Dated: 04 September 2011 (Updated Oct 2013)
Know Bull! regularly hears from bullied, marginalized, mature-aged workers belonging to the 45 plus age group. In a country where the population is ageing, and companies are facing skills shortages (which are predicted to intensify), it beggars belief that this pool of skilled and knowledgeable workers remains largely untapped. And while it’s unlawful in Australia (and other countries) to discriminate against employees and job seekers on the basis of their age – it is happening.
After being ‘bullied’ out of her previous job, 45-year-old jobseeker, Anne, suspected her date of birth; along with the years of experience listed on her resume – were having a negative impact on her ability to secure job interviews. In an attempt to increase her chances she removed all indicators of age from her resume, and reduced her experience to only the past five years. Her tactic worked, and she began getting interviews.
“I look good on paper”, said Anne. “I was well qualified for the jobs I was applying for, and I have a depth of solid experience that more than met the requirements of many roles. But, I found that when your 45 years old and you walk into a room where the interview panel consists of three twenty-something year olds, your chances at being selected for a position can sometimes evaporate before the interview has even begun”. Anne recalled one such situation.
“As soon as I emailed my application, I received a call from the recipient. She said my experience was fabulous, extremely relevant to the vacancy, and they were very keen for me to attend an interview. On arriving, I was greeted by a 25ish female – the same person who had called me so promptly on receiving my application. She led me through the building past numerous employees. Other the mature-aged receptionist (around 50 years of age), I noticed the staff were roughly between 20-30 years old. I wasn’t overly concerned and continued to the interview room at the end of the hallway where two more 20-somethings were already seated. From the outset, it was clear they weren’t interested. Throughout the interview, one filed her nails, one responded to mobile phone text messages, and the third asked the questions. I arrived home 15 minutes later to the phone ringing. It was the same female who asked the interview questions. She said she regretted that I was unsuccessful for the role. I asked her if there any areas of concern I could address, and she replied “no”, and that they had decided I was “the wrong fit for the organization and the culture”. I generally present well, I’m particular about my appearance so I dressed to suit the interview, I’m articulate, I had good experience and two degrees to support myself at the interview. Some of the questions asked were very ageist…and clearly inappropriate, but when you tick all the boxes and the only remaining item is age-related…it’s disheartening. Some organisations, and particularly the people doing the hiring, are sneaky. They don’t overtly discriminate, its covert”, Anne said.
Melinda’s experience also reflects the covert nature of age discrimination in the workplace. At 47 Melinda is fit and healthy. She has worked in retail sales for some 4 years after being bullied out of her office job.
“With the downturn in the retail sector, shops have been closing. And as an older worker it can be difficult finding a replacement job when your workplace ceases to exist. I’ve been employed in my current casual sales job since March this year, and like previous jobs I always do my best. I get many compliments from customers who recommend others to shop at the store, and customers have even sent emails to the head office saying how pleased they are with my customer service. Sales-wise I probably generate sales that are 500-700 percent above the average store sales amount. I work hard, I get on well with the younger staff, and I love my job. But things started going pear-shaped when the assistant manager starting taking on an expanded role in the store. The average age of staff is 17, and the assistant manager has long made age-related comments. He’s one of those people that are difficult to read. You never know if he’s serious or he’s joking, so I pretty much ignore these comments”, Melinda said. “But when the assistant manager started taking over the rosters, I found my hours being substantially cut. New and younger staff members were being appointed, while my hours over the past two months continued to decline. I still work just as hard, and still get as many compliments from customers. This job is my sole income, and I don’t get any benefits or supplements. But as of this week, my take home pay will be $88 for the week. Frankly, I can’t afford to live. I’m looking for other work, but it’s not easy as an older job seeker”.
Anne and Melinda’s experiences are ‘typical’ of the types of behaviour mature-aged workers find in the workplace, says Jennifer Wilkins, founder of Know Bull!
“Many 20 or 30 years olds undoubtedly see mature workers with experience as potential ‘threats’ to their career paths, and it’s highly likely many younger staff will believe in the stereotypical ‘oldie’ who struggles to open their email – despite ABS data revealing the 55–64 year age group showed the largest increase in the proportion of people accessing the Internet, up from 63% in 2008–09 to 71% in 2010–11.