When age and life experience become a barrier to getting a job – SMH

Sydney Morning Herald
September 29 2017
Anna Patty

Libby Low had planned to return to work soon after having her first baby, but after the child was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition she ended up staying out of the workforce for five years.

When she started looking for a job in January at the age of 40, friends told her the best she could hope for was a job in administration, despite her many years of experience in management.

 

Libby Low took five years out of the workforce to look after a child with special needs. Photo: Christopher Pearce

“I had low expectations,” she said. “It is absolutely intimidating. When I started thinking about what am I going to do, I didn’t know where to start.

“My head was in a different place for five years and I had no professional confidence.”

While looking for jobs, Ms Low stumbled on a new recruitment program that was targeting people who had been out of work for two years or more.

Her application for the job was successful and she started work four days a week as a consulting manager for Deloitte in July.

“It’s been great. It was a lot about restoring your confidence,” Ms Low said.

Ms Low will find out in mid-November whether she will get a permanent role with Deloitte after completing a 20-week program

Deloitte Australia said it introduced the new Return To Work Program in response to the under-representation of women in senior ranks.

A spokesman said it was open to men and women, but aimed to help women who have taken a break transition back into the workplace.

“The program is part of our wider strategy to improve diversity at all levels of the business and forms part of our commitment to being an inclusive employer,” he said.

While Deloitte said it was working towards increasing diversity, a new report released by the Australian Centre for Leadership for Women found that many organisations have “a mono culture valuing sameness, not difference” and marginalised women because of their caring roles.

The Unique Leadership of Minority Women Report found that being a woman from a minority group, which included older women, was a major barrier to entering senior leadership positions.

“A resounding theme was that women from minority groups have diverse experiences because of their unique contexts, experiences of diversity and discrimination which shaped a unique style of leadership that was more people focused, resilient, collaborative, interpersonal, empathetic, flexible, creative, lateral and innovative in their approaches to leadership, problem solving and developing business solutions,” the report said.

The director of the Australian Centre for Leadership for Women, Dr Diann Rodgers-Healey, who authored the national study of women mostly aged between 36 to 55, said not being caucasian, able-bodied, heterosexual, attending private schools and prestigious universities created significant disadvantages.

“With minorities working hard to achieve and prove themselves amongst those who are mostly Anglo-Saxon, despite doing the work, it was highlighted that they are not valued and remunerated as they should be, but relegated to be the “back staff worker”.

The report said women’s maturity, life experience and professional experience were valued in the community sector, “but in the corporate sector, prejudice to age, lack of recognition for their knowledge and experience have excluded older women from opportunities. Here they have to prove themselves by working harder and being more assertive”.

Aloma Fennell, national president of Older Women’s Network said she was concerned that older women were now being recognised as a “minority group” despite offering a lot of value in terms of ability and experience.

“Irrespective of what we have achieved or contributed, we are [a] very age-focused society,” she said.

“Women, particularly over the age of 55, are thought of as too old and undervalued. By the age of 60, you are completely invisible.

“But one in 60 people today are in the over-60 bracket and people will need to work until the pension age of 70. What are they going to do for 15 years?”.

16 comments

  • MartySydney,

    It would have been sensible to have included the name of the recruitment program which helped out!!

  • GianSydney,

    29 people reading and no comment yet. Doesn’t look like this issue is getting much traction which is precisely why this article is written.

  • incompatible

    After 10 years of “retirement”, I’d be tempted to start working again, since life becomes stale if you do the same things endlessly. I’m not sure that the economy has any demand for 50+-year-old software developers though. Moving to a large city to look for work would be expensive.

  • ZennKL,

    Middle aged men are marginalised in employment. As a 54 yo law graduate I have made countless applications for 2 interviews. The first yielded 2 weeks work in which I did a personal matter for the principal, and the second I did not hear from subsequent to the interview. It reflects poorly on lawyers and the NSW Public Service that they do no have the courtesy to inform unsuccessful applicants or offer them feedback.

  • gmannsw,

    What about about white middle aged men ? Is there a program the for them ?

  • Mere Male

    It also helps with getting a job to be female.

  • JOHNLWamberal ,

    Ageist stereotyping is just one factor, once you are out of The workforce you find that office software has gone through several iterations, the office is now “hot desking” and “agile”. All those not used to such changes will need to be pretty adaptable to navigate them. Even if they are, they still need to convince some 30 year old they can do it.

  • Fergus

    Amazed that such women struggle to get back into the workplace. Such people usually have such critical skills as emotional intelligence, empathy and attention to detail. Unlike millenials who simply see employment as simply the next step to the next job, such people understand ideas such as pride in their work and a capacity to value the aspirations of the outfit they work for. And for a range of reasons they need to money.
    In our experience they are less likely to be addicted to social media,they know stuff and understand that solutions doesn’t always mean “just goggle it.” Those organisations who sideline these people have a lot to learn about HR.

    • Generations Plus

      Really agree with this comment. We love the old school values in the work force and are thrilled to be employers of people in their 20s through to 60s. It’s a great mix and keeps it all real for all generations to be represented and we all learn from each other. Our employee in his 60s brings massive experience and an alignment and understanding of values to the table which has been invaluable for our business. We can’t believe such people are passed over for employment. We have had good experiences with work ethic from people across all generations but also bad experiences. One observation I would make is that we have had to train younger staff to trust their own judgement rather than defer to ‘groupthink’. It seems technology has robbed some of their ability to be individuals.

  • Susan

    I wish there was a program like this when I returned to the workforce 3 years ago. I went from a managerial position in a corporate to an administrator in a community services organisation. I don’t think it’s right to say that women’s experience is valued in the community services sector – the main reason women are ‘welcomed’ into the community sector is because we are generally more willing to put up with the terrible pay.

  • Rosie

    To answer the question asked in the final line of this article – I sit at home doing nothing, living off my superannuation which will be all gone by the time I get to pension age because at age 59 I haven’t been able to get work for the past 6 years. I’ve had two interviews out of all the applications I’ve sent off. Up until now I had never been unemployed since I started work at aged 15 in admin/clerical positions. I’ve been told straight out “you’ve got all the skills & experience but we want someone younger”. I’ve given up now. Heaven help the young ones out there who are unemployed too.

  • Older Sydney,

    How amazing is this to see this issue actually getting some air time. And what an amazing initiative from Deloitte. I’d hit 50 but seriously wanted to get back into full time, good, interesting and challenging work, like I’d left at 35. It took a series of incremental contract positions, but eventually I got me back in. It never occurred to me to give up.

  • Vicki

    Even harder your surname can easily identified you as a minority group