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Left Behind: Older Employees Feel Unwelcome in Corporate America

Debra Born headshotWords by Debra Born
New Activism
age discrimination in Corporate America

In case you missed it, more and more baby boomers are reaching retirement age. Economists have forecasted (and some have dreaded) this era for decades, but surprisingly, many boomers are choosing to stay in the workforce. And employers within corporate America may not always feel happy about it.

Workers in their 50s, 60s and 70s are not just the workforce of the past. According to recent research, they are part of the future, too. People aged 55 and older make up about 25 percent of the current U.S. workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—and 85 percent of baby boomers plan to keep working into their 70s or even 80s. But many of those workers find they are no longer welcome at their jobs after reaching a certain age.

The number of people aged 65 and older will increase almost two-fold from 48 million to 88 million by 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Instead of preparing for an influx of older employees with long track records of work and training, some employers are encouraging, or forcing, older workers to retire.

Age discrimination is still a problem for employees, their families and the economy

Just ask 69-year-old Paul Ewart, an Oxford University professor who says he was fired because of his age. Ewart worked at the college for 38 years and was the former head of atomic and laser physics before being shown the door. Now, Ewart may obtain nearly $200,000 in back pay as compensation for lost income since being forced to quit in 2017.

Age discrimination is endemic on this side of the pond as well—and it can start far earlier than you may expect. A 2018 AARP survey found that almost 1 in 4 workers age 45 and older say they've endured negative comments about their age from either supervisors or coworkers. Two out of 3 respondents reported experiencing age discrimination in some form. And more than 3 in 4 found age discrimination to be a hurdle in finding a new job. 

“Age discrimination remains a significant and costly problem for workers, their families and our economy," investigative journalist Joe Kita concluded in an AARP special report published in December.

Unfortunately, many employers believe that higher costs are associated with older workers, including more money spent on healthcare. And just like that, discrimination in the workplace becomes a reality that more people face as they age. Indeed, sexism and racism are hot topics in the news every day, but ageism is a growing diversity and inclusion issue that continues to be swept under the rug—and these workers, along with their families, are suffering as a result.

Pushing older Americans out of the workforce is short-sighted

“Older workers are a valued resource that too often are falling under the radar,” TriplePundit’s Leon Kaye observed last year. Many employers, however, are still not getting the memo.

Unfortunately, age discrimination seems to be the one form of bias that is still acceptable,” Susan Weinstock, vice president of financial resilience programming for the AARP, said in a statement. But employers who push out their experienced workers do so to their detriment.”

Weinstock and the AARP point to qualities and skills that older workers have honed and which employers value, including loyalty, productivity, motivation, the ability to work under pressure, leadership, problem-solving, commitment to their work and experience.

Corporate America is excluding older workers from D&I strategies

Still, 2019 research from PwC indicates that only 8 percent of companies include age in their diversity and inclusion strategies, leaving the door open for ageism and age discrimination.

Experts including author Bonnie Marcus, who is writing a book about women over 50 in the workplace, point to this gap as a clear hypocrisy within the diversity and inclusion (D&I) conversation, and understandably so. Older workers helped shape the modern workforce. They innovated, dreamed and toiled to pave the way for the digital age.

Furthermore, these workers are more innovative than we give them credit for: A quarter of U.S. entrepreneurs are in the 55 to 64 age bracket, and almost 40 percent of people who start new businesses are in that age group, according to ongoing research by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Instead of sending them away, employers would be wise to welcome and appreciate older, “seasoned” or “mature” workers as the valued resource” they are and have been to the labor market. Let the days of watching sunsets on the porch wait—the sun has not yet gone down on many of todays older workers.

Image credit: Maria Lupan/Unsplash

Debra Born headshotDebra Born

Debra is a writer and public relations professional based in Upstate New York. Her other interests include graphic design, photography, nature and animals. You can find her on LinkedIn

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