Ageism in Recruitment and Employment

Posted July 28 2022 By Jackie MacGregor

It’s almost impossible to read any form of business press these days without being reminded of UK job vacancies being at a record high. Almost every sector – from healthcare to accountancy; from hospitality to marketing – has been hit by skills shortages. And this doesn’t just apply to entry level roles, this goes all the way to senior level and C-suite jobs.

This skills gap may well leave you confused. Where are all the employees who were made redundant during Covid? Aren’t they the ideal candidates to get these sectors back up and running? The pieces of the puzzles don’t fit together quite so neatly.

Many of those made redundant during the pandemic were women over fifty. And they are really struggling to find a way back into the workplace, having been deemed “too young to retire but too old to hire”. As a result, the Office of National Statistics has reported that circa 179,000 women over 50 are now claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance – a 44% increase in just twenty four months.

In a job search, age isn’t something you can exactly hide. On your CV, you’ll no doubt have listed when you went to university or your dates of employment. It doesn’t really take too much maths to work it out. It’s a really bizarre situation – there are good, experienced candidates out there, but they are seemingly being discounted on the basis of age. Never mind the ethical and moral perspectives on this, it just doesn’t make good business sense when there is an employment crisis impacting almost every sector.

As a result, record numbers of women aged between 50 and 64 are leaving the workforce entirely – the ONS confirms it has increased by 7% since 2020.

Fear of being “too old” might even discourage a candidate from retraining and taking on entry level roles – there could be a worry that they would not be taken seriously as a 50+ candidate in amongst a sea of twenty year old university graduates. This further limits career opportunities in the midst of a dramatic cost of living crisis. The knock on effect of this – by way of financial pressures, mental health and wellbeing issues – could be astounding.

This might all sound a bit hyperbolic. After all, there are plenty of returners networks and women in work schemes, right? Surely there’s lots of support on hand to help women over 50 back into work? There are programmes out there, but if they don’t result in paid employment, you’re no more financially secure than you were when unemployed. Women are not entitled to their state pension until the age of 66. If you find yourself out of the workforce (and seemingly unemployable) at age 50, how do you survive that sixteen year gap?

So, if you are in a position of making decisions with regards to hiring, it’s something that you should absolutely start thinking about. When we think of discrimination during our focus on diversity and inclusion, age may not be a characteristic that comes to mind. Most of us work in businesses that have a wide range of age and experience present. But this is a very real prejudice that many women (and men) are experiencing as they attempt to re-enter the post-pandemic workplace.

Lots of businesses are crying out for great employees right now – could reaching out to groups supporting women over 50 be the answer? Skills can either be learned or transferred from previous experience. Assessing for good attitudinal fit could open the door to a pool of candidates you wouldn’t have otherwise considered. Don’t discount older candidates because you think they’ll be retiring soon or aren’t up to speed with specific elements of the job. That is, in no uncertain terms, bias and discrimination.

If you’d like to discuss ageism in recruitment or how you can diversify your recruitment process, click here to email Jackie.

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