Ageism in the workplace is as bad as racism and over-50s applying for jobs are five times more likely to get interviews if they do not disclose their age, reports David Payne.
Andy Briggs, the UK government’s new adviser on older workers, told The Times this week that 27% of men of UK men aged 65 to 70 are in paid employment, compared to 15% in 2006. The figure for women is 18% and rising, and one in ten people aged over 70 are still working. And employers have an unconscious age bias.
“Just as there are resources invested in younger workers in coaching and career development, and similarly when women return from career breaks, companies should invest in their older staff and give them midlife career counselling. It’s in business’s interest to do this,” he said.
Briggs didn’t single out science in the figures he quoted, but the topic of unconscious age bias would resonate with Ronald McQuaid.
McQuaid, professor of work and employment at the University of Stirling, acknowledges that omitting your age from CVs can offer some protection, but it would be counterproductive to omit work experience, and a potential employer can easily guess your age if you list, say, 20 years.
A job applicant in his or her 50s or 60s may struggle to limit their CV’s length to two pages. Emma Baker, careers advisor for the graduate school at King’s College London, says this is not a problem in academia. “[Academia] seems to be the only field where you can make it as long as you want it to be,” she told our 2011 Naturejobs Career Expo.
Earlier this year I attended a colleague’s retirement party. Age 69 and in a senior editorial position on a medical journal, I suspect she would have sympathised with Eleftherios Diamandis, a biochemist at the University of Toronto. In a recent column for Nature, he writes “I am now 63 and people throw all kinds of questions at me owing to my diverse experience — and my white hair. But the one I hate the most is: “When are you going to retire?”
“I hate it because it reminds me that I am in transition. The first time I was asked it, I was 58. The question was unexpected yet it stirred something in my head. And so, I resolved to record whenever people asked me it. At the age of 59, I was asked twice; at 60, four times; at 61, eight times; at 62, sixteen times; and at 63, thirty-two times. By extrapolation, I expect that next year the question will pop up 64 times and by 67, I will be facing it twice a day.”
His solution? “I consider retirement to be a continuous process that occurs in small increments, over a long period. This slow transition is allowing me to answer my most hated question, as follows: I am retiring at the pace of one minute per day.”
In 2006, shortly after his Nobel at the age of 65, the German physicist Theodor Hänsch faced mandatory retirement from his posts at Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching. If Hänsch had conducted his groundbreaking science in the US, perhaps things would have been different.
In the UK, older workers can voluntarily retire at a time they choose, which brought me to my colleague’s party. Employment advice service ACAS advises managers to avoid questions like the one Diamandis is Doing so could be interpreted as age discrimination, since younger colleagues tend not to get asked questions like this.
Why am I interested in this subject? Well, I’m four weeks into a new job and a month away from my 51st birthday. I hope Mr Briggs, who is also 50, can change things in his own new role.
David Payne is Nature’s chief careers editor. He is 50.