Women stop progressing in their careers at the age of 45, while men start to stagnate at 55. That’s what HR bosses told the government’s Business Champion for Older Workers, Dr Ros Altmann, when she embarked on a major report into ageism at work.
The report, released on Wednesday, shows that if half the 1.2 million older workers that are not currently fully employed could be helped back into the workplace, it could boost UK GDP by up to £25 billion a year.
Media images of walking sticks and wizened hands alongside the absence of older female newsreaders is a toxic combination, Altmann said, that has conditioned us to think of the over-50 as elderly and infirm.
She wrote in the Telegraph: "A friend of mine hired a new PA – a great lady in her early 50s, whose duties included welcoming guests or clients as they entered the offices.
"When the CEO returned from a trip abroad, he took one look at the new hire and declared that she was 'not the kind of person who should be the first face clients saw'. When asked what the problem was he replied 'she doesn’t look the part'! She was replacing a young, blonde woman in her thirties and the view was that the firm needed someone like her."
The CEO in question would not have passed the age and skills audit recommended by the government, which will monitor and guard against bias in recruitment.
The report also recommends flexible working and better training for line managers. “Rethink your later life: don’t write yourself off,” the report said.