Is ageism holding back your talent pipeline?

2to3days founder Juliet catches up with Stephanie Dillon, founder and director at Inclusivity Partners, to talk about why companies should be tapping into an often overlooked talent pool: older women.

Why do you believe there should be a greater focus on increasing the number of older people in the workplace? 

Despite economic uncertainty with Brexit, the war on talent is showing no signs of slowing down. There are a lot of organisations that are still finding it difficult to attract top quality, highly skilled workers to fill their vacancies.

At the same time the UK has an ageing workforce. Mercer recently released a report which projected that by 2025 we will have 300,000 fewer workers under the age of 30 and 1 million more workers over the age of 50. Further research by the Centre for Ageing Better has shown that many over 50 experience an ‘unemployment trap’ – they’re more likely to be out of work than younger age groups, and once unemployed they struggle more than younger job seekers to get back into employment.

So right now there seems to be a disconnect between available talent and employers who are unable to fill vacancies. If the two came together it would be a terrific result. 

Why do you think this disconnect exists?

Sadly, I believe it’s due to ageism in UK recruitment practices. Hiring managers are prone to making assumptions and generalisations based on someone’s age and often in-house recruitment teams will make the same assumptions. 

One of the most common assumptions is that someone might be over-qualified and therefore unlikely to have a genuine interest in a role or to stay in it. This completely ignores the many different motivations people have for working. For some people, as they mature, the desire for ‘blazing up the career ladder’ can often be replaced with wanting to work for a good organisation, with a good team, a fair salary, and access to a flexible and agile working pattern. The opportunity to use one’s skills and knowledge is rewarding in itself, and far too often these biases and assumptions shut mature workers out of the labour market when in reality they would prove to be loyal and committed team players.

Another assumption might be that the more mature worker is not someone who is ambitious or hungry for growth and challenge. Again this is an assumption that needs to be tested – in my role I have had the pleasure of interviewing many women in their 50s still filled with plenty of ambition, drive and goals for the future.

The point is that no conclusion should be reached without seeking to understand each individual’s motivators and drivers. By opening their mindset, hiring managers can access a huge untapped talent pool. London in particular will be hit hardest by the ageing workforce. With a younger population than the rest of the UK and a slow-down in migration post Brexit, hiring managers in London will need to consider wider talent pools than ever before. 

So how do employers go about changing mindsets and tapping into these talent pools? 

It calls for an entirely new approach to talent acquisition strategies so as to incorporate all ages. With careers lengthening and ages rising, the CV of the future will be less linear in nature and more likely to include career breaks, periods of working below skill set (or what we refer to as a non-linear CV), and multiple positions and possibly even multiple careers. 

Organisations will need to expand their talent identification models to be less reliant on past techniques and more invested in understanding the individual characteristics of the talent pool applying. AWhat is needed is a holistic approach to understanding the person’s abilities including their drivers and motivators, their adaptability, their ability to learn and grow, and to assimilate new information. 

Organisations that focus on training programmes, allowing upskilling and retraining, leveraging the apprenticeship levy, will find themselves in a lead position for attracting and retaining a superior workforce. Returner programmes are another way organisations can tap into talent that has been dormant for a period of time and is now seeking to reignite their career. Returner programmes are particularly useful vehicles for mothers (and fathers) who have stepped away from their careers for a period of time to care for young children, and they also provide on-ramps for carers who have taken time away from the workforce to care for elderly family members.

Many of our mothers may be in or approaching the 50 plus age bracket - what is your advice for how they might approach their job search to overcome possible ageism in the market?

First, make sure your CV is highly tailored for any role you’re applying to. It needs to be modified for each and every opportunity so it sings off the page that you have the right skills for the role.

Secondly, work your own personal network. You’re much more likely to identify opportunities via people in your network than through the big recruitment companies. If you’ve been on a career break then consider a Return to Work programme, which is a terrific way of re-entering.

Finally, I highly recommend a terrific book called She’s Back: Your guide to returning to work. Whether you’re on a career break or not, this is a really invaluable book packed with nuggets of advice on managing your career.

Find out how we can help with setting up a returners programme in your company