Ageism the forgotten pillar of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategies
This question in Quora recently caught my attention, Why do people in their 60’s think they’re not old when they are about 85% through their lives?
I seldom meet anyone who will admit to being old. Have you? That question got over 400 comments and many over 60 who replied. One comment mentioned, “they’re far more productive at 74 than at 60.” Another one posted, ‘’I just turned 70. I know how to be young. I know how to be middle-age. “I don’t know how to be old, so I’m not going to try.”
With such a seismic demographic shifts this question lacks common sense. According to the UN, people over 65 are growing faster than any other age group. The World Economic Forum states that globally, there are now more than half a million people aged 100 or older, a number that’s trending upward:
- UN predicts the number of centenarians worldwide will rise to 573,000 this year.
- USA has the highest number of centenarians, 97,000, in the world.
- By 2050, China is expected to have the largest centenarian population, followed by Japan, the U.S., Italy and India, which will also remain in the top five.
- Uruguay, Hong Kong and Puerto Rico have some of the highest levels of centenarians comparing the population rates.
As centenarians become more common we’re moving towards an Age of No Retirement. In 1980, Peter Drucker wrote about the End of Mandatory Retirement Age in his book, Managing in Turbulent Times. Drucker tells us, “it will become a matter of economic survival that retirement age be postponed and that retirement be made flexible and a matter of personal decision.” Drucker's insights 40 years ago makes sense for a post-pandemic workforce. As economies reopen organizations are unable to fill roles. Considering the demographics, wouldn’t it make sense to include the 60 plus group?
Pew Research Survey affirms that those ages 65 and older is expected to triple to 1.5 billion globally by 2050. We know the quantitative evidence that a diverse workforce benefits business and the economy. Indeed, PwC estimates that as much as $3.5 trillion could be added to the OECD economies overall by encouraging people nearing retirement age to stay longer in the workforce. Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP, found that in the US the 50-plus demographic represents $8.3 trillion of economic activity driving the ‘longevity economy,’ that’s 56 cents of every dollar.”
With an aging population also goes a rise in ‘ageism’ unfair treatment, stereotypes, and discrimination. Age bias in recruitment is long-standing and often negative stereotypes, such as, “older workers are less productive, or they can’t learn new ways of working.’’ It’s prevalent across organizations, and it’s a bias that ultimately impacts self-esteem of an older workforce, decreases engagement and leads some to early retirement rather than remaining in the workforce.
If my experience, insights, and capabilities are not valued then why stay?
While these biases permeate organizational mindsets, the Milken Institute’s Centre for the Future of Aging and the Stanford Centre on Longevity, refutes this theory, stating that ‘’older employees have a strong work ethic, take fewer sick days and are better at resolving conflicts.” As organizations today grapple with the Great Resignation, the 60-something workforce provides a much needed resource. Rather than seeing age as a disadvantage, organizations should see it as a visible strength.
Age perspectives and biases vary across culture and gender. The BBC found that women appear to be bearing the brunt of ageism which is ironic as women live four or five more years than men in almost every society. (Population Reference Bureau Index).
Asia and the Middle East are somewhat less ageist as cultural norms are that older people should be held in higher esteem. Reviewing the research and practices across specific countries this assumption remains inconclusive. Mandatory retirement age in China and elsewhere in Asia is one part; actively working past a certain age is another, which Asia does worse than the West. In Europe ageism is the most common type of discrimination and women are particularly disadvantaged. Surveys in Europe found that most believe old age begins at 59. In the US, age bias starts early for women. Research found gendered ageism cuts across all stages of a woman’s career and most noticeable under 35 and over 50.
These statistics easily refute the Quora question, and also illustrate the pervasiveness of age bias. Here’s a puzzling fact. Age is rarely included in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategies. While companies readily admit ageism is a serious problem, most skip over it, and thus miss out on a vital part of inclusion, performance and engagement.
We should now start asking, ‘How should we reframe our view of those working in their 60’s and beyond?’ Borrowing on the Milken research and Drucker’s insights, ‘How can we more actively engage this group in our DEI and employment strategies?’