by Alan Royal
Mar 20 2017
“Ageism”, being an “ism”, means that it is a matter of “subjective” thought. The implication, ageism is a matter of “Perception”, which as an employee, or job candidate, you have some level of control. Historically, those most concerned, were largely those in their 50’s. Ageism, is now a metaphor, which is multi-dimensional, and evolving. While ageism is known to affect organizational hiring practices, you as an employee or job candidate, have more “self-control”, today, than ever before, as to how you are perceived. This publication series deals with these topics.
With the Millennial generation about to dominate the work force, organizations are finding their preference toward life balance, in contrast to over performance to get ahead, to be a growing concern. Skipping all the psychological underpinnings, Baby Boomers have a history of hard work and focus on achievement as core aspects of their DNA. This publication series argues Baby Boomers are physically able and want to remain in the work force longer, and organizations are finding the work ethic of the Boomers to be growing in desirability as their numbers decrease, and the Millennials increase.
Let’s commence our discourse by getting some perspective on the ages of those who, in a large part, lead our global economy. The current US President is 70. The average age of its Supreme Court is 75. The median age of Fortune 500 CEO’s, 55, and their Board members 62. The average age of practicing medical doctors is 52. Thus the historic preconception that professionals in their 50’s becoming less desirable hires is perceptual. However, a year ago when initially being screened for a Partner position in one of the Big 4 Accounting/Consulting firms, finding out that 60 was the standing retirement age, was first a shock, and secondly caused me to terminate my candidacy.
One of the keys to why these ages are counter intuitive to long held beliefs of ageism is that over the last 40 years the average life expectancy has increased 10 years. Advances in medical care as well as better data regarding life style changes which extend life, are clearly key aspects of this change. There is also no reason to believe that this trend toward longer lives will not continue.
The US, in 1935 established the Social Security retirement scheme. In 1983 the age for full retirement eligibility was set at 65 which over time would advance to 67 and not subsequently changed. As it’s been almost 40 years since these retirement ages were put in place, as stated above, while average life spans have increased 10 years during this period. Over this almost 40 year time table the average date of death has advanced from 80 to almost 90, according to Social Security tables.
Looking globally we find consistency. In Hong Kong the established retirement age is still 60. Vietnam has a mandatory retirement for women of 55 and men of 60. Malaysia is 60. Mexico is 65, and Indonesia is 55. The European Union also still maintains a retirement age of 65.
Is ageism a matter of concern to professionals as they reach their 50’s and find themselves faced with a job search, most would say yes, despite their being evidence above that this should not be the case. All one has to do is query the exponential increase in single proprietor consulting firms which have been emerging this decade. The typical individual is in their 50’s or 60’s who have found themselves separated from the corporate world, with no practical means of re-entry.
As life spans are increasing, retirement ages and the associated age discriminatory practices will change as life spans increase over time. However, in the meantime, there are actions which can be taken which minimize the negative implications of age. This publication series takes on a number of topics which limit the impact of ageism on one’s career.
Topic One Being Uniquely Qualified
Starting with the concept of being “uniquely qualified”. If you are an individual with technical skills, is your current technical skillset, ahead of others? If you’re a manager, do your demonstrated management skills, reflect that of being equal or ahead of others? If you are an individual who works in business operations, does your operational performance reflect that of being, at or ahead of others? Etc.… Current and potential employers, first and foremost “top of mind” thinking is how is this individual performing in their current, or previous role? When you are found to be a good, to great performer, then matters related to ageism self-resolve. Implicit, is the need to keep your particular,” personal value proposition”, to an organization, at or ahead of others. Subrogate yourself to being “nominally average”, and ageism will surely come into play. As with presidential candidates, and CEO’s, their age reflects that of an evolving “differentiated skillset”, which can only be acquired with age. Has experience through age had the same differentiating effect?
Employers are creatures of habit; they seek to find the best candidate to fill the role they have open. When one is able to present themselves in such a definitive manner, that they are the best candidate of choice to fill a position, why would an employer, ever allow age to become part of their hiring criteria?
Candidates, especially in their 50’s and beyond, far too often use age discrimination as an “excuse”, as to why they are not being hired for positions. Certainly this excuse, is far easier, than facing one’s self in the mirror, and self-confessing that they have not kept their professional skills up to date, letting their referential skillset lapse into irrelevance, or no longer pay attention to their personal performance, in recent years.
The reason we have a US President who is 70, and the average age of a Fortune 500 Board Member being 62, is because they are “uniquely qualified” to fill the roles they have. By keeping your skillset current and more attractive of others, despite their age, and your job candidacy will be in demand.
Ageism, An Evolving Metaphor is an ongoing series, View part two of the series here