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Cake, children and cheap travel: A round up of age at work stories – and then we’re on holiday

A quick round up of some of the age at work stories that have caught my eye this week.

Who could resist clicking on the headline Harrods worker ‘sacked for eating cake’ that appeared in The Telegraph.  In what sounds like a truly ingenious line of argument, Mr Mackenzie, a Harrods restaurant manager, told the Central London employment tribunal he had tasted a slice of the cake ‘to make sure it was sufficiently moist’. This was in the context of a claim for discrimination over his ethnicity, age and sex. No details of any of these claims but the case was thrown out. Which I think is what he said was going to happen to the cake….

China may be about to change its one-child policy, according to this piece in The Guardian, on the grounds that its ageing population means it has a shrinking pool of working-age people. Interestingly, the working-age population (which fell by 3.71 million last year) is defined as those aged between 15 and 59. That upper age is looking rather young by European and US standards these days.

In a bid to boost local youth employment, the Welsh Government is funding a scheme, in partnership with the bus industry and local authorities, to help young Welsh people travel to and from training and employment more cheaply. The story is reported here on the ITV news website. The idea is to remove a potential barrier to accessing training and employment opportunities.

That’s it for a week. We’ll be back blogging in the week of 3rd August. Happy holidays!

The case for age diversity in business and life – Meet the Queens Young Leaders

We seem to be picking up on range of ‘age diversity’ stories of late. It actually isn’t the most common phrase that generates material in our alerts but perhaps things are changing. Or it’s summer. Or something.

Anyway, this piece by Oli Barrett on the Startups website (‘The UK’s No.1 service for starting a business’, apparently) makes the case for age diversity. He mentions the following recent experience: ‘I was surprised and disappointed this week to see that the board of a significant charity has a group of trustees whose average age is 64. On top of that, there is no-one in that group in their twenties, thirties or forties, nor anyone (with one exception), in their seventies, eighties or older‘ and then goes on to lament the absence of older people on company boards etc as well as in other settings as we miss out on their wisdom, ideas and advice. I wasn’t entirely clear exactly what he was proposing as a solution to this. The article continues by referencing a number of young political leaders.

So instead I followed a link in the article to the Queen’s Young Leaders website as I hadn’t heard about this initiative. It turns out to be a programme (which makes awards and grants) to discover, celebrate and support ‘exceptional young people from across the Commonwealth, leaving a lasting legacy’. Specifically it targets young people (18-29) who can demonstrate leadership and make a change in their communities. Reading some of the projects set up by the 2015 winners suggests that wisdom, ideas and advice are attributes not only located in older people – but then we knew that already, right?

Age diversity for actresses in The Emmys’ nominations

Continuing on the theme of Katrina’s last post (the acting profession’s awards and diversity), I just picked up this piece in the Huffington Post about ‘age diversity’ in the nominations for The Emmys. The headline to the article makes a big deal about the fact that ’15 Of The Emmys’ 18 Leading Actress Nominees Are Over 35′, specifically, it says: “This Is Huge” I think the word ‘awesome’ is also used. OK! Personally, I find it rather depressing that 35 is seen as the breakthrough age here given that there are actors of both genders working well into their 70s (e.g. Judi Dench, Ian McKellen). In fact, interestingly, the headline was changed from how it appeared in our alerts (where it claimed ’15 of 18 actresses are over 40′) to its present incarnation, because it was wrong (it was only 13 of 18).

The Emmys are the TV acting equivalent of the Oscars, where TV is claimed to be the more ‘daring and creative’ industry. This seems to be suggesting that these attributes are needed if one is going to cast (older) women in what are described as age appropriate roles.

Diversity and the oscars – starting to change?

I’m not a big fan of the ‘infographic’ but I found these breakdowns of the make up of the Motion Picture Academy quite fascinating – and not just from an age perspective.  Provided in this article in The Hollywood Reporter the academy is keen to emphasis its increasing diversity, and as also discussed in a separate piece in The Hollywood Reporter, more international.

What is interesting here though is not just the breakdowns but the choice of categories and their use across these infographics.  Taking age as an example, some age categories do not even appear across all of these divisions.  And wouldn’t it be fascinating to see the age/gender intersection for example!  (Please see The Hollywood Reporter for full details of this analysis)

Oscar diversity

Our presentation on WEARY women – take three

Yesterday, I was delighted to be invited back to the OP Dept annual Summer Seminar at Birkbeck where Rebecca was presenting our work on age, gender and retirement.  This was no mean feat as based on feedback from the EGOS conference just over ten days ago we decided to make a re-cut of the data to help simplify our ‘multi modal story’.  (I say ‘we’ but Rebecca actually did all the hard work to get the data in shape for yesterday’s presentation!)

This paper has been sometime in the making.  We started with an analysis of visual data (using a similar approach to our recently published work in GWO) exploring our own and participants responses to representations of older women.  This version was presented at last year’s Gender Work and Organisation conference in Keele.

But we want to do more with our analysis and decided to combine our visual and textual data at attempt a broader multi modal consideration, albeit based on our ‘shortidutional’ selection of a particular event (news coverage of a report on pensioners and enterprise).  We took this paper to EGOS and the excellent age stream convened by Cynthia Hardy, Leanne Cutcher and Cara Reed.  There we specifically asked the question – is this multimodal approach worth the effort?  And as a result decided to cut back on the complexity – which resulted in the more streamlined presentation by Rebecca at the Birkbeck Summer Seminar yesterday.  This still includes both text and image but focuses on our analytic consideration rather than the more complex method of also including audience responses.  This loses some richness but importantly we hope will make the paper easier for the reader to follow.

Now we just have to finish it and actually submit it to a journal!

Interestingly, age also cropped up in Lynda Gratton’s discussion of the future of work.  Lynda was giving the ‘Alec Rodger Memorial Lecture’ yesterday evening and discussed the challenges of the ‘100 year life’, particularly focusing on the economic considerations of such longevity for today’s younger people.

Here’s Lynda discussing other big trends for the future of work as part of her fascinating lecture last night:

Alec Rodger

Budgeting for age

Since George Osbourne’s budget speech in the UK last week there has been an increasing discussion about the impact of various announcements on young people – particularly those under 25.  Issues of concern include the phasing out of student grants, changes to housing benefit and tax credits and the minimum wage.  The increases in the latter were generally held to offset welfare cuts but since the rise in national minimum wage applies only to the over 25s, it doesn’t quite stack up.

This has today lead the Labour leadership hopeful Jeremy Corbyn to label the budget ‘anti-young’ (link via BBC).  The intergenerational foundation will reportedly (here in the Guardian) demonstrate this leads to a widening of the intergenerational fairness interest with those under 30 growing poorer while those over 60 are apparently much better off.  While there are undoubtedly age-related issues brought to the fore by the budget, the simplification of this as an intergenerational issue seems to perhaps exclude a discussion of other differences that might be relevant here.  To me it seems that poor is not necessarily an age related characteristic and there are socio-economic divides that are important to consider rather than assuming the battle ground is a generational one.  This does not mitigate against the need to open up for scrutiny the assumptions made in the budget about the support for young people and young familes.  Indeed the assumption seems to be that they will be automatically supported by the older generation or have less need for state support, assumptions that need to be scrutinized and unpacked.

Age at work are off to EGOS

We are attending the EGOS conference in Athens this week so won’t be blogging for a while!  We will aim to do a post-conference-post shortly afterwards but full blogging service will be resumed on 13th July.

Are older workers the answer to boosting economic growth?

Accountany firm PwC have produced a report that suggests that older workers could be the key to delivering economic growth, as reported here in The Telegraph.  Jon Andrews, of PwC, is quoted as saying: “Our research shows there could be big gains for the UK economy from policies directed at keeping people skilled and motivated to stay in the workforce for longer.” The argument is that by increasing the numbers of older people in employment the Government could “boost tax revenues and reduce benefit payments significantly”.

Intruigingly, PwC have what’s referred to as a ‘Golden Age Index‘. I’ve not heard of this before. It apparently reflects the importance of older workers to the economy across a range of different countries. Britain is 19th in the 34 nation OECD group.

Of course, there is a counter narrative that we often report here in this blog, namely tales of ageism and age discrimination as well as the more general obstacles to older people continuing to work. It suggests much more is needed than simple exhortations to encourage employers and older workers to make this happen.

McDonalds sued for age discrimination

In Los Angelos, fast food chain McDonalds has been sued for age discrimination. As reported here in the Los Angelos Daily News, seven former employees of a McDonald’s restaurant in Northridge have brought proceedings in which they allege that they were fired because they were over 40 years old. In fact, the full complaint alleges age discrimination, wrongful termination and intentional infliction of emotional distress. They are seeking unspecified damages.

The detail provided alleges that they lost their jobs as a result of a deliberate campaign by a new store manager to replace these staff members with a younger crew. Specifically, it’s alleged that the manager said she only wanted “puro gente joven” (meaning ‘only young people’) and that she “did not want old people to staff the Parthenia restaurant”.

The specific ages of all seven former employees isn’t given here (other than that they are over 40), though two of them are said to be 52 and 63. Interesting that this happens in the same week as a report by the Institute of Leadership and Management finds that older workers are unfairly overlooked. As reported here in the Independent, the survey found that managers rated team members aged 51 and over far lower than younger age groups for their keenness to learn, develop and progress. They also often wrongly assume that those 50 plus lack the desire and interest to progress into more senior leadership roles.

Is 16 years too young to join the military? And can Action Man prevent it?

We’ve reported before on the issue of 16 year olds in the UK being able to join the military. It’s a situation that puts the UK at odds with many other countries. As stated in this article in The Guardian, Britain is the only state in Europe or Nato that still enlists minors. The policy has been criticised by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights and other groups including Child Soldiers International and the British Quakers.

In the latest development in their campaign to change this, the organisation Veterans For Peace (VFP) is releasing what are described as a series of ‘darkly satirical short films‘ to highlight the cost of war. These will feature ‘Action Man dolls with accessories including antidepressants, wheelchairs, “benefits cancelled” letters and body bags‘. The films are said to have been inspired by official Armed Forces toys, which apparently include a Predator drone playset for five-year-olds.  The camaign is an interesting take on the use of dolls to promote (or not) particular careers, as discussed here in The Guardian in relation to ‘Entrepreneur Barbie’ targeted at girls (and the subject of research by Katrina and my colleagues at Birkbeck).

The films will be online from tomorrow 23 June at

The key argument is that, although recruits under 18 need a parental or guardian’s consent to join up, the act of doing so needs to be an informed choice. Campaigners question whether this is achieved through current mechanisms and structures which lock new recruits in until they are 22.


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