Not only is the ‘gender gap’ a real issue for female job-seekers, but the majority of Australian women also believe that age plays a major factor in securing employment, with 62% believing that employers are more likely to hire a candidate under the age of 40.
This is according to research conducted in February 2015 by The Heat Group, Australia’s largest marketer to women, and Fitted For Work, a not-for-profit organisation assisting disadvantage women to find work, 45% of Australian women feel they have experienced workplace discrimination due to their age.
The research also revealed that 88% of women believe employers are taking the physical appearance of candidates into consideration before making any hiring decisions. Taking matters into their own hands, 39% of female job seekers have attempted to alter their appearance in order to fit the expected age, with 23% attempting to appear younger for a job interview. Only 4% have gone under the surgeon’s knife to try to improve their chances of finding a job.
“Women are unfortunately judged more harshly than men when it comes to their appearance, and this includes their age,” says Gillian Franklin, Managing Director of The Heat Group.
“We have always known that women use makeup, clothing and hair to highlight their best features and build their confidence. However, now we have a worrying 39% of women who are changing their looks based on their idea of the ‘ideal age’ for a job, across all levels of experience, seniority and skill level. I would question the notion that there is a right ‘age’ for women and caution women against trying to look a different age than what they are.”
“Businesses need to value the wisdom, knowledge and expertise that comes with mature-age employees. We should all encourage more experienced women to actively participate in the workforce without fear of judgement or age discrimination,” said Ms Franklin.
Fitted for Work CEO, Donna de Zwart, agrees. “At Fitted for Work, we see many mature women striving to re-enter the workforce and achieve gainful employment who are concerned about how their age translates into the current employment market.”
47 years old and out of the full time workforce for well over a year when the research was released in February 2015, Carol* from Victoria was working casually in temp roles because she couldn’t get a full time job.
Carol had qualifications and extensive experience in administration, however, she was told on numerous occasions that she does not have enough experience. Carol believes age discrimination has occurred within job interviews. She has gone into meet with prospective employers, with people younger than her interviewing her and younger people in the office environment and has been made to feel bad about her age.
Carol says, “It’s hard enough being a woman in the workforce, let alone being an older woman in the workforce.”
With 20 years+ experience as a case worker working with children, 53 year old Anna* from NSW, was unable to find full-time employment after losing her job in 2011.
In her previous role, the company she was employed by full time experienced a management takeover, and she lost her along with other staff members. High rates of unemployment in the Wollongong area (located 85km south of Sydney), meant she was was forced to sell her house and move back to Sydney to live with her mother in the hope of securing employment.
After making the move to Sydney, Anna began working part time work at a pre-school. Her qualifications ran out in December 2013, and she was told that she was no longer able to work until she obtained a higher level certificate, or finished her university degree.
After obtaining her degree in May 2014, Anna began to apply for countless roles as a case worker. In one particular job interview she was asked for her age. She has been told she was unsuccessful in securing employment because she is “over qualified”, however she knows roles have been given to people with more qualifications than her.
Anna was told by her job case worker at the Salvation Army to remove her qualifications (including her university degree) from her resume, and to only include her skills. When she asked why, she was told “You need to face facts. You’re too old and nobody will hire you.”
Anna says she has applied for hundreds of jobs. She believes age is a huge part of why she hasn’t been able to obtain employment.
Donna de Zwart says “Every woman brings something of value to the workplace. Making the most of her best assets is not about presenting a crafted persona but it is about maintaining a sense of authenticity about who she is and what she can offer.”
“The importance of capitalising on personal strengths is a message that we reinforce throughout all Fitted for Work programs. And we will continue to remind employers to focus on skills, experience and attitude, over a person’s age.”
In June 2015 the then Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey and Assistant Minister for Employment Luke Hartsuyker, announced the creation of the Ambassador for Mature Age Employment, appointing Age and Disability Commissioner, Susan Ryan AO, to the position. As the Ambassador for Mature Age Employment, Susan Ryan will help drive greater awareness amongst employers of the business benefits of hiring older workers and help open new doors for job seekers.
For more information about Age Discrimination in the workplace visit the Australian Human Rights Commission’s ‘Age Discrimination’ website at www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/age-discrimination
*Names have been changed.