With the introduction of Age Discrimination legislation (UK October 2006, and consistent with European law), there is an increased need to raise awareness and to train people about ageism and age discrimination. Here are some ideas for activities and exercises which will highlight the issues.
Organise teams and discussions according to your situation. Here are four separate ideas which can be used for exercises and team games.
1. Under age discrimination legislation many customary expressions in written and spoken communications are potentially unlawful if they refer to a person's age (any age - not only older people) in a negative way, and/or which could cause a person to feel they are being harassed or discriminated against. Under the law, individuals are liable (for harassment claims) as well as employers' wider responsibilities regarding discrimination, harassment and retirement. Some very common expressions are potentially discriminatory or harassing if directed at someone at work. Ask people to think of examples - there are lots of them, such as:
- Teach an old dog new tricks
- An old head on young shoulders
- Mature beyond his/her years
- Respect your elders
- It's a young man's game
- Too old
- Past it
- Over the hill
- Put out to grass or pasture
- Dead man's shoes
- Too young/Not old enough/Not mature enough
2. Direct age discrimination means treating a person at work less favourably because of their age. Indirect discrimination is more difficult to identify and guard against than direct discrimination, and it is equally unlawful. Indirect discrimination is where policies, criteria, processes, activities, practices, rules or systems create a disadvantage for someone because of their age. These pitfalls can be less easy to identify and eliminate than directly discriminatory behaviour.
Ask delegates to think of examples of potential indirect discrimination within your own organisation or within other (real or hypothetical) organisations, and/or based on past experience. Here are some examples - there are lots more:
- job or person profiles or adverts (and advertising media) which stipulate or imply an age requirement
- application or assessment documentation which includes reference to age or date of birth
- training or job selection criteria, attitudes, expectations which differentiate according to age
- job promotion decisions and attitudes
- pay and grades and benefits policies
- holiday entitlement and freedoms
- social activities and clubs which have or imply age restrictions
- office and work-place traditions of who should do the tea-making, errands and menial tasks
- organisational and departmental culture, extending to jokes and banter
3. Age diversity (as other sorts of diversity) offers advantages and benefits to all organisations and employers, especially where a diverse range of people-related capabilities is a clear organisational and/or competitive strength. This is particularly so in all service businesses. In all organisations, age diversity (as other sorts of diversity) is very helpful for management teams, which benefit from having a range and depth of skills, and a broad mix of experience, maturity, and different perspectives, from youngest to oldest.
Ask people to suggest specific benefits which age (or any other) diversity brings to organisations. This helps focus on the advantages of encouraging diversity, aside from simply complying with the legislation. Here are some examples - there are lots more:
- Diverse organisations can engage well with diverse customer groups, markets, suppliers, etc
- Diversity in management teams can more easily engage with a diverse workforce
- A diverse workforce has a fuller appreciation of market needs and trends
- Diverse organisations have more answers to more questions than those which lack diversity
- Diversity enables flexibility and adaptability - diversity has more responses available to it than narrowly defined systems (Cybernetics again..)
- Age Diversity in an organisation collectively understands the past, the present and the future
- Age diversity naturally enables succession and mentoring
- Age diversity in management helps executives stay in touch with the whole organisation; helps keep feet on the ground (as opposed to heads in the clouds or up somewhere unmentionable)
- Full diversity in an organisation collectively understands the world, whereas a non-diverse system by its own nature only has a limited view.
N.B. Beware of promoting age diversity by suggesting particular correlations between age and capability, which can in itself be discriminatory. For example it is not right to say that only older people have maturity and wisdom, nor that only younger people have energy and vitality. Instead make the point that by having a mixture of people and ages, an organisation is far more likely to be able to meet the diverse demands of managing itself, and engaging successfully with the outside world, compared to an organisation which lacks diversity.
4. If you do not already have an equality policy (stating the organisation's position relating to all aspects of equality and discrimination) why not start the creative process with a brainstorm session about what it should contain. Incidentally the term 'brainstorming' is not normally considered to be a discriminatory or disrespectful term, just in case anyone asks...
Ask the team(s) or group to list your own or other typical major organisational processes (inwardly and outwardly directed, for instance recruitment, training and development, customer and supplier relationships, etc) and how each might be described so as to ensure equality and to avoid wrongful discrimination.
Alternatively ask people individually or the team(s) to prepare or research (in advance of the session, or during it if you have sufficient internet connections) examples of other organisations' equality policies, with a view then to suggesting and discussing as a group all of the relevant aspects which could for used for your own situation.
We all, irrespective of age, race, religion, gender, disability, etc., have our own special capabilities and strengths, and it is these capabilities and strengths that good organisations must seek to identify, assess, encourage and utilise, regardless of age or other potentially discriminatory factors.