The world at large is having to adapt to an ageing population – but has an ageing population been fully embraced in the workplace? By 2025, one in three workers in the UK will be over 50 and in the next decade only 7 million younger people will enter the workforce compared to the 12 million people forecast to leave. Recruiting, retraining and retaining older workers will become key to the UK economy.
Yet women in particular – many of whom have been adversely affected by the increase in state pension age – believe they are facing age bias and significant barriers when it comes to securing employment.
Recruiters are able to determine an approximate age from a CV by looking at the number of years in employment, and the corresponding dates, and many women over 50 believe this is the main factor in not being selected for interview. An outmoded belief seems to persist that older workers are difficult to manage, resistant to change and unable to use technology.
Yet the reality is the over-50s are highly adaptable – they have experienced substantial change in their careers to date, as well as life in general, and have lived through a period of unprecedented technological advancement.
They have gained immeasurable life experience and are able to contribute emotional maturity and stability, with the ability to communicate across the generations.
Employers do not recognise these transferable skills as women look to transition to a different role or sector. And education is also viewed as an issue: in 1980, only 25,000 women obtained first class degrees compared to 436,000 in 2017. Where degrees are required, this acts as a barrier because women are either competing with younger counterparts who have higher-level degrees or are viewed as overqualified for other roles. Candidates who make it to interview claim some recruiting managers are surprised when they walk in, evidently expecting someone younger.
HR can do plenty of things to help women in this situation, not least by changing the perception of an ‘older’ worker internally. Identify existing employees in their 50s who are viewed as valued contributors and highlight them as benchmarks or ambassadors who can help shift the mindset of those involved in the recruitment process.
Look again at your own internal recruitment process and examine any areas that could potentially contribute to ageism, even unconsciously, such as uncertainty among younger managers about how they might lead an older employee. If time and resources permit, provide feedback to unsuccessful candidates – it might just be the way they present their skills and experience that is holding them back.
Women over 50 are resourceful. Having juggled work, family and home life they are nothing if not capable, agile and able to multitask. Disheartened by the process of looking for paid employment, many are successfully setting up their own businesses, meaning their talents are lost to employers. There is a wealth of knowledge and experience out there ready to be tapped. It’s time to look at an ageing workforce as an opportunity.