Discrimination comes in all shapes and sizes, whether it’s to do with gender, race, religion or something else. However, there is growing debate across Australia about ageism, particularly as people are choosing to retire later than previous generations, whether out of desire or necessity.
Unfortunately, the topic can often go overlooked, particularly within the workplace, as many people fall back on outdated views or indoctrinated assumptions about the capabilities of older workers, according to Marlene Krasovitsky from The Benevolent Society.
The campaign director spoke to Starts at 60 about the topic after we received an influx of personal submissions from readers who reported being unable to secure a job interview or progress through the recruitment process, which they believe is solely down to their age.
“We see ageism kick in throughout all stages of employment, including at the recruitment stage,” she said. “Over and over, we see that people have been culled because of the date of birth they have on their applications. But also, if you look at some adverts, people know they can’t exclude because of age because of our excellent age discrimination laws, but what they can say is ‘we’re looking for someone dynamic and energetic’ which of course are all euphemisms for young.
“The reality is a lot of older people are dynamic and energetic but they use those euphemisms for some notion of a workplace culture which is young.”
She added: “Recruiters have said to us, ‘If we take older people to our organisations, we stop doing business with them’. I find that devastating and reinforcing all the cultural stereotypes and misconceptions. It just shows you the depth of what we have to contend with and rail against.”
Starts at 60 readers are among those who claim to have experienced ageist discrimination in their quest to find work, sharing their dissatisfaction at being able to secure employment and the frustration at failing to get past the initial interview stage “due to their age”.
Reader Peter Soderstrom told us he has struggled to get back into work after he was made redundant in January 2018, despite applying for jobs in both the corporate and retail sectors.
The 65-year-old former mid-level manager said: “I cannot tell you how many knock backs I’ve had or offers of demeaning work.
“I have tried many times to get back into the workforce. Most of the time I get no reply or somewhat vague responses. When I do get to the interview I think my age becomes apparent and it goes no further. It is both frustrating and demeaning.
“I thought my background and experience was extensive, but it would seem I am overqualified for some positions and too old for others. Age is supposed not to be a barrier.”
His experiences echo those of Pamela Young, 63, who has failed to find full-time employment for over a decade, after being advised to give up her job as a legal secretary after being diagnosed with two heart conditions. Pamela has carried out casual jobs, such as distributing catalogues and taking surveys in the public transport system, however she is still looking for something more permanent.
“Though I have applied for many part-time office jobs over the last 10 years, I have not been successful and I believe my age is the reason,” she said. “Not working and staying at home 95 per cent of the time becomes a real drag and I would love to work.”
Jennee Caskey said she has received positive feedback from interview panels but has always been “pipped to the post” by another candidate, despite having applied for more than 200 jobs since she was made redundant over two-years ago.
While Jenny Brown has experienced a nightmare time on Newstart over the past two years, after being forced to apply for the maximum number of jobs per fortnight and being told to undertake a number of intensive courses to “update her skills”, none of which have landed her a job.
The Benevolent Society launched the Every Age Counts campaign in October last year, with the aim of fighting ageism and age discrimination across Australia.
“Ageism is a very evasive and sometimes hidden form of discrimination,” Marlene said. “Essentially we think of ageism in three aspects; the prejudicial attitudes towards older people, discriminatory practices, so that might be employment practices, but also institutional practices and policies, and the choices that older people have.”
She added: “Our position is that ageism is not a highly recognised form of prejudice or discrimination, it’s very normalised, it’s so much a part of our language and what we’ve grown up with around what it means to get older. But it just doesn’t acknowledge the changing realities about what it means to get older.
“We’re living longer healthier lives, generally speaking, and that’s something to be celebrated. Yet we have in our heads these very negative conceptions about what it means to get older and we very tightly couple old with things like decline, death and so on. For some of us that may be the reality, but for many of us it won’t be. A lot of our practices and behaviours are still based on those assumptions and that’s what Every Age Counts is trying to tackle.”
This story is part of a series Starts at 60 is doing on ageism in the workplace. If you’ve experienced something similar and would like to share your story, please email [email protected]
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