Eagle-eyed readers of this blog may have spotted references from Katrina to the fact that she is getting married. Well, today is the big day. So please join me in congratulating Katrina and Bill and wishing them health, long life and much happiness in their marriage.
There is an Age at Work twist to this event too. The happy couple met at the British Academy of Management conference when Katrina and I were there to present a paper from our Age at Work research.
Does this make the wedding a research impact……?
As we take a short blogging break over Easter we thought it was a good time to recap on our top-ten most popular posts based on views in 2014. We will be back blogging on Monday 28th April at which point one of us will be refreshed from a holiday in the sun and the other will have just got married! In the meantime we will still be offering the occasional tweet via @ageatwork should the mood take us.
Our Top Ten in 2014
Some mornings I have to look quite extensively to find a news story or report to feature on our age at work blog and other mornings it just jumps out and hits you in the face. This morning was one of those mornings with the Daily Mail’s headline “The 60-somethings who look half their age from behind… and they’re ready to reveal how they’ve maintained a youthful rear view”
Perhaps it is because I spent a couple of hours yesterday shopping with my 19 year old for an outfit to wear to my forthcoming wedding and heard her concerns about her figure and appearance in any number of flattering outfits. Or maybe its concern about my own figure being under scrutiny in the big day (though only have six guests does limit that possibility) but this article certainly hit a raw nerve!
While there is some focus on the benefit of exercise and healthy diet generally the article is dominated by a discussion of how these women look and specifically how young they look relative to their chronological age. One of the sub-stories is even headed “men still whistle when I walk past” as though this was a particular achievement for any woman – never mind her age. A quick glance through the comments reveals that the main debate – unsurprisingly given the headline – is whether these women do in fact look ‘half their age’. All in all a very depressing read for women whatever their age as they prepare to be judged on appearance throughout their lifetime.
This morning I came across this thought-provoking blog piece entitled More Useless Career Advice from Successful Women written by Jessica Grose reviews an Adweek feature “A Candid Conversation With 5 Women Leaders of Advertising and Media: The triumphs and trials of smashing the ceiling”
Jess observes that there is really nothing new in this feature and that some of the suggestions are actually potentially the wrong advice for a women in her own field (journalism). Moreover – and what strikes a chord with a common theme here at age at work – treating ‘women’ as a homogeneous group who all require advice from a particular sub-group who have been labelled as ‘successful women’ is not doing much good.
Now take that and apply to discussions of age. We have broad unspecific groups (with the possible exception of the statistically defined youth unemployment category). So who is an older worker? We also have labels applied (such as the Millennial) which create the assumption of a clearly categorised groups – when they really are not (the end categorisations point ranges over 8 years in academic papers alone).
As if to illustrate the case in point this piece dropped into my inbox today: Proving relevance is key to job hunt for older workers This suggests “companies sometimes prefer younger employees because they are perceived as having more energy, flexibility and willingness to take risks…..older workers can bring different values, such as job stability”. Thus older workers are essentially advised not to compete on the basis of the perceptions of younger workers but to offer an alternative……which has the effect of perpetuating the stereotypes!
Jess concludes in her article on career advice to women: ” Ambitious young women are clearly hungry for blueprints on how to succeed at a game that can feel rigged. But if you need a famous woman to tell you to listen to your heart, you have bigger problems than figuring out how to climb that corporate ladder“.
As an ‘older worker’ with teenagers who is only 4 years into a second career, you can lean anyway you like as far as I’m concerned.
This article particularly focuses on the issues of interns in journalism reviewing the status of various arrangement in the Canadian Press. It highlights the issues of unpaid and low paid internships which is seen as a particular issue for younger people seeking work. It concludes by saying “I also believe, unfashionably, that older people have a duty to the young, to invite them in and help them. My view is selfish. I have children, I have skin in this game. Journalism will fade without the digital intelligence, wit and energy of the young. We parents paid for that generation’s education. Their labour shouldn’t come for free”
Perhaps there are some issues here with the attribution of specific skills to particular age groups, but it is certainly an interesting observation about familial generational responsibility (as opposed to cohort generational relationships which are so often confused in the press).
In a Guardian article headed “Emma Watson criticises ‘dangerously unhealthy’ pressure on young women” Emma (the former Harry Potter actress) discusses the challenges of being in the spotlight. In respect to the pressure on looking a certain way she is reported as saying “With airbrushing and digital manipulation, fashion can project an unobtainable image that’s dangerously unhealthy. I’m excited about the ageing process. I’m more interested in women who aren’t perfect. They’re more compelling.”
The article has prompted 299 comments already many debating the issue of why women wear make up (and noting that Emma is involved in advertising some brands) whilst some unpacked the issue of age with many suggesting that perhaps she might review her excitement as time passes. Whatever your view, it is undoubtedly useful to continue to debate how women of all ages are represented in the media.
The CIPD ‘Steps Ahead’ programme came to our attention this week. Launched as a pilot last summer, the mentoring initiative is designed to help young people ‘improve their employability skills and step closer to their first job’.
Young jobseekers (aged 18-24) are referred to the scheme by Jobcentre Plus. It offers them six one-to-one mentoring sessions to help them improve their employability, boost their confidence and find work. Most of the mentees have not worked before. The CIPD have plans to expand the geographic areas where the scheme is running over the course of this year. This has lead to a call for more HR professionals to volunteer as mentors. Esther McVey, minister for employment, has this week praised the those who already volunteer on the scheme.
In this CIPD editorial this week Katerina Rüdiger, head of skills and policy campaigns at the CIPD, is reported as saying that many young people “don’t know what is expected of them during the recruitment process” and that “one way to bridge that gap is to encourage those working in HR, who hold responsibility for the recruitment of new staff, to partner up with young jobseekers to help enlighten them about what employers look for.”
It’s interesting that the CIPD focus is on young people on the basis that they are seen to need to improve their employability or to lack knowledge of what’s expected of them in current recruitment processes.
I’d suggest that there are people of all ages for whom this is also the case. For example, those who have been in a particular job or industry for a long time and now find themselves unemployed and seeking work in new roles or sectors that maybe didn’t exist when they were last job hunting.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has recently launched a six-week consultation on its draft guidance covering legislation banning age discrimination against people using public or private services.
Details of the consultation are available here on their website.
These provisions only came into effect some 6 years (in 2012) after the ban on age discrimination in work and employment settings. But access to services – for example, the ability to take out a mortgage – is a necessary part for older workers of being able to move within the labour market. So, the provision is important to the issue of age at work.
Last night was the second in the British Academy series of Big Debates about age, provocatively entitled ‘Too Old and Ugly to be Useful? Challenging Negative Representations of Older People’. Unfortunately we both had evening commitments in London that meant we couldn’t get to Sheffield for this event (a great pity given the subject matter and speakers).
A video of the event will appear on the British Academy website in due course. Here’s a link to last month’s debate on ageing as ‘Benefit or Burden’.
In the meantime, these are some interesting points from last night’s debate (as culled from the website and twitter stream):
Professor Pat Thane (KCL) argued that representations and experiences of older people have always been highly diverse, with a spectrum between those who are highly active and contributory to those with high levels of dependency. With more people living longer and more active lives, this makes the present (rather than the past) the ‘golden age’ of ageing. Nevertheless, the UK has one of the lowest state pensions of wealthy developed countries. Current research suggests that older men report more discrimination than older women and that older poorer men are most at risk of discrimination.
Dr Lorna Warren (Sheffield University) showed how the media play a critical strategic role in the transmission of images – positive and negative – of older people, particularly of older women. Physical signs of ageing are frequently stereotyped or become the target of humour, influenced by the narrative of the anti-ageing industry – and sometimes they are simply air-brushed out of existence. These presentation techniques are key to understanding not only why the older face doesn’t ‘fit’, but also how more positive representations may be successfully launched through the visual. She introduced the Look at Me research project which challenges current media representations and perceptions of older women in our society.
Our thanks to @claremcm1 @SocStudiesShef @NDAprogramme and @Britac_news for sources of information about the event.
We’ll post a link to the video of the event in due course.
Silicon Valley is said to be one of the most ageist work places in America. In the UK, research suggests that staff in the IT industry are perceived to be ‘old’ when still chronologically young (30 or 35).
In this article in the New Statesman , we hear how it has fallen to cosmetic surgery to ‘make older workers look like they still belong at the office.’ Not just how old they are, but how they look is seen as critical to continued work.
One cosmetic surgeon notes that the age at which people seek him out is dropping, reporting that he routinely turns away tech workers in their twenties. Men are also making up a larger portion of his business.
The author of the piece reflects on the dark irony of this state of affairs: ‘in the one corner of the American economy defined by its relentless optimism, where the spirit of invention and reinvention reigns supreme, we now have a large and growing class of highly trained, objectively talented, surpassingly ambitious workers who are shunted to the margins, doomed to haunt corporate parking lots and medical waiting rooms, for reasons no one can rationally explain’.
The article then tries (at some length) to unpack why this might be the case. One possible explanation lies with the ‘relentless optimism’ of the tech business. A young untried tech worker is seen as a better bet for investment than someone with experience.
The article concludes with links to various surveys that apparently bear out the trend towards hiring and funding younger workers over their older counterparts in this industry.