OPINION22 May 2024

Ageism: Under the EDI radar

Covid-19 Inclusion Opinion Trends UK

The insight industry is missing a trick by not employing more people aged 55 and over, says Liz Norman.

woman with grey hair standing in an office making a phone call while holding a sheet of paper

It’s tempting to ignore ageism – but as a profession, we’re missing a trick if we do. According to ENI’s recent salary survey of those working in insight, 3% of respondents in permanent roles are aged 55 and over. Another 6% are in contract roles. How much more representative would we be if we could double those percentages in the next two years?

Look at the bigger picture: the Harvard Review estimates that 25% of workers will be 55+ by next year, with the 2021 Census recording that 31% of the population falls into that age group already.

Not employing more in the 55+ age group means the economy is missing vital contributors, companies are missing out on highly skilled staff, and individuals unable to claim pensions until 67 are struggling due to the high cost of living. That’s before considering the age of retirement is going to rise – for many working today, it may be 70 or 71.

For the insight profession, it means we are short-changing marketing. Market research agencies fail to provide clients with robust representative insight pertaining to age, and marketers often fail to appreciate the needs of the consumers they are marketing to.

The MRS states: ‘The research sector must be representative of the changing world around us. The only barriers to progress should be personal choice and professional capability.’ Yet who can say, hand on heart, that this sector takes age into account and is representative when it comes to this protected characteristic?

Are we encouraging people ‘of a certain age’ to work in insight? Ageism is a protected characteristic equal in importance to equality (in law) to areas like ethnicity, disability and gender, the same equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives should also be applied to age. Instead, it’s a hidden problem, as few organisations publish data on the sector or have initiatives to support it.

Are we worried that we can’t afford to employ them? The ENI salary survey records that permanent workers over 55 earn 4.25% more than those aged 45 to 55. But look around: the reason they earn a high salary is the few still employed in that age group are in critical roles; other lesser paid employees have left permanent employment. My experience is that with family and mortgage responsibilities behind them, many in that age group are happy to take lower paid roles.

This situation could be so different. Companies function better, tackle decisions and innovate more creatively if there is a more diverse and inclusive range of opinion, styles and knowledge. Age is a key criterion when looking at diversity, yet for reasons of expediency, or because it is unfashionable, it is ignored. It’s a national problem across all professions – not just insight. Ageism is so endemic within all of us that we don’t see the problem.

If, to paraphrase Catherine Tate, you’re still not ‘bovvered’, let me show you why it makes sense – and will position you as a trailblazer – if you were to encourage applications from the 50+ segment of the population:

  • We bemoan a lack of talent in insight but have done precious little to encourage those who opted for early retirement, post-Covid, back to the profession
  • We ignore the fact that age brings experience, knowledge, and – on average – greater resilience and happiness. Consider the impact that an injection of ‘age’ could have on your workforce
  • Have we forgotten the power of the grey market? It’s estimated to be worth £320bn a year and, unlike younger consumers, they are more likely to have disposable income. So, who would be better placed to understand their thought processes and communicate with them?

Marketing departments can be just as blinkered when it comes to innovation and promoting their product range. My father recently bought a Honda E electric car – the model has been withdrawn in the UK. The rationale? The car only travels short distances before needing to be recharged. It is ideal for those of a certain age, whose numbers are climbing, and who are unlikely to be haring up and down motorways, but it hasn’t been promoted with them in mind.

The government is already providing incentives to encourage older workers back to work. This doesn’t apply to the insight profession yet – but with industry support there’s no reason why it shouldn’t in the future.

So, why not look at what adaptions have been made for diversity groups that could be tweaked for this sector? The ENI study reveals that just 2% of respondents are working part-time. Yet a recent ONS study puts the number of people aged 50 and over working part-time as 3.6 million, an all-time high, including a quarter of those in their 50s. Could the insight profession not do more to promote this type of working?

Additionally, is there a case for making working hours more flexible? Introducing 360-degree appraisals? Facilitating back-to-work training or user-friendly hands-on sessions with the latest technology? Better access to healthcare and more support from employers?

I wouldn’t just like to see change in my lifetime. I think it’s more urgent than that. That doubling of percentages I mentioned earlier is only the start. We can make a difference, and our industry will benefit from it.

This is an opportunity – not a problem. Please consider your company’s stance on EDI and think how it could be adapted to take account of ageism, then let me know your thoughts. Look out for a future initiative I am working on: would you be interested in getting involved?

Liz Norman is founder of Elizabeth Norman International (ENI)

1 Comment

3 weeks ago

I'm 100% with you Liz! Although a lot of these working practices would benefit younger people too - insights needs to be more flexible in working practices over all...

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