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Future of Work Series: You can’t change what you can’t see

Discrimination Age Discrimination

Audrey Page & Associates

Future of Work Series: You can’t change what you can’t see

Wednesday 13 September 2017
Event start: 6pm for 6:30pm
(Check against delivery)

10-12 Kensington St, Chippendale NSW 2000

Acknowledge traditional owners The Gadigal people of the Eora Nation
Thank Audrey Page & Associates for hosting this private dinner and acknowledge in particular:
Scott Wagstaff, CEO, Audrey Page & Associates

Penelope Faure, Director Executive Services

Jenny Wiis, Director Business Partnerships who unfortunately is unable to be with us tonight.

Willing to Work Report
I have 3 Priorities on which I am focussing
* Elder Abuse and the recent ALRC report
* Older Women at risk of Homelessness
*  to progress implementation of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Willing to Work report, which looked at employment discrimination against older Australians and Australians with disability.

I have an absolute aversion to reports not being implemented and last year I delivered a speech at the Academy of Social Sciences Australia where I traced back 60 years to the 1954 Hutchinson Report, the first major social survey of older people in Victoria. The report recommended that those ‘fit and willing to work’ should be encouraged to do so.

It is ironic that these exact words ‘willing to work’ should still be the message of the Commission’s report launched May last year.

Tonight I would like to speak to you about age inclusion and diversity in the workplace. In line with the topic ‘you can’t change what you can’t see’ – I think it is fair to say that age tends to have a relatively low profile in conversations about diversity and inclusion. At times, compared with other areas of inclusion, it may drop off the radar completely.

However, older workers are a significant part of the future of our workforce and age inclusion is critical for the growth of our businesses and economy. It is a conversation that the corporate world can’t afford not to have.

Ageing profile

Few of you would need me to tell you that like many nations in the world, Australia’s population is ageing. In 2015, there were 4.7 people of working age supporting every older person over 65. In 40 years time, the number of Australians over 65 will have more than doubled. This means that if the working age population remains relatively stable, in 40 years time, there will only be around 2.7 people of working age supporting every person over 65.

It is therefore a demographic and economic imperative that older Australians are encouraged and supported to remain in the workforce for longer if they are willing and able to do so. This is consistent with the current Government’s policy and governments’ at all levels must take an active role in progressing this.

But businesses and employers also have a role to play. In order to remain relevant and competitive, it is crucial that employers and HR get on board and adapt to reality of Australia’s ageing workforce and consumer market.

Prevalence of age discrimination

However, the truth is that few are prepared for these changes. Research from Chandler McCleod reveals that 44% of employers are unprepared for the future of an ageing workforce.  The Australian Human Rights Commission conducted research in 2013, which found that one in ten businesses had an age above which they will not recruit, the average age being 50 years.

The issue is further reinforced by submissions we received during the Commission’s recent Willing to Work National Inquiry, which found that age discrimination could be found at all stages of employment.

From recruitment processes – being told by the recruiter or interviewing panel that they’re ‘overqualified’ and ‘won’t fit the organisational culture’ and “why would you want to work for less than you were earning in your previous job?”. To job ads looking for someone ‘young and vibrant’ or ‘recently out of school’.

Age discrimination carries through to retention and redundancy. Through the Willing to Work inquiry, we heard about older employees being targeted for redundancy, being overlooked for promotion or training opportunities. Others have been subject to derogatory jokes or comments about their age.

Ms Susan Jackson-Wood, 65, a corporate relations manager in Adelaide, had been in the workforce for 49 years until she was squeezed out of her last job after a change in management. She said, "[p]ortions of my work were taken away from me and given to other people without my knowledge. Meetings were held that the rest of the department were invited to that I wasn't. A major function was held that previously I would have been heavily involved in and I was totally excluded from anything to do with it.

"It really debased my self-confidence and self-esteem. You get to the stage where you start doubting yourself.

"I ended up having a nervous breakdown".

Whether subtle or overt, intentional or unintentional, age discrimination can have devastating impacts on older people’s health, wellbeing and self-esteem. An earlier prevalence study of age discrimination by the Commission found that over a quarter (27%) of people over the age of 50 reported having recently experienced employment-related age discrimination. Among these, one in three gave up looking for work after experiencing discrimination.

Failure to encourage older workers to return to work after an accident or injury

This is a terrible and unnecessary waste of talent, skills and experience. It is also costing our businesses and our economy.

Business case

Much has been said about the fiscal impacts of an ageing population and the pressures it will place on our economy, public health, welfare systems and younger generations.

The good news is that Australians aged 45 years and over are intending to work longer than ever before. The latest data from the ABS Retirement Intentions 2014 survey show that 71% of persons intended to retire at the age of 65 years. This is up from 48% compared with ten years before. More people are also intending to retire at older ages, 70 or over.

Compared to previous generations, older boomers are also likely to live many more years free of disability.

Therefore, instead of complaining about older people creating unsustainable burdens, we must be thinking about how we can assist older workers who are in good health and willing to work, to do just that, and to reskill if necessary.

The Grattan Institute report estimates that a 7% increase in mature-age labour force participation would raise the GDP in 2022 by approximately $25 billion.    Imagine the impact that would have on our national debt!

Further, organisations that are inclusive and diverse have reported tangible benefits in terms of productivity, performance and innovation. Older workers offer loyalty, low absenteeism, skills and experience. Older workers are also often willing to mentor younger staff and help others in the workplace. They are a good investment in human capital.

For example my brother, 21 years my junior, owns a medium-size family business started over 50 years ago by my father. He has been working there since he was a teenager and sings the praises of the benefits of an older workforce.

Let’s not forget that older people are one of the largest and growing consumer markets. Older employees in your workforce can contribute ideas and perspectives that can support a business to respond better to the changing age profile of customers. For example, having age diversity within teams can encourage a variety of perspectives to fuel ideas and innovation.

Of course, having a diverse workforce and championing age inclusion will also present a good public image!  It also sends a signal to younger workers that their employer will value them when they are older and this will foster loyalty to the company.

The current low profile of age inclusion issues, so often neither seen, heard nor discussed, also presents an opportunity to be a champion and innovator in this area.

The benefits of a multigenerational workforce are numerous and I would encourage you all to think ahead to the years and decades before us. What will your business and workforce look like? How will you capitalise on the future of our ageing workforce and consumer base? Will you be leading the pack or trailing behind?

What can employers/businesses do?

The Commission’s Willing to Work Report makes a suite of recommendations for employers and HR professionals to consider adapting to their business practice. We have also collected examples of best practice in age diversity and inclusion into a booklet called Good Practice Examples: A Resource for Employers, which is available on the Commission website.

We recognise that what works for one industry or business may not be suitable for another. There is no one-size-fits all approach. In fact it’s more effective to adopt a combination of strategies rather than a single approach.

I won’t be able to go through all of these today but I do want to highlight a few points:

Training for HR and managers

I want to emphasise the importance of being conscious of and combatting stereotypes. Stereotypes can be embedded in recruitment practices or inadvertently through language and behaviour in the workplace.

The majority of the time, people are simply not aware that they hold age-based stereotypes or that they might be discriminating against a job applicant or co-worker on account of his or her age.

I believe there is role for educating business and HR by providing practical examples and real life stories to shift perceptions about the way we value older workers. This could be done through CPD training or courses in the HR and business curricula in Universities.

I have been talking to the NSW Government about this and they have expressed interest in a possible training course for NSW public service HR and managers on age inclusion. There is potential for this to be expanded to other states and departments.

There is a lot of scope for industry/business training institutes to develop CPD courses for their constituents.

o For example: AICD could develop a continuing Continuing Professessional Development (CPD)course for directors debunking traditional age stereotypes, explaining the business benefits of an age inclusive workforce and how they could champion this in the organisation.

I would be happy to speak further with anyone who has an interest in this.

Flexibility and adjustments

We are all likely at some stage in our lives to require time off for a variety of reasons – pregnancy and childbirth, because of illness or to care for someone who becomes unwell or has a disability. As the population ages, older workers may find themselves needing to provide care for their ageing parents, ill spouse or grandchildren. As they age, your older employee may also require adjustments to particular physical or manual aspects of their job.

Flexibility is equally important to those older workers who are looking to wind down, spend more time with family, travel but still contribute to the workforce.

EXAMPLE: Peoplecare, a health insurance company has a Career Break policy for employees who have been employed for 2 years to take up to a year in unpaid leave for major life choices such as full time study, volunteering, travel or personal leave. At the conclusion of the career break, the policy provides that the employee will return to their previous role where possible. Where this is not possible, they’ll be returned to a similar role with same working conditions.

EXAMPLE: City Motor Groups in Illawarra who piloted an initiative where they hired older drivers on a casual basis to drive luxury cars from collection points. I’ve been told that results have been very positive – both for the older semi-retired driver who wanted flexible shift work and for the business who wanted reliable, experienced drivers.

EXAMPLE: Bunnings – travelling workers

EXAMPLE: In the passenger transport industry, the average age of bus and coach drivers is 53 years. This is because the industry provides a range of employment types – permanent, part-time, casual – school bus services in the morning and afternoon just a few hours a day, perfect for an older worker who may not want to work a full day.

Other examples may include: short-term contracts, freelancing, job redesign etc.  Older workers are the perfect employees to meet the gig economy.

There is a myriad of ways we can provide flexible work options for our employees which will not only help retain older workers but are likely also attractive for younger staff.

Mid-life reskilling and transitions

With increased longevity and improved health outcomes, more and more Australians will need to have second and third encore careers to remain productive in the coming decades.

Mid-life is a critical period for those who are working. If a person loses their job in their 50s it can be difficult for them to get back into the workforce because of age discrimination. The longer an older person has been out of the workforce, the more difficult it will be for them to find subsequent work. Moreover, a person at 50 would not be able to access their super or age pension until they reach eligibility age.

Those in mid-life need to think about updating their skills. Those in declining industries or labour intensive jobs need to consider options for retraining into different roles or careers in order to prolong their working lives.

As employers, how can you assist your older employees to be better prepared for the future?

It could be as simple as having a conversation with your employees about their future work intentions.

It could also be about providing your mid-life employees with access to skills training and career planning programs – through Audrey Page for example!

EXAMPLE: Skills Checkpoint Pilot was piloted by the Federal Department of Education and Training. The Pilot provided workers aged 45-54 with an assessment of their skills and career interests. At the end of the assessment, each participant received a personalised career plan, which outlined possible work, education and training options that they might wish to pursue. The pilot has been evaluated with very positive results.

EXAMPLE: Further the Government’s new Career Transition Assistance Program will be trialled in five regions from 1 July 2018 before being rolled out nationally in July 2020.

These above examples may be useful models for you to consider for your own employees.

Depending on the results and relevance of the pilot Career Transitions Assistance Program, there may even be potential to partner with the government to expand the service, perhaps as a fee for service model – the opportunities are endless but the issue of career transitions must be addressed at mid-life.

Role for leaders

I believe there is a role for senior executives, directors and managers to champion age inclusion and set the direction of the organisation from the top. In order to implement age-friendly policies effectively, we need people of influence to set it as a priority.

It is equally important that policies and supports are made known.

o How many of you or your staff know about the Government’s Restart Program or the Career Transitions Program.
o Are they aware they can make a complaint to the Commission if they feel they have been discriminated against because of their age?
o Do they know about flexible work options and other supports and internal procedures available to them?
o What use is a great age inclusive policy if none of the employees or managers know about it?
• Additionally, I feel very strongly that the Australian Public Service (APS) and state government public services should lead the way as a model employer for older people. Collectively the APS employs 12.5% of the entire Australian workforce. Data shows that the current APS workforce is generally older than the broader workforce, but more can be done to ensure that recruitment practices are also inclusive and non-discriminatory towards older workers.  I am also pushing for the development of an APS Employment Strategy for Older Workers, which is a current gap.

Other ideas
• Reverse mentoring
o EXAMPLE: Peter Brady, 68, former senior public servant and non-for-profit chief executive was taken up by IRT, an aged care organisation, for a reverse-mentoring trial last year…
• Seniorpreneurs
o Seniorpreneurs or senior entrepreneurship is emerging as a significant phenomenon across the group. People over 50 engaging in business start ups is the fastest growing segment of entrepreneurship.
o Consider opportunities to innovate/partner with these seniorpreneurs. Younger people could also mentor/collaborate with older people looking to develop a start up business.


It is going to take an army of champions to change attitudes so that businesses and our economy can reap the benefits of the enormous contributions older workers can make.

If you are not motivated by that goal itself, self-interest should be sufficient. My final message to you is that barring a premature death, each and every one of you is going to get older. The example and culture that exists when you reach the stage of being an older worker will depend on the part you have had in setting an example and promoting the value of employing older workers. It is up to you as to what the climate will be like in the mid-2000s – I hope it is different from today.

Dr Kay Patterson, Age Discrimination Commissioner