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  • Writer's pictureEdwin and George

The discrimination we’ll all be certain to face

EGM On A Mission: Let’s Build Better Companies

‘Ageism is everywhere – unless you’re applying to be President of the USA.’ (1)

‘Ageism seeps into all areas of our lives – it’s prominent in the workplace – it goes unchallenged and has far reaching consequences.’ (2)

In July 2008, a 53-year-old worker at France Telecom wrote a letter to a Trade Union official. The worker was an engineer – but he’d been moved to a new job as a call centre agent.

The worker hated his new job – constant surveillance, reciting scripts, rushing through calls to hit quotas, asking to go to the bathroom.

He couldn’t spend one more day working in the call centre – and he wanted the Trade Union official to know.

After sending the letter, the worker walked to a local train station and threw himself under a train.

The man was one of dozens of France Telecom workers to commit suicide due to work related issues.

This wasn’t happening by accident.

Most of the victims were over 50 – and the company wanted them off their payroll. (3)

In the resulting legal battle (which came to an end in 2019), it was alleged that the CEO had said in a meeting:

‘We’ll get rid of them through the doors – or, if not, through the windows.’ (4)

Ok this took place in 2008 – an extreme case.

Think things have changed since then? What about this headline in Bloomberg a week ago?

‘IBM Emails Show Millennial Workers Favoured Over ‘Dinobabies’

Lawyer in age bias case calls messages ‘highly incriminating.’

‘IBM executives discussed in emails how to force older workers out - deriding them as ‘dinobabies’ who should be made an ‘extinct species,’ - according to court filings in age discrimination cases against the company.

The emails show ‘highly ‘incriminating hostility’ towards older employees by officials - who at the time were in the company’s highest ranks.

Company officials are also alleged to have discussed frustration that IBM had a much lower share of millennials in its workforce than a competitor - but said it’s share would increase following layoffs. (According to the filings.)

A spokesperson said the language cited in the emails ‘is not consistent with the respect IBM has for it’s employees.’

According to IBMs employee handbook – ‘people are a treasured resource and are treated like one.’ (5)

One widow is suing after her husband killed himself when he was fired from the firm at age 57. (6)

ProPublica, an independent newsroom, estimates that IBM has ‘let go’ 20,000 U.S employees over the age of 40 in the past five years.

This equates to 60 per cent of all IBM job cuts in the US. ProPublica claim that IBM employees could only get a full severance package if they waived their right to take age discrimination action against the company. (7)

Time will tell if IBM is found guilty of age discrimination.

There was a case in the UK in December 2021 – which has led to an increased focus on age discrimination.

OK, the ruling isn’t applicable in Australia (or the US) – but it provides useful and powerful messages.

A 62-year-old manager believed he was being bullied by his boss. He went to HR and, during the meeting, was asked when he was planning to retire.

The manager resigned and brought a case of age discrimination against his employer, the Ministry of Defence.

The judge found that the manager had been discriminated against.

The question was ageist - unless the manager had raised the subject himself –

which he hadn’t.

The judge summed up saying, the test is:

  • Were the thirty-year-olds in the organisation asked the same question? Or

  • Would it be reasonable to ask the thirty-year-olds in the organisation the same question?

The judge warned that any indication that an older worker is being ‘eased out’ of their job is age discrimination.

He concluded that - asking this question was the equivalent of asking a young lady employee – ‘when are you going to get pregnant?’ (8)

The judgement is leading to a rush by UK companies to review their treatment of older workers.

And companies will be forced to give the subject more attention in Australia:

‘A 2021 report commissioned by the Australian HR Institute found that (despite the ‘great resignation’):

  • 40 per cent of respondents said they expect to retire between 66-70 (an increase of 7 per cent since 2014.)

  • The number expecting to retire between 71-75 has grown from 10 per cent to 17 per cent over the same period.

  • The study concluded that the working population is getting older – and age discrimination will receive much more focus. (9)

Why is it considered acceptable to discriminate against older people in the workplace? It’s more difficult for them to secure interviews and appointments. (10)

Why does this go on ‘under the radar?’

Perhaps it’s because those on the other end think they won’t get the support if they complain – or their job prospects will be impacted?

A journalist asked for the views of a 25-year-old colleague:

‘I’m sorry, but I can’t feel sympathy for boomers,’ came the reply. ‘They’re the guys with the pensions, they’re the ones who destroyed the climate. They had it easy.’

But we’re dealing with individuals here – not groups or generations – people who are colleagues at work – or members of our families. (11)

Older workers bring professional knowledge and experience to the workplace. Losing them leads to the loss of key skills – and yet companies are failing to learn the lessons.

Age diverse workplaces are good for the company – and good for the economy. Failing to keep older workers is a missed opportunity for everyone.

In January 2022, 62-year-old Sky news presenter, Adam Boulton, left his job.

Boulton said the decision was by mutual agreement – ‘the channel was concentrating on the next generation. TV companies are very sensitive to the idea of diversity.’

There seemed to be no irony in his remarks.

Perhaps the thought that ‘diversity’ should include older workers had not occurred to him or his employer. (12)

Note – here we’ve discussed discrimination against older workers – we’ve written about the issues faced by younger workers previously.) (13)

  1. Against ageism, Financial Times, 15 January 2022

  2. Ageism is a global challenge, World Health Organisation, 18 March 2021

  3. Lab rats, Dan Lyons

  4. France Telecom and its former CEO found guilty over worker suicides, 29 December 2019, YouTube

  5. IBM Emails Show Millennial Workers Favoured Over ‘Dinobabies.’ Bloomberg, 12 February 2022

  6. Daily Mail, 14 February 2022

  7. How IBM quietly pushed out 20,000 older workers, Youtube

  8. Against ageism, Financial Times, 15 January 2022

  9. Australian report identifies an increase in workers in their fifties being perceived as older workers, 3 June 2021 www.agre discrimination. Info

  10. Ageism is a global challenge, World Health Organisation, 18 March 2021

  11. Against ageism, Financial Times, 15 January 2022

  12. Against ageism, Financial Times, 15 January 2022

  13. Young people in employment, a total disgrace, EGM blog

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