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Why is it Still Considered OK to be Ageist?

Why is it still considered OK to be ageist? Lucy Kellaway on an unspoken prejudice — and a puzzling discrimination against our future selves

This is an extract from an article by Lucy Kellaway which appeared in the Financial Times JANUARY 14 2022 with a quote from 55/Redefined CEO Lyndsey Simpson

A 2021 World Health Organization survey found that every second person holds ageist attitudes, while according to the National Barometer of Prejudice and Discrimination, a 2018 study undertaken for Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission, 26 per cent of people experienced age discrimination in a year. Survey after survey establishes the same things: people over 50 find it harder to get job interviews (unless, perhaps, they are applying to be president of the US) and are more likely to be eased out of existing jobs. The ruling last month seems an obvious case of progress.

It rightly puts retirement on a par with pregnancy — over the past couple of decades, employers have learnt not to ask a young woman when she plans to have a child, unless they want to end up in court. Now it turns out that the same principle applies to older workers. In 2012, a quarter of the UK workforce was over 50 — by 2050 it will be over a third. This may require quite some adjustment, as that sort of question is asked all the time.

When I discussed the case with a 56-year-old friend, she said her boss at the world-famous consumer goods company where she works had that very week asked: “Am I correct to assume you intend to be on the organisational chart at the end of 2022?” Which was a fancy way of implying he would not be sorry if the answer was no. Not only will employers have to adjust, they will need to do so snappily, as there are so many more older workers about. In 2012, a quarter of the UK workforce was over 50 — by 2050 it will be over a third. On average, men in the UK now work till 65, two years longer than in 2000. Women now retire on average at 64, up from 61 20 years ago.

Although ageism is everywhere, few victims choose to do a Tapping and take their employers to court. Even though it has been illegal in the UK to discriminate on the basis of age since 2006, such cases make up only a negligible percentage of the overall workload of employment tribunals. “It’s still under the radar,” says Lyndsey Simpson, founder of the employment website 55/Redefined, “because people don’t want to go on the record. They think they’ll be attacked and they think it will be career-limiting. I’ve lost count of the number of men who are turned down for jobs and are told: you are overqualified, or you don’t meet our diversity requirements.”