Age Discrimination Commissioner for the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Hon Susan Ryan AO, spoke in Melbourne recently about her vision for Australian society, which involves a “revolutionary change in attitudes towards ageing and older people”. She spoke about her desire for a society in which intergenerational exchanges are respectful, and attributes such as maturity and experience gained are as highly valued as passion and energy. Within an ageist society such as Australia’s, there are a number of negative impacts for older people, particularly in the workplace, which can lead to economic and social exclusion.
Even within the media, age stereotyping can have an impact on employers and recruiters. On a positive note Ryan believes that there is a shift occurring, with print media and radio programs developing more and more frequent positive representations of older Australians.
Ryan spoke about the need for the business community to adapt more quickly to an ageing population, pointing out that there is ever-increasing demand for new services and products from older consumers. The sooner business models adjust their core focus and approach to marketing, the sooner they will prosper given that mature Australians “hold more than 40 percent of Australia’s net wealth and over 50s are estimated to have a discretionary spending power of $218 billion”.
The reality for current and future retirees has shifted dramatically over the years. These days retirement means travel, or in some cases a change of career, volunteer work and caring for grandchildren. On the whole, people in retirement are healthy, active and contributing members of society and the rest of the population needs to shift its perception of older Australians in order to benefit from what they have to offer.
The Commissioner made clear in relation to the recent increase in the pension age, that these age parameters are null and void unless we can effect attitudinal change within the community. She recently commissioned the first national prevalence survey on age discrimination, which will provide a more informed picture of the discriminatory experiences older people are confronted by in the workplace. Lack of flexibility by employers makes it difficult for older Australians to stay in employment, with many wanting to retire gradually, yet even with amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth)
which set out to “empower older workers to request flexible working arrangements”, the reality is altogether different. Ryan hopes that the changes she has achieved and the research and programs she has put in place will help to achieve “a society where age is no barrier to respect, inclusion and opportunity”.