It has become fashionable for corporations to promote diversity and inclusion, but if they cared about being inclusive, they would focus on hiring more older workers. It’s often said that the ideas people spout are those of long-dead philosophers. In the case of modern corporations that philosophy is intersectional feminism, with their chief target old white men. The focus in this agenda has been to be inclusive of people of different races, genders and sexuality, but one significant group has been forgotten: older workers.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Australia still ranks behind many other OECD ranking 12th for mature-aged employment rate. Presently, Australia’s mature-aged employment rate sits at 62.4%, compared to 76.1% in New Zealand. The Australian Human Rights Commission has identified age discrimination as a concern, with many older Australians unable to secure employment in areas where they have both experience and qualifications. Australia’s Aged and Disability Discrimination commissioner said that “it is unthinkable that people who lose their jobs in their 50s may live up to another 40 years without paid employment.”
It’s understandable that employers are reluctant to hire older workers fearing that they will be harder to train and less likely to adapt to newer ways of doing things. While such concerns are understandable, employers have a responsibility to be equitable in their treatment of job applicants.
A study by the University of South Australia found that almost a third of Australians perceived aged-related discrimination while employed or looking for employment. The same study found over two-thirds of retirees reported that had experienced age-related discrimination, attributing their retirement to involuntary factors such as, “having no choice”, redundancy or dismissal.
Women of childbearing age have traditionally faced similar discrimination with employers concerned that after investing significant resources in training a new employee that the employee would go on maternity leave causing disruption and expense to the company. Unlike women, there is little demand for quotas or special programs to incentivise the employment of mature workers.
This contradiction shows the hypocrisy of corporate virtue signalling. Many older workers find themselves the first out the door when redundancies go round and come under pressure to leave, often so their employers can make room for the young diversity hires that replace them. It’s hard to separate this discrimination from the demonisation of old-white-men that has become common amongst the diversity crowd.
Hiring and retaining older workers is often the wrong kind of diversity for corporations, with many of those workers being too old and too white. The older worker might object to their company advocating for marriage equality or their focus on gender equality.
The diversity and inclusion agenda of the corporate world obsesses over unconscious bias, rolling out mandatory unconscious bias training across organisations that require employees to take tests revealing their unconscious bias along gender and racial lines. In Canada, professor Jordan Peterson has questioned the validity of unconscious bias training and its use as a tool to eliminate discrimination, noting that unconscious bias has become a growth industry in spite of the evidence against its validity.
Sadly, despite all the corporate virtue signalling around diversity and inclusion, there remains little desire to improve the situation of genuinely discriminated groups. The hiring and training of older workers remain a too difficult area for companies to tackle. They instead focus on the non-issue of gender wage gaps and supporting marriage equality. At its best, the diversity and inclusion agenda is about finding the best people for the right jobs. With an ageing population, Australia needs to hire and retain its older workers if it is to grow its economy it. It’s time for corporations to focus on being genuinely inclusive rather than just virtue-signalling.
Justin Campbell is general manager of LibertyWorks Inc.