Ageism: the rising career challenge for experienced professionals

The figures do not lie: according to business and financial data leader Bloomberg, one in 11 globally are over the age of 65; in 2050 this number will be one in six. Such demographics changes reflect a long-term increase in life expectancy and fall in birth rate, which means the average person is getting older.

This could mean greater economic burden falling on the shrinking world of working adults, but it could also spell greater opportunity for individuals and companies by hiring older midlife workers.

At least, in theory. In terms of the MENA region, for those experienced professionals wishing to remain in the workforce, ageism is making it extraordinarily difficult to find a position.

“It is very difficult; actually [only] a very small percentage of these people manage to find a job,” confirms Senior HR Executive Tina Kafantari. “The doors are closed for these professionals aged between the ages 50 and 60”, making it almost impossible for this demographic to be hired.

Which begs the question: how can job seekers within this age group overcome these challenges?

In a longer interview with Kafantari for the Cyprus Mail’s job-market-focused Careers Express YouTube channel, corporate trainer Elisabeth Kesterlian put the following questions to the HR professional, which are accompanied by a summary of her answers, as seen below.

What are the main job-seeking challenges facing experienced professionals?

Employers are biased against this group of people in their 50s and 60s, the main challenge being their ability that they perform as the companies would expect. There is a belief that juniors are motivated, alive, they have high stamina, dreams, goals, willingness to work long hours to progress on their career ladder.  On the contrary, they think what professional goals could a person in their 50s have? What motivation? Why should I hire someone who would retire in few years? At the same time, employers don’t expect that they would have the strength and stamina to work eight or more hours and commit themselves to work, so automatically the door is closed.

Does gender also play a role for these job-seeking age groups?

While there is a higher chance for men rather than women to find a job, again, the opportunities are only a bit higher. It is a fact that men in their 50s and 60s are also facing difficulties being hired.

Another challenge is the perception that a person with experience would have high salary expectations that a company would not be able to meet. Yet, as time has passed, salary ranges have changed and are not at the same level as they used to be before the financial crisis in 2013. Therefore, most professionals are prepared to accept a lower package to adjust to the new reality.

How can companies overcome ageism and change their mindset?

Changing mindset is not easy, and it takes a long time to change the way people think and act.  It requires persistence; perhaps HR, trainers and executive coaches could play a vital role in working with CEOs and leaders to change the ageist way of thinking.

What are the benefits of hiring experienced professionals?

It’s obvious, the keyword says it “experience”. Experienced professionals provide knowledge, maturity, they know how to handle difficult situations, they know how to handle crises. If we compare this with junior professionals, they have more motivation and stamina. Companies would get the best of both worlds by combining these two features, creating innovation and growth.

Therefore, companies should overcome ageist biases, and change their policies to embrace diversity by including among their hires, older, experienced professionals. In the US, more and more companies are hiring at least 20 per cent of their talent pool from experienced professionals, to work side by side with their younger recruits.

By enabling 50- and 60-plus professionals to remain in a multi-generational workforce, we help members of older generations remain active, maintain their social connections and retain their mental wellbeing.

This sets off a virtuous cycle in a range of ways, as experienced professionals make fewer mistakes, are able to mentor in their area of expertise, and can put a range of social skills, emotional intelligence and a mature perspective to work for a company.

After all, age is only a number; assuming a person is healthy, what counts is how they feel, not how old they are. There are people still working at 75 and doing miracles. They are well, physically, they love what they are doing and they offer expertise in their profession and their community as a whole.