Ageism has no part in civilised society

AGEISM is the most common form of discrimination in the workplace in Ireland and is predicted to get worse when the retirement age is pushed back to 68.

To combat this growing problem, the charity Age and Opportunity has devised an Agewise workshop to raise awareness and to devise strategies to counter workplace age discrimination.

Sue Russell, an education and training co-ordinator at Age and Opportunity, says the courses are open to all.

“Ageism is one of those hidden isms,” she says. “You might never be discriminated on the basis of gender or race, but if you live long enough, you are more than likely going to experience some level of ageism.

“We get very negative messages about ageing through the media and society in general. Unfortunately people can internalise these messages and then restrict their own roles and expectations at work and in their lives.’’

The workshop co-ordinators will ask the business representatives to examine their own attitudes to ageing, to think of examples where that could be a barrier and effect their treatment of older staff.

Tom Finnerty, 53, was a self-employed service engineer before his business closed last Christmas. He hopes to restart his business soon. He has been active in his community for 14 years and volunteers for the Offaly Community Forum. He attended an AgeWise workshop in January and would recommend it to everybody as it “makes you think”.

“I was shocked to hear about the everyday aspect of ageism and the sterotypes being portrayed in society. Even something simple like a birthday card. Or how unfriendly we can be, describing people as mutton dressed as lamb.”

Finnerty, who lives in Tullamore, Co Offaly, with his wife and two daughters, believes older people have a lot to offer their communities and the workplace but that ageism is preventing them from achieving their potential.

“The amount of people retiring now and the skills they have to offer is amazing. Some of them may have lived through two or three recessions and have a wealth of information to offer. It would be great to see more projects with young and old people working together and learning from each other,’’ he says.

In 2011, age was the grounds for 23% of complaints made under the Equal Status Act processed by the Equality Authority and 17% of cases under the Employment Equality Act.

Eamon Timmins, head of advocacy and communications for Age Action, described theses figures as a “cause for concern’’ and reveals the challenge Ireland has to becoming a “truly age-friendly society”.

Typically, it is older women who suffer most from ageism in the workplace. The pressure to look younger has never been so intense — hence the “mutton dressed as lamb’’ jibes. And unfortunately some jobs are worse than others.

A recent study in Britain revealed that less than one in five television presenters at all the major broadcasters over the age of 50 are women.

Anna Ford, a journalist and broadcaster for over 30 years, left the BBC aged 62, claiming she had been sidelined because of her age.

But when her colleague David Dimbleby, 74, had his multimillion pound contract recently renewed by the BBC, she asked: “I wonder how these charming dinosaurs such as Mr Dimbleby and John Simpson (68) continue to procure contracts with the BBC, when, however hard I look, I fail to see any woman of the same age, the same intelligence and the same rather baggy looks.’’

Unfortunately, the same can also be said of the national broadcaster here. Where is the female version of Gay Byrne or Pat Kenny?


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