Fighting Ageism: Talking with Mr X about age discrimination

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Fighting Ageism: Talking with Mr X about age discrimination

Speaking with Mr X (name changed for confidentiality) who worked in the Tech and consulting space for over 4 decades and held senior leadership roles throughout his career. Now he is retired.

What are your thoughts on ageism?

I think it definitely exists and it’s more prevalent than people realise. But it doesn’t surprise me because in many of the companies that I’ve been involved with, there is quite clearly a succession plan. Or there is an attempt to have a succession plan, where they wish to promote from within from the lower ranks. So it’s a bit like the US Army’s policy of upwards or out for their senior officers. If they don’t make the next promotion level, they leave. Similar things happen in a lot of companies. If you don’t get promoted to the next level, they don’t want you there because there’s somebody younger than you coming up through the ranks to take your job. 

And have you experienced it yourself?

I think the answer is yes. And not only have I experienced it, I’ve seen it happen to other people I’ve been working with. So same situation. I think that’s perhaps one of the most misunderstood aspects. But it certainly exists. 

And have you ever hidden your age on a job application? Or do you know anyone who has?

Oh, yes. When I started doing this, I was probably about 40. But nowadays it’s quite clear that people from around the early 30s onwards, are not always identifying exactly how old they are. I would say that most of the people I know who are over 45 do not clearly show their age in their CV. 

Does age put someone at a disadvantage when applying for a job?

It depends on the job. In some cases, yes. And in other cases, no. I think the issue with age is experience: you’re not going to have a lot of the experience which you need for some of the bigger roles, unless you’ve been doing it for a long time, which means you’re going to be more open about your age.

Do you think people 50+ are given enough opportunities for training and progression?

Training? Probably, in most cases. I think a lot of the older people are reluctant to ask, because they think they’re already know it all (or at least most of it!). I’ve never worked for any companies that made training restrictions, age-dependent. So I think ‘sometimes’ is the best answer to that. I don’t think it’s as big a problem as it might be.


Drawing from your own experience, do you think managers are good at managing mixed-age teams?

Depends on the manager and how much experience they have. 

For younger managers, that can be a huge challenge, because the needs and goals of younger and older people are often quite different. I think more experienced managers will accommodate older people better, because they’ve done it before; they’ve learned the differences between the needs and motivators of the younger and the older members of the team. I think it very much depends on the individual. 

Do you think that organisations value more experienced, older workers?

Some do, some don’t, and it depends on the individual. I don’t think there’s a general lack of valuing. I think a lot of the older people are seen as probably essential members, but it’s the way that they’re valued that is perhaps misunderstood. This is a difficult one, because it really depends on the individual, the role and what’s required.

Is it important for managers to be trained to understand these little nuances and differences?

Oh, absolutely. And I don’t think that’s the kind of training that really exists. I haven’t really seen that. Everything I’ve seen about people – I’ve recruited management teams with a very wide age range – has been based on experience, where they’ve probably been in a team when they were younger, where there was a wide range of ages. And they’ve seen how to manage effectively from somebody else. So if there’s any kind of training that was designed to enable managers to cope effectively with a wide age range, and in a team setting, I think it would be a huge benefit.

(source: Efinancial Careers)

How can age discrimination be addressed at workplace?

I think it partly depends on the culture of the company. I think this cuts both ways. Some of the companies that I’ve come across have an older, mature cultural approach, where young people have to adapt to fit the culture, because the company isn’t going to change. Those tend to be the ones which are probably better suited for older people, because they’re more likely to be comfortable with the culture. Companies which are focused on young people usually have a far more dynamic social life aspect, which isn’t necessarily always the best fit for the older workers.

 I think trying to come up with something like balance is difficult, especially in the young startup companies today, where most of the workforce are young. If there are a few older people, it can be difficult to come up with something where the older people feel comfortable within the culture. So I think that’s probably one of the biggest challenges that a lot of organisations face when they have a wide age range in the workforce.

How organisations can take on more experienced, older workforce into tech?

The biggest risk in the tech spaces is technology. A lot of the older people, even if they’re techies, are not necessarily going to be up to full speed with some of the new technical breakthroughs. We don’t spend all night chatting online with other techies, finding out about some marvellous new language that enables you to write gaming software that’s supposedly better. 

Do you feel that a senior internship programme would work?

For organisations? I think there’s two things or three things that would work: I think having technical enabling for people who have never been technical in the first place would be great, like introduction to coding or cyber security. I think those are really essential new areas of training.

I think more specialised courses are probably better off given within the organisations. 

I suppose people can keep developing their technical capabilities through external courses, so that they are more marketable. 

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