Ageism in the workplace: things need to change

Barbara-Beskind-DesignerLately we are seeing lots of positive changes in the way the world views older people. Soon the term anti ageing will be a thing of the past and the fashion industry are using lots of older women in their Spring ad campaigns, but we have along way to go when it comes to embracing age and all of the experience that goes with it in the work place.

A while ago I wrote a post about about how many of my friends were finding it hard to even get interviews, never mind jobs, now that they are over 50. It seems very short sighted, that as the ageing population increases and our needs change, that more companies are not employing those of us who understand the challenges of this new generation of “super boomers”.

There are currently three million people aged more than 80 in the UK and this is projected to almost double by 2030 and reach eight million by 2050.  While one-in-six of the population is currently aged 65 and over, this will increase to one in four by 2050, so it makes sense that our age group should be the ones to help develop products and services for this increasing demographic.

Dr Ros Altmann, the Government’s champion for Older Workers, says “Baby boomers are redefining ‘old age’ and retirement. “Older people have experience, wisdom, skills and energy that can enhance the lives of everyone, old or young, and improve long-term growth.

In the US it seems things are slightly different. 90 year old Barbara Beskind is the oldest member the design team at IDEO, the company who created the mouse for Apple. The future focused business creates “human-centered” design for food, packaging, electronics and most recently, aging.

After watching Devid Kelly the founder of IDEO on 60 Minutes talking about how important it was to have a diverse staff on a design team, Barbara applied to be part of the firm’s design team creating products for older adults. She now travels to the IDEO offices ever Thursday – from her San Mateo retirement community – and says her age is an advantage,

“Everybody who ages is going to be their own problem-solver and designers are problem-solvers. People where I live fall a lot, for a friend of mine, I tried to design air bags of graded sizes that would be activated at a lurch of 15 degrees.”


Barbara Beskind’s 90th birthday at the IDEO offices

IDEO’s project on re-thinking ageing ‘A New look at Old’ is both enlightened and encouraging and highlights a whole host of new thinking and products.

If only more companies took time to listen to the needs of older people and employed boomers to advise them. Its time to – in the wise words of Barbara Beskind – “Embrace change and design for it”.


  • Jan says:

    Absolutely applaud this story. How fantastic to have your skills, knowledge and experience so appreciated. Sadly many folk spend their lives in dull, tedious jobs and would be only to happy to enjoy a traditional retirement if their pension would allow that. We are often ‘encouraged’ by elder stateswomen, particularly in the arts and broadcasting, to keep on keeping on in the work force. I think it’s slightly different if your job option is a check out operator in a supermarket. Maybe the re-thinking that needs to happen is around how much folks are paid and how many hours they work? I think there are huge numbers of UK companies whose working patterns are stuck in the 19th century. Embrace change and design for is a fantastic ideal.

  • Mary says:

    I’m reading “What makes Olga run?” It’s about a track and field athlete competing in her 90’s. Her times are actually improving! Yes, she’s unusual but maybe there are more like her who are more private about their accomplishments? Anyways it’s an interesting read.

  • Jane says:

    Going to read tha Mary – thanks J x

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