Age Discrimination - Reflections on the New Government Report

A new report issued this week by Dr Ros Altmann on behalf of the British government seeks to address the problems faced by older workers. The report, entitled A new vision for older workers: retain, retrain, recruit, outlines the economic and business case for better supporting older workers, and describes many ways to do that.

The report focused particularly on older women (over 50 years of age), a constituency that I know from experience often face discrimination at work. It lays out 5 ways in which they’re disadvantaged:

1.       Caring responsibilities: the peak age for caring responsibilities is between 50 and 64; older women must often look after both younger and older generations.

2.       Opportunities for returning to work: women returning to work after a career break often face unnecessary barriers. Increasingly, employers will not consider applicants who have substantial gaps in their CVs, cutting opportunities for women who have been out of the labour market. 

3.       Stigma around menopause: Dr Altmann calls for more awareness and discussion around menopause and how it affects older women at work. Managers and HR representatives often fail to take menopause into account when managing them. Organisational and cultural change needs to take place to ensure that women feel comfortable talking to their colleagues about menopause and to ensure that their managers have the right training to respond appropriately.

4.      Recruiters: Dr Altmann identifies the recruitment industry as a particular culprit for age discrimination, stating that she found significant anecdotal evidence of bias against older people among recruiters and agencies.

5.        Career advancement: women's opportunities for promotion stop a lot earlier in their careers than men’s: Dr Altmann suggests that women stop being promoted at the age of about 45, as opposed to men, whose careers tend to stall at 55.

The report also identifies ways that businesses could improve their provision for older workers, including conducting an age and skills audit of their workforce to ensure that they are getting the maximum benefit from the knowledge and skills of their staff. They should also provide training for managers on best practice for managing older workers, and for the older workers themselves to sharpen up their skills.

Most significantly, the report suggests that age discrimination in the UK is largely misunderstood and ignored. Dr Altmann writes, "it has struck me that there are no real penalties for breaking the law." She even noticed job adverts for positions within the UK Government which sought "young" applicants or recent graduates. The report suggests that the government consider sanctions for employers that break age discrimination laws.