Six ways to beat ageism in the workplace

Six ways to beat ageism in the workplace

Filter tag: Change Management and Executive Outplacement, Culture & Organisational Effectiveness, Leadership Capability

The prevalence of older figureheads at the top of some of the most respected and best paid professions and institutions might suggest that the younger baby boomers and older Generation X-ers have never had it so good.

The median age of the world’s national leaders is 62, 70% of UK judges are over 50 and a third over 60; the average FSE 100 chief exec is 56 and the average US equivalent six years older.

Ageism, what ageism? Some might say.


However strip away these super successful outliers and the picture looks far from rosy:

  • Half of all workers will lose their jobs in their fifties, most laid off or pushed out, many feeling unable to continue due to caring commitments or health issues.
  • Three quarters in the same age group will not be offered promotion opportunities in their current organisations.
  • Recent research by the Centre for Ageing Better found that half of people over 50 had experienced discrimination because of their age, most in the workplace.
  • More than 800,000 people aged 50-64 are out of work but would like to work.
  • Finance, insurance, communications and information and professional and technical services have some of the youngest workforces, making it increasingly challenging for those even in their mid-40s to remain visible and compete for some of the most sought-after roles in those sectors.
  • The big four accounting giants – Deloitte, PwC, EY and KPMG – even have an upper age limit for global leaders who are expected to retire at 60.


So how can senior leaders and executives ensure they continue to be valued and enjoy career progression well into their fifties, sixties and beyond?

Here are six ways to beat ageism and make your extensive experience and mature expertise an asset.


1: Stay tech-savvy

Ageism in the workplace may be partly based on the myth that older means old-fashioned and intimidated by the new.

However, when you consider that the average age of the CEOs of Microsoft, Amazon, Nvidia and Apple is 60, it reveals such prejudice to be reductive and ignorant.

Generative AI and other emerging technologies are here to stay and evolving at breakneck speed. It will remain a perpetual challenge to senior leadership and executives of any age to keep up – but there is an abundance of material online to help.

Whatever your sector or function, you should be considering the technological or digital dimension to every strategic decision without exception. Executives who fail to adapt and continue to use old pre-genAI tried and tested methods will find themselves sidelined and left behind.

Challenge stereotypes by learning the language of AI and other frontier and digital technologies and contributing insights at team meetings, boardrooms, networking events and in written reports.

You could start with our previous blog on Seven Steps to Transformative AI Adoption.

It is worth signing up to any in-house training and devoting time every week to reading up on the latest developments in your field as well as taking advantage of free online webinars and videos.

Helpful sites include Wired magazine, Techcrunch, Apple News and Gartner.


2: Keep your skills up to date

In order to remain relevant in today’s fast-changing economic landscape, it is essential to be aware of the skills, both technical and soft, required by employers as they look to build leadership and teams capable of grasping the potential offered by new technologies and trends.

An Ivy League or Oxbridge degree and impressive CV are no longer enough to keep executives at the top of their profession and the old idea of strong leadership and hierarchical structures of authority are making way for people-focused business, approachability, compassion and inclusive environments to encourage managed risk-taking and creativity and support good mental health in the workspace.

Aside from being confident in being able to adapt quickly to change and new technologies, organisations are looking for leaders who demonstrate agility, resilience and emotional intelligence; they must be able to collaborate, communicate and delegate effectively but also be decisive.

Look at our blog on Essential Executive Skills for 2024 for a deeper understanding of the most valued skills of the moment, how to hone them and make them visible to your current or prospective employer or organisation.


3: Refresh your CV & digital profile

Whether you are looking for an executive transition or progression or want to remain relevant in your current post, regularly re-evaluating and refreshing your CV and digital profile can help you to ensure your focus and skillsets remain aligned with the changing workplace requirements.

If you are not currently looking for a new position, imagine your dream job and seek an advert for a role as close to it as possible. What are the skills required? What keywords do they use? How could you update your own resume to fit? Use terminology to demonstrate your familiarity with current industry trends and technology.

It is a good idea to include a digital skills section, showing any software, technology and AI you currently use or any relevant strategies, programmes or campaigns in which you have been involved.

Consider using a responsive design that adapts to different devices and screen sizes. This will automatically send out the message that you are aware of the importance of user  experience and accessibility in the digital age.

You could use various LLMS /Generative AI such as ChatGPT or Microsoft Copilot to help with ideas on developing and updating your CV & LinkedIn Profile.  Even if you do not plan to proactively market yourself for executive transition or executive outplacement in the near future, keeping both current will highlight any areas for improvement and remind you of the kind of skills and mindset you need to succeed in your current and future organisation.


4: Maintain a work ethic

There is a good reason why the UK Corporate Governance Code recommends a maximum tenure limit for a board chairman to be nine years.

Even the most proficient, experienced and skilled leaders can lose their edge or their enthusiasm if they stay in the same role for too long.

The more routine a job gets, the easier it is to fall into habits and take short cuts.

After 20, 30 or 40 years of working full time, it can be tempting to start coasting towards retirement; having longer lunches, leaving a little earlier, slowing down the pace a little.

However, ennui or lack of appetite and ambition will show itself and it can be contagious. Teams need dynamic leaders who energise, motivate and inspire. Lacklustre performances are unlikely to be rewarded with promotion or progression.

If you can afford to cut down your days to gain more of a work/life balance in your later years without losing efficacy, all power to you.

But make every minute that you are in work count and continue to grow your networks and influence. Challenge stereotypes by demonstrating that you still have the energy and passion of a 25-year-old and nobody will even consider your age a factor.

See your career as a constant journey on an upwards trajectory with unlimited scope for personal growth and development, not a hump that peaks in your 40s.


Consider a career change to suit your changing needs

Of course, if you are struggling to find any joy in work and count down the minutes until the end of the day, the days til the weekend and the weekends until your next holiday, the likelihood is, you are in the wrong job.

As we learned earlier, half of all employees in their fifties are going to lose their position in that decade, so why not pre-empt it? Seize the opportunity to reset, retrain, re-pivot and reinvigorate your career.

It might be that you have health issues or caring responsibilities that make it difficult to commute, work long days and travel for extended periods or that you have drifted from your target career trajectory.

If you have reached a senior leadership or executive level, you have a wealth of experience and skills that would be valuable in any organisation; you might just need support remembering what they are and gaining the motivation and confidence to make a change.

This is where professional career support can help. Career coaches can help you understand the changing world of work and where you might fit in it, or to gain new skills to help launch you in a different role, organisation, sector or even country.

Whether you are in a secure position or seeking work, it is never too late to look for a dramatically different role that will accommodate your changing needs or satisfy long-held but frustrated ambitions.


It can be all too easy to sleepwalk into a stale and unrewarding mid-life career; to become invisible, undervalued and underpaid or to lose sight of your youthful ambition.

But with the ageing population and over 50s fitter than ever thanks to improving healthcare and changing attitudes, middle age is just a state of mind.

Staying open to continuous learning and opportunities for personal growth and progress is key to reducing an individual’s chances of falling victim to age discrimination in the workplace.  However it can happen anywhere to anyone and is far too often perpetrated by leadership from the same age group.

Everyone in the UK, the US and the EU is protected legally from ageism and can seek recourse through legal channels.

Rialto consultants can support you to revitalise or repivot your career at any age. We also run frequent complimentary online webinars on AL, Leadership, Future of Work, Portfolio Careers and other Professional Development topics.

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