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Monday, October 8, 2012

New Ageism” in The Workplace[i]

         While the following information was published in the UK about 10 years ago, let’s assume that there is still improvement to be done and not only in the UK but all of the business world. Reading the article, given at the bottom of the post, will help develop a deeper understanding of "new ageism."
         The article opens with a statement that “Older workers in recent times have become increasingly under-represented in the workforce….” Data is then cited that supports this statement. It may be assumed to be because employers are recruiting and keeping at work younger workers over older workers.
         The policy makers in the United Kingdom have responded to this data.  In 1999 they published a voluntary code of practice, with the goal of employing older workers expressed in the principle of “equal opportunities of employment.”  Why is it that while organizations may use the language of “equal opportunity” the problem still exists? 
         The authors then describe how this situuation can be analyzed by using discourse analysis. “What this means, in relation to age discrimination, is that the use of the language of equal opportunities cannot be accepted simply as evidence of a consistent commitment on the part of organizations to implement fair employment practices and thus improve the prospects of older workers?”
         The researchers carried out some interviews with human resource managers or recruitment managers of just over 10 medium to large enterprises operating on a UK-wide basis.
         The following three sets of responses were used:
"1)   Avoiding ‘ageist’ attributions 1 Making non-discriminatory practices visible.
2)   Avoiding ‘ageist” attributions 2 Making discriminatory practices less visible.
3)    Avoiding ‘ageist’ attributions 3 Making potentially discriminatory practices invisible."

Dialogue Examples:

1) CM: “Could you tell me what sort of form [your equal          opportunity policy] takes?
  LL:” We have an equal opportunities statement exam and we are in the process of forming it into a full-blown policy etc. But I do say that we don’t discriminate against ethnic origin, etc. etc.  We don’t include age at the moment, we’re sort of… we are revising our handbook at the          moment, we are inserting age and some other issues, to make it up front (.)  I don’t think we have discriminated against age per se in the past, but I do want it to be up front anyway.”

2)    CM: What sort of age balance is there within [organization name] say between younger worker and the over 40s?
      LL: A high percentage of the population is under 34 years old (.)  I      mean it is something like 70% of the organization is under 30.

3)    CM:  Why is there that age balance in [organization name]

      LL:  We’re still suffering because the older ones all left you          know, a couple of years on the early retirement err (.) and          certainly now the population is too young arm, for the type of work that we are asking them to do.

         “The responses obtained in the present study, which draw explicitly upon language of equal opportunities and seek to justify the non-employment of older workers in non-ageist terms, similarly would appear to reflect a form of “new ageism”

         Finally, using flexible categories and “easy deployment of mundane reasoning ”… may indicate that new ageist discourse may  be easier to use than other forms “new” discriminatory talk and harder to remedy than other ‘new isms and within the world of work.

[i]  McVittie, C., McKinley, A. & Widdicomebe, S. (2003).  Committed to (un)equal opportunities?: ‘New Ageism’ and the older worker, British Journal of Social Psychology, 42, 595-612.    

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