Most UK employers failing to act against ageism, survey shows

The vast majority of UK employers claim to care about ageism in the workplace but are not acting to combat it, according to research by the Chartered Management Institute.

The professional body, which polled 1,000 managers across the private and public sectors, found that most believed their organisation was doing the right thing about inclusivity but that, in practice, very few were taking concrete action.

There was a clear gap between awareness and action to address the under-representation of women, diverse ethnicities, disabled workers and people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and the inclusion of people with differing sexual orientation, the CMI found.

Nine-tenths of managers said their organisation was inclusive when it came to gender and ethnicity but, despite the big push made in recent years, only 44 per cent said they had an action plan to address gender imbalance and only 47 per cent said they were actively changing recruitment practices to increase the proportion of employees from diverse ethnic groups.

Ann Francke, the CMI’s chief executive, said the research was “a wake-up call for all organisations to practise what they preach” and also underlined the need for the government to take further action to drive good practice — for example, by introducing mandatory reporting on ethnicity pay gaps.

But by far the biggest gap between perception and reality related to age. Some 85 per cent of managers said their organisation was inclusive on this front but only 5 per cent thought older workers were under-represented and reported proactive efforts to recruit them.

This finding is especially worrying given the rising numbers of older workers who have chosen to leave the workforce since the start of the pandemic. About half a million fewer people were in paid work in the first quarter of 2022, compared with the pre-pandemic peak, and this contraction in the workforce has been driven by a rising trend of early retirement among people in their 50s and 60s.

Charities say this exodus of older workers should not be seen purely as a voluntary lifestyle choice and that many people feel they are being forced out by ageist recruitment practices, jarring workplace culture and employers’ lack of openness to flexible working.

The CMI’s research also showed that only a quarter of organisations were taking active steps to boost recruitment from lower socio-economic backgrounds and only a quarter were improving the representation of disabled workers at any level.

That meant employers were “failing to develop and deploy the widest possible talent pool”, it said, with many people overlooked for recruitment or progression and suffering day-to-day exclusion.

Francke said it was “imperative” to take inclusivity seriously and fight back against “complacency and even backlash in certain quarters”.

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