Cases are still on the rise, according to the latest statistics. In 2009, 22,778 charges were filed under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (which protects workers age 40 and over). In 2011, that number rose to 23,465.
But take these numbers with a grain of salt. Experts warn they only represent the formal complaints workers have filed — the actual number of cases could be much higher. Many workers don’t step forward because age discrimination is so difficult to prove, especially when it occurs during the hiring process. Of the cases filed with the EEOC, only about one sixth of cases end with a “merit resolution” — that is, an outcome that’s favourable for the employee (like a cash settlement or a successful conciliation).
“Ageism in the workplace is still with us despite major gains over the years,” says Susan Eng, Vice President of Advocacy at CARP. “CARP was successful in getting mandatory retirement prohibited at the federal level as it had done at the provincial level. But that only begins the process of eliminating discriminatory practices.”
“Recognition that older workers bring a wealth of experience that could give an employer a competitive advantage and mentoring programs to allow older workers to share their knowledge would go a long way to countering the trend that older workers are losing their jobs for no other reason than that the employer has not taken the long view.”
What else hasn’t changed? Our population is still getting older. According to the latest census data, seniors (people age 65 and over) now make up a higher proportion of the population than ever before — and in a few years this group will be larger than the age 14 and under cohort. Over 42 per cent of our working age population (people ages 15 to 64) are between the ages of 45 and 64. About three in 10 people in Canada are members of the baby boomer generation.
Of course, the term “working age” is a bit of a misnomer. Survey after survey reports more people are working longer or are returning to the workforce after retirement. For some workers, it’s a financial necessity, but for others it’s a chance to stay engaged in a fulfilling career or try out a new opportunity.
Combating the unspoken stereotypes
Unfortunately, some employers don’t see older workers as an asset to their organizations — and their negative views can prevent skilled, qualified people from contributing.
“They might not say it, but employers may be holding certain things against you,” says Mary Eileen Williams, veteran career counselor and author of Land the Job You Love: 10 Surefire Strategies for Jobseekers Over 50.
For instance, Williams warns some employers might be thinking:
– You don’t have the technical skills for the job. (Younger employees are often seen as being more tech-savvy than their older colleagues.)
– You won’t want to report to a younger boss. (Some employers assume older workers have an age bias against younger works too.)
– You’re tired, slow and unenthusiastic. (Younger workers are often seen as being more energetic and innovative.)
– You’re just marking time until you retire. (Why take the time and expense to train someone who doesn’t plan on staying long?)
– You have health problems that will require you to take more time off . (Or be a drain on employer insurance policies.)
Unfair? You bet — especially when experts note that there’s often more variation among workers in the same age group than there is between different groups.