Learn about ageism, a prejudice that takes experienced people out of the job market

Have you ever tried to look up the meaning of the term “age” in traditional dictionaries? Well, don’t even try, you won’t find it, and the word also continues to appear underlined in red by the Word reviewer. This is because it is a relatively new concept to define an old problem, which can be summed up in this objective way: ageism is simply discrimination, prejudice or unfair treatment based on age criteria.

It is likely that ageism is an adaptation to Portuguese of the English term ageism, which, like other prejudices — racism, homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia, etc. — is unjustified, cruel and harms both the person affected and their peers, society, the economy and businesses. The problem is so real and so serious that, in the corporate world, diversity and inclusion policies often identify ageism simply as 50+, with the best of intentions.

It’s amazing: 50+! This means that professionals at the peak of their careers, mature, experienced and 100% productive already belong to a group that is subject to ageism! Imagine what a healthy person over 50 still has to offer, to teach, to lead teams, to make important decisions based on their long learning. And who else loses from this in the professional market, besides the person himself? Companies, of course.

The problem grows when you look at population statistics. At the end of last year, the IBGE announced that life expectancy in Brazil had already reached 76.8 years. In just five years, there was an increase of 1.3 years, and 3.3 years in the last 10 years, which is an exceptional growth and shows that Brazilians born now will live longer than their parents. The index is still low when compared to life expectancy in countries such as Japan (88 years old), Italy, Sweden and others (in the 83 years old range), but it is high when we remember that, in 1940, the general expectation of life in Brazil was only 45 years old. During this period, there was a gain of 31 years.

Today, 25% of the Brazilian population is over 50 years of age, which represents approximately 53 million people, or more than five times the population of Portugal. And how are companies reacting to this new reality? Slowly, for sure, although important advances have been made, starting with the prominence that the concept of ageism itself, previously non-existent, has gained.

Ageism in startups

In the startup ecosystem, according to a recent study by Abstartups, 62.3% of companies still do not have mature professionals on their staff. That is, out of every 10 startups, just over three have employees over 50 years old. Another survey by GPTW (Best Companies to Work For) indicated that very few companies reach an acceptable level of hiring professionals over 50 years of age.

It is commonplace to say that significant advances have been made, but there are still many challenges to be overcome. However, this is exactly what happens today in Brazil in relation to ageism. Since the previous decade, there has been an increase of more than 40% in the number of older people with CLT contracts. On the other hand, the proportion of people of this age who are unemployed also grew, since there was an expansion of this age group.

Fortunately, an increasing number of companies are adopting “50+” policies, which is all very well, but the age stigma remains. In startups, creativity and innovation seem to be tied to youth, although there is nothing to support this idea. The creators of the internet, social networks and most technologies — the great innovation geniuses — are now almost all “50+ people” forced to live with this prejudice, although their minds remain agile and revolutionary.

In the movie A Mr Intern, deliciously corny, recently retired Robert de Niro accepts an apprenticeship at Anne Hathaway’s character’s successful startup. He starts with nothing to do, becomes the boss’s driver and soon becomes her confidant and strategic advisor, as well as helping to save her position in the company and her marriage. It is Hollywood, of course, pure fantasy, but at the same time there is a good deal of realism in the story regarding the value of wisdom, experience and common sense of mature people in relation to the ability of young people.

There is, with good reason, an almost irresistible impulse to value and romanticize youth, for their potential for energy and creativity, but think about it: in some time today’s young people will reach 50 years of age, still full of health, knowledge and possibilities, with many productive years ahead. Will they find a job worthy of these abilities in that future? The answer to that question needs to be created now, without further delay, for the good of all.

*Article produced by a columnist exclusively for Canaltech. The text may contain opinions and analyzes that do not necessarily reflect Canaltech’s view on the matter.

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