Age Discrimination

Age discrimination is something that many of us face. Be it in our workplaces, in our communities, or elsewhere. It can also be enhanced by our assigned genders (1). It is a problem that we are coming to terms with, and beginning to look squarely in the face and say “enough is enough”.

You have the experience, the knowledge, and emotional intelligence to get your shit done (and do it well). Your age (and the fact that someone perceives you to be inexperienced) doesn’t change the fact that you are awesome at your job.

So young people have it rough right? Well, looking at the statistics our older counterparts have it tougher (2). Are we unintentionally (or intentionally) including people based on our preconceived understanding of them? In workplaces, older workers can be not invited to events (while others are invited) as we think they won’t like it - without giving them the option to say no.

We may also make assumptions about their likes and dislikes, or their knowledge about popular culture (I mean, they may love the Kardashians or Elon Musk or in a past ‘life’ they may have run their own company). It is up to us to make sure we challenge our own internal assumptions, jump into the awkwardness, open up the conversation, and say “hey is this something your interested in? I would love your opinion.” 

In a past job, I was unintentionally excluded. To me it felt intentional. I was working reception and the other admin ladies would all go to lunch together. It was my job to stay behind to man the phones while they had their breaks. Not once did anyone stay back and go to lunch with me, or offer to do my shift so I could go out to lunch and get to know them. I tried getting to know them and entering into conversations, but not once did I feel reached out to and then more I felt it the less receptive I would have been to any of their friendship advances. Not once in 18 months. Might not seem like much, but being the newest in the office and not being reached out to hurt. When a more senior person from another department came on board 12 months in, they all went out of their way to take her out to lunch and get to know her. Suffice to say, I didn’t feel at all welcome in the job and left 18 months later.

Could have been my age, my inexperience, the fact that they loved to shop and I didn’t .. I’ll never know. But the unintentional exclusion was rough.

This is something that can happen when workplaces ages are heavily weighted in the extremes. If the culture is incredibly young, older workers can be discriminated against. If the workplace is older, younger workers can feel discriminated against. If workers are extremely close (or ‘cliquey’) a new person can feel unwanted. This hidden bias can destroy our confidence and result in us looking for new work. But the toughest part is waiting to get that new job while holding onto the one you don’t ‘fit’. and for older workers this can take 12+months more than younger workers, if they find a new job at all (3). 

So, in our social care sector … is age discrimination something experienced only by younger workers? How can we be part of the solution to create a more inclusive culture, especially as we climb the ranks and become leaders, managers, facility managers, project supervisors. How can we improve our cultures?

I believe firmly it is by making connections with those around us. These connections inspire others to be more receptive to alternative points of view, so reach out and connect with others - what we see positively modelled we will replicate.

1. Young, N. (2013, October 16). Gender pay inequality is still holding Australia back. Retrieved from Australian Broadcasting Commission

2. Australian Human Rights Commission. (2015). National prevalence survey of age discrimination in the workplace 2015. Retrieved from Human Rights Commission

2. Keast, J. (2015, August 5). The age paradox: Older people want to work, but age discrimination stands in their way. Retrieved from Australian Ageing Agenda