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The New Discrimination...Ageism

Many highly experienced marketing and creative people have chosen the freelance route because of the flexibility that it offers. But many of this valuable and growing cohort of freelancers are still experiencing another form of subtle discrimination. Jane Devitt, one of our brilliant Indie Listers, provides her perspective on the issue.

We have an ageing population that is a fact, plus it is most likely the retirement age may go up to 67 in the next few years -  so what then? Will everyone be regarded as redundant after sixty unless locked into 'permanent roles'?

In 2019 one in seven people on the island of Ireland was aged 65 or over: 17% of the NI population and 14% of the ROI population. It is projected that one in four people (26%) will be over the age of 65 by 2051 in both ROI and NI.

In a recent article by Lucy Kellaway in the *Irish Times, the issue of diversity is addressed by Lyndsey Simpson, founder of the employer website, '55 redefined':

'Because people don't want to go on the record. They think they'll be attacked and they think it will be career-limiting. It's still under the radar. I've lost count of the number of men who are turned down for jobs and are told: you are overqualified, or you don't meet our diversity requirements.'

I serve on two boards voluntarily: meetings are on a Tuesday after work and the level of work is minimal and is done in my own time. I was asked at a recent interview if this work would interfere with my daily tasks for the company interviewing  on the face of it, a fair question. But I would have assumed that being on a board voluntarily would indicate my experience, my ability to deal with compliance and share-holder issues and my intention of giving back where I can (without pay) - and not as an obstacle.

What I am finding is many people over 55 want to stay in the workforce, and many are returning to work or have less home responsibilities so are coming back with renewed energy and headspace. They may not want to work a 5-day week or have 'a job for life', but surely this is advantageous for employers.

There is a huge benefit to companies to take on experienced freelancers or skilled part-timers for all of the following reasons:

  • They can pick up the senior slack when management doesn't have time to get involved;
  • They can be objective in commentary on staff and customers as they have no long- term investment in the company; they can leave politics at the door and therefore can be totally honest;
  • They will be more committed to their part time role as there will always be an end in sight, (plus their role as a parent and / or caring for parents may be over).

In addition, they come with:

  • Zero HR issues
  • No PRSI/USC to pay
  • No benefits to pay
  • Shorter notice time if the role is finishing - 2 weeks is standard

In my experience, marketing companies are not creating enough of these roles. From an agency perspective, it is in their DNA to take on freelancers:  Folk Wunderman and BBDO are two great examples. Abi Moran, Laura Kelly and Katie Cunningham saw the gaps and plugged them and continually work with a panel of talented older freelancers across all roles from UX designers and AD's, to support teams. 

On the client side, bar maternity leave cover, I don't see as much of this type of employment.

Would a client not treasure an expert in field maybe 3 to 4 days a week to work with more junior teams at a macro level: maintaining company goals and strategy, promoting departments to work together more, maybe unplugging a problem that senior management have no time to do? In a time now of talent scarcity, it's seems to me to be a 'no brainer'.

From my experience in business and certainly more now than ever, this is what I have observed about younger employees (i.e., 25-50's):

  • They want to travel and experience more of the world;
  • They will keep moving companies until they get what they want in roles; they understand their value earlier (or have an overblown value in some instances) and don't have as much loyalty as maybe previous generations;
  • As the squeezed generation from 40+, they may be also caring for elderly parents., (My sister and I had over three to four years of this responsibility but thankfully I was working with very understanding and compassionate companies at the time).

I understand tenure and continuity in roles work better to build relationships and teams. But the reality is the so-called 'gig economy' continues to flourish and is suiting some people more than permanent pensionable jobs, who may be willing to take their own risks with self- employment. The 'woke' generation may be making plenty of noise on diversity and inclusion but wait until we catch up on age discrimination.

As Lucy Kellaway said in her article:

'Survey after survey establishes the same things: people over 50 find it harder to get job interviews (unless, perhaps, they are applying to be president of the US) and are more likely to be eased out of existing jobs'
Read how Lucy Kellaway redirected her career at 57
Read more on ageing in Ireland

So, what's your experience as a freelancer?

Jane Devitt is a Senior Account Director/Business Director with seasoned stakeholder experience, specialising in project director, team leadership and mentoring roles

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