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How Prevalent is Age Discrimination?

Age discrimination has previously been one of the most common forms of discrimination exhibited within the workplace in the UK, in the US, and across the world. However, in modern day employment is this topic still prevalent, how can you identify it, and what effect is it having on workers globally?

In 2010 within the UK, various anti-discrimination laws were replaced with a single Act, The Equality Act 2010, which legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. The move to a single act was made in order to make the laws around equality easier to understand, and to strengthen protection of those who fell victim to it. Over a decade on from publication and the same Act still sets the precedence for the different ways in which it is unlawful to treat someone, one of which being discrimination on the grounds of age.

Age discrimination was a later edition to the Equality Act 2010, having been added as a 'protected characteristic' two years after the declaration came into force, on 1st October 2012. It was added to the Act to ensure that the law prohibits any harmful treatment that results in genuinely unfair discrimination because of age. However, it does not outlaw the many instances of different treatment that are judged to be justifiable or beneficial, and as such, there are exceptions to the rule. These include:

  • Age-based concessions

  • Age-related holidays

  • Age verification

  • Clubs and associations concessions

  • Financial services

  • Immigration

  • Residential park homes

  • Sport

These specific exceptions are in addition to:

  • General exceptions already allowed by the Act

  • Positive action measures

  • Objective justification

But what about age discrimination within employment? Well, when considering the list of exceptions listed above, it can often be difficult to identify when such an instance has occurred, let alone seek repercussive action against the offending party. This is as, even though the Equality Act 2010 states that if you’ve experienced unlawful discrimination, you are eligible to make a claim in a court, or tribunal, the term 'objective justification' can often be manipulated by offenders in order to vindicate their actions.

The difficulty in prosecution stretches far beyond our shores in the UK, to - if you'll excuse an overused term - the other side of the pond, in the US. An article by the not-for-profit media outlet, The Conversation, stated that age discrimination remains one of the greatest vulnerabilities that American workers face, with 60% of adults aged 45 and over having witnessed age discrimination within their workplace, or in fact, experienced it themselves. Whilst like in the UK the vast majority of incidents go unreported, in 2019 alone over 15,000 workers filed a claim of workplace discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, thus making ageism one of the most commonly reported forms of workplace discrimination in the USA, just below race (23,976 cases) and sexual discrimination (23,532 cases), and above cases pertaining to national origin (7,009 cases), and religion (2,725 cases).

This rise in discrimination has resulted in some workers taking action to combat the blatant prejudice exhibited, by choosing to conceal their age on their CV. Workers have taken this action in response to increasing concern of ageism within many firms' application processes, in addition to the lack of support they have experienced within their own workplace. To explore this further, inclusivity specialists, Working Wise, conducted research on 2000 workers aged 45+, in an effort to identify the prevalence of age discrimination within modern day employment. The results they uncovered where shocking, as their findings showed that; 44% of those surveyed admitted to altering their age on their CV, 34% stated they have experienced ageism within the interview process, 86% said they have not been promoted in the last five years, and finally 54% said that they have had no access to training.

On these findings, Gillian Nissim, founder of Working Wise said 'Our research has unveiled the blatant ageism that is alive and kicking in the recruitment of older workers. Times have changed significantly, we are living and working for longer, and our pensions are getting pushed back too – and yet the cards are stacked against older workers who are trying to get back in'.

Whilst these damning figures highlight that the hiring process for older workers is severely flawed, what shouldn't be ignored is the impact this is having on people's mental health. 19% of the 2000 respondents of the Working Wise survey were made redundant during the pandemic, and of these 38% said they are still looking for a job more than a year after being made redundant. The toll of this is evident, with a huge 73% saying the length of time they had been looking has affected their confidence. On these figures, Gillian Nissim stated 'We need to treat older workers as experienced individuals if we want to start to close the record-high 1 million jobs that we as an economy are struggling to fill. Incredible talent is waiting for us to let them back in, now it’s time to open the office door, we need age diversity in the workplace'.

Gillian couldn't be more right, as workforce diversity is becoming an increasingly vital component in the business world, with recent research by Barron's showing that more diverse teams have been linked to rising company productivity levels, which directly correlate with increased profitability. Put simply, today’s businesses simply cannot afford to ignore diversity when hiring, which is why at MiGrowth we're endeavouring to help our partners increase their diversity through our MiAssessment platform, which not only provides incredible insight as to the suitability of a candidate for any advertised role, but also ensures that all applicants are viewed equally, and judged solely on their performance, rather than their protected characteristics.

If you feel you have been a victim of discrimination, whether on the grounds of age, or any another protected characteristic, help and guidance can be sought here.


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