While trying to break back into her former career in finance, Nelson Bay’s Tracey Brown, 55, has faced unexpected challenges.
“I did one group interview where we had to be build a racing car out of Lego,” she said.
Tackling her first ever group and video interviews with a positive mindset, Ms Brown says some interactions have still left her questioning whether employees are looking only at her skills.
“A couple of interviews were really great, but I didn’t get a call back. I wondered why because I had the experience,” she said.
“I wonder if they think I’m too old for the team or whether I’m somehow not fit for the role.”
Marlene Krasovitsky, the campaign director of the Benevolent Society’s Every Age Counts campaign and former director of the “Willing to Work” inquiry, says Ms Brown’s concerns are completely realistic.
She said workplace environments are where “ageism” is most apparent.
“Rates of reporting complaints of age discrimination are generally the lowest of all grounds of discrimination in Australia,” she said.
“Of those, however, 70 per cent reported are about employment.”
Ms Krasovitsky said negative beliefs about older people, including that they are slower, unable to learn or on a “road to retirement”, were costing Australia’s economy and mature-aged people’s quality of life.
“Those assumptions mean people can find themselves shut out of work, pigeon holed at work, overlooked for promotions and targeted for redundancies,” she said.
“While unemployment rates are higher for younger people, older people stay on NewStart longer trying to find work.”
While these biases are not new, she said changing societal factors and increased life expectancy meant the challenges mature-aged people face are compounded.
“I think this automatic assumption that older people are inflexible or not good with technology just plays against them,” she said.
Manager of Forsythes Recruitment Newcastle Geoff Crews said that, contrary to stereotypes, he was seeing a trend of older people looking for new employment opportunities, and often using technology to do it.
“It’s generally accepted that the “job for life” era is finished and people will have a portfolio of careers. I think many of us have accepted that reality for young people but not yet digested that reality for older people,” he said.
Mr Crews did not think negative biases against older people were widespread but said they faced specific hurdles, especially those transitioning to a new career.
“Relationships, routine, purpose and identity are challenged and I believe it can take some time – many months – to feel comfortable with that,” he said.