By Mike Canavan
“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
― Mark Twain
Are you 50 or older? Do you feel that you are being side-lined or have been marginalised by the media, employers and advertisers alike? Have you tried looking for a job? Does ageism plague your world?
Today there’s a lot of talk about gender bias, racial bias and culture bias in the workplace ― and each are important for many reasons. But perhaps one of the biggest and most problematic types of bias that we face is that of age: we often evaluate people based on their age ― and this has now become a major challenge in the workplace.
Given our countries current circumstance of a Covid-induced coma, it is difficult enough for the young, the graduates, the middle-aged worker to find a job that fits their skill set ― if you add to this a prejudice of ageism that existed in the marketplace prior to our Covid-coma, it is indeed a bleaker than ever outlook for the 50+ market.
Not with-standing certain larger corporations who may unwittingly practice age discrimination, there are countless individuals in their 60s and 70s who are actively engaged with their careers. At 89, Warren Buffett is still regarded as one of the most brilliant brains in the world of finance, and Charlie Munger, his righthand man, is 94. At 62, Madonna is still the undisputed queen of pop. At 82, Jane Fonda is as prolific as ever in her careers as an actress and activist. In addition, the most important job in the U.S.A (The President) goes to people who would generally be considered “too old” to be productive in most offices. All of this suggests that age does correspond with a workplace bigotry, and research proves it.
Contrary to popular belief, older, more tenured people are more successful entrepreneurs. Those over the age of 40 are three times more likely to create successful companies as a result of their patient, collaborative natures, worldly wisdom, and experience. Couple this with their lack of a “need to prove myself” attitude. This serves as a benefit not necessarily shared by younger people.
Today, we have a media, advertising and publishing industry that glorify youth, at the cost of experience and wisdom ― and look at the mess it is in now. It is fair to say that the digital revolution has brought about change. But is equally fair to argue that keeping the more experienced and wiser heads at the top (mentoring younger staff) there might have been a significantly different outcome during these tumultuous times.
In a study published in the Harvard Business Review quoted: “The scientific evidence on this issue shows, for most people raw mental horsepower declines after the age of 30, but knowledge and expertise, the main predictors of job performance, keep increasing even beyond the age of 80. There is also ample evidence to assume that traits like drive and curiosity are catalysts for new skill acquisition, even during late adulthood. When it comes to learning new things, there is just no age limit, and the more intellectually engaged people remain when they are older, the more they will contribute to the labour market”.
Our career, pay, recruitment and assessment systems are designed against hiring older people. Many companies believe that older people are overpaid and can be replaced with younger workers who can do the job just as well. For example Mark Zuckerberg Facebook CEO, stated: “Young people are just smarter,” apparently forgetting that it was baby boomers like Tim Berners-Lee, Bill Gates, and Steven Jobs who led the information revolution and made his job (and all those hoodies) possible.
When I first started in the production and advertising industry the managing directors of the major advertising agencies were all well into their late 50s and early 60s. Today that business model has disposed of you by your late 40s, and heaven forbid the thought of employing an Executive Creative Director 55 years plus. It’s strange, in the past some of the greatest creative directors in advertising history were and are working well past their 70’s. Sir John Hegarty (76 and still active), David Ogilvy (worked until he was 78), Colin Millward (worked until he was 74), Bill Bernbach, (worked until he was 68).
Five years ago, a major Deloitte Research study was done among 10,000 companies, “Is age a competitive advantage or competitive disadvantage in your organisation?” The answer probably won’t surprise you. “Over two-thirds of the companies considered older age a competitive disadvantage”.
This is consistent with data from the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), showing two-thirds of individuals age 45 to 74 have experienced age-related discrimination.
In other words, if you are older, you are likely to be considered less capable, less able to adapt, or less willing to roll up your sleeves and do something new than your younger peers.
Our world is changing constantly and at an increasingly rapid pace. We’re at a unique time in our history when increased longevity is converging with unprecedented technological innovation providing opportunities never seen before which as the ability to disrupt ageing in ways previously unimaginable ― thereby empowering us to choose how we want to live as we age.
Today, Japan is the only country in the world where those aged 60 and over represent 30% or more of the population. But by 2050, 62 countries (including China) will reach that milestone.
We live in a world where people aged 60 and over will soon outnumber children under five. Demographers predict that in countries that are ageing well, more than half the children born today will live to 100 ― and some researchers believe that the first person who will live to the age of 150 has already been born.
By 2030 ― only 10 years from now ― the first millennials will start turning 50, and the first gen-Xers will turn 65, and the boomers will be reaching 75+ swelling the ranks of what is already the fastest growing age group in our community.
Yet, global ageing is about much more than demographics. Advances in research and technology are driving innovation in virtually every field, positively affecting our ability to live well as we age. Science is making longer lives possible – and as people live longer, they are continuing to learn, to be productive and to contribute to society.
For many people, that means continuing to work. A key part of the retirement model that most of us have grown up with is freedom from work. Today, a key part of extended middle age is the freedom to work. More and more, people want to keep working past traditional retirement age because they want to continue to contribute to society and find meaning in their own lives ― and work does that for them.
(But more next week)