Thursday, 2 February 2012

Age discrimination must stop

It's illegal and it's stupid.  Experienced, talented people aged over 50 are being discriminated against in the workforce. This week, the Financial Services Council released a report showing that more than a quarter of workers aged over 50 experienced direct discrimination.  This follows on from a report in 2010 from the Australian Human Rights Commission saying the same thing.

Before I go on, I have no preference for older workers over younger ones.  I have worked with (and continue to work with) fantastic people in their teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s.  I've also worked with incompetent people at every age bracket as well.

Yet, older workers are worthy of particular comment.

There are lots of over 50 workers, and will be lots more

Our society is ageing, and over the next 10 years, this will become more and more apparent as the baby boomers move through their 50s, 60s and 70s.  There are a lot of these people.  So why on earth would an employer decide to reject a huge cohort of workers? Surely that's just reducing your choice when there are so many people in that bracket

Older workers have experience

It doesn't matter how you cut it, if you are older, you've had more years to learn.  Not everyone who is older is wise (there are plenty of grumpy old men and women who haven't seemed to have learnt anything), but, by definition, it is almost impossible to have experience if you are young.

Older people want to work

Research has found that older men in particular place a high value on their work as a key part of their identity.  They don't want to give up working.  They have often had children, who have left home, and their work is one of the most important ways that they can feel that they are still valuable to society.

(On the flipside, the Financial Services Council report identified that older workers might need to compromise on their salary and title expectations.)

So many older workers are very effective

The Catholic Church forced Father Bob
Maguire to retire at 78.
Here are some older workers you might know.  Warren Buffet, Ban Ki Moon, Aung San Suu Kyi, Matt Groening, Clint Eastwood, David Stratton, Father Bob Maguire ...

In fact, the list could go on for hundreds of pages, because there are so many effective people who are aged in their 50s, 60s, 70s...

These people are dedicated, they value their work, they want to do a good job.  As an employer, I want to choose the best person for the job.  These people are the best at their job.  And because they care about what they do, they are most likely to be stable.  A 55 year old might give you 10 years of solid service.  What's the likelihood of a 22 year old giving you that long? If they are the right person for the job, then hire them, and let them work as long as they want.

No discrimination. None.

We have spent the entire 20th century breaking down barriers for women in the workforce, and despite making huge improvements, we are still not there.  We cannot afford to have any discrimination against older workers, as we have had against women (and many other groups) for so long.

It is time to value people for what they can contribute, and genuinely not discriminate, particularly on the basis of age.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

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