Ageism is one of the most prevalent forms of discrimination in the U.K. One in three people reports experiencing age-related discrimination. This is a statistic that may surprise some people but, in fact, ageism is a much bigger problem than we think it is.
When we think about and discuss discrimination, many people’s first thoughts will be about gender and race. There are a lot more discussions now than there ever have been about gender and race discrimination, and that is a really positive thing. However, we too frequently forget about the range of issues within the overall topic of discrimination.
The reality of ageism in the workplace in 2022 is more serious than many of us think. So, it is worth talking about.
Language and Narrative
One of the most important aspects of ageism in the workplace is to do with the language and narrative used surrounding old age. It is common for old age to be described in ways that are often less than flattering, and often completely discriminatory.
The problem is that we are often unaware this is even happening. The language we use to describe old age and to talk to older people can be deep in unconscious bias. This means we may not even know why we are speaking in the way that we are and it is instead coming from deeper-rooted beliefs and conditioning.
Many older people feel excluded, put down, and discriminated against in work due to terms such as:
- “Old age pensioner (OAP)”
- “Over the hill”
There can also be issues with patronising language that infantilises older people. Many people can use language in the workplace that implies all older people are vulnerable and need looking after, like children. They can make generalisations and instead of treating each person as an individual, they lump all older people together in one generalized category.
These linguistic instances might seem like a small issue, but they really add up. How we use language in the workplace is very important. It can be the difference between someone feeling included and excluded at work. For older people, the reality is that ageism in the workplace is rife in language used.
Discrimination can be worsened when someone belongs to more than one protected characteristic category. For older people who also belong to another often discriminated against group, the issues they can face are much more prolific.
Older women and older people in ethnic minority groups are two big examples of this issue. As well as being excluded, rejected and discriminated against because of their age, people in this group can also be targeted because of their gender and/or race. Facing such a double-hit of discrimination can be incredibly tough for these people. It can be mentally and emotionally draining, and they might miss out on lots more opportunities than other people.
When we are talking about ageism in the workplace, we need to be aware of how complex the issue can actually be. For many people, the reality is much more complicated and difficult than just being on the receiving end of a couple of jokes in poor taste.
Divides Between Generations
A key problem in the workplace can be the unnecessary divides between generations. The way in which many people view older people and talk about them leads to a “us vs. them” mentality. People often use terms such as “boomers” and “Gen X” to describe different people’s generational belonging. They make big comparisons between these generations and use the terms to describe individuals, as if they will all have the same traits due to the term they fit into.
Such divides lead older people to feel excluded and misrepresented at work. Again, instead of being treated as individual people with unique life experiences, older people can feel that they almost become invisible as individuals and are seen instead as being in a fixed state of “oldness”.
In fact, there is no such thing as “old people” as a social group. Everyone is a different age and has aged in individual ways. We are all on a scale of ageing. There isn’t one fixed group of old people who have the same thoughts and behaviours.
Unfortunately, it is often the case in workplaces that this is the general mindset. This is discriminatory and deeply set in unconscious bias.
What Can We Do About It?
Now that we know a bit more about the reality of ageism in the workplace in 2022, we need to think about what are we going to do to combat it.
First things first, it is important to remember that ageism is an illegal practice. Age is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act of 2010 and any example of ageism you see should be appropriately reported. Even if you are not the person involved, it is great to be an ally for older people and speak up when you see something wrong.
We should all be aware of how ageism can affect people at work. We should be mindful of the language we use and we should draw attention to the issue when other people are engaging in discriminatory language.
All of us need to call ageism out when we see it. And we should educate ourselves enough so we don’t engage in it either. That is the bottom line.
Find an Equal Opportunity with Aspiring to Include
If you are an older person yourself and you want to find a healthy, inclusive job environment, then you should check out our inclusive job board.
We post jobs from inclusive, diversity-positive employers who have equality, diversity and inclusion at the top of their priorities. You can find jobs for women over 50, as well as jobs for women in menopause.
You should work where you are respected and accept nothing less.