The big diversity issue no one is talking about

December 9, 2021

The big diversity issue no one is talking about.

We hear a lot about the needs of women in the workplace. We hear a lot about BAME and the BLM movement. The LGBTQ movement has done great work raising awareness. Why is it that against this backdrop, age gets no (or very little) attention? We've seen the good these movements can bring in raising awareness and age deserves more focus.

100% of people will get old, but by comparison, age barely ripples in the diversity tide.

In 1996 the proportion of the working population over 50 was 5.7 million. In 2020 this number had grown to 10.7 million. In the space of 20 years, the number has nearly doubled.(1). Pre Covid figures in 2020 showed 32.1 million people were employed. The proportion of the working population over 50 has gone from being 17% of the workforce to being more than 33%. In another government report, it is estimated that by 2039 nearly half of the entire workforce will be over 45. (2)

Why is this an issue?

1.     How can you innovate and be agile as an organisation if your employees aren't?

We appreciate the need for businesses to innovate and adapt. Their survival necessitates a model for 'agility'. The same is true for people: to remain employable, employees need to be "employ-agile".

We work with people who in many cases have been in a role for 20 years and have little appreciation or understanding of jobs outside of their role. In our own survey of over 4,000 people over 50, the biggest issue people face is having ‘no idea what to do next’. Knowing what you no longer want to do does not help you prepare or understand what to do for the next 10-20 years of your life.

Most organisations invest only in training or development which suits the needs of the business – not the needs of the individual. Whilst understandable, we can hardly then lament a third of employees reporting to be 'coasting' (3) or worse the over 50% who are disengaged (4). The cost of this complacency can be calculated: comparing organisations in the bottom quartile with the top, those in the top experience 21% greater levels of profit, 20% higher sales, 17% higher productivity, 70% fewer safety incidents, 59% less turnover and 41% lower levels of absenteeism.

If an employee is not supported or encouraged to think and train themselves to more employ - agile then we can't be surprised to find they can’t leave. These people are sometimes referred to (uncharitably) as ‘blockers’ - which in our view is a completely avoidable scenario and one largely due to an organisation unprepared for the ageing employee.

2.      The pensions black hole and older age poverty

Unfortunately, the average person in the UK has a significant pension shortfall – the worst being ‘Generation X’ (those born between 1965-1980) who, (according to the International Longevity Centre Director David Sinclair), are quite literally “screwed”. (5) Those currently aged 43-54, need to have already saved £187,400 to retire on £19,000 a year, but in reality what people have actually saved on average is £70,400. Most people can not rely on or assume £100k+ will fall into their laps, meaning the only option available to people is to work for longer - but again, here comes the kicker..

3.      Older people are not ‘sexy’:

Age discrimination is rife. The "over 50s are two and a half times as likely as younger age groups to be out of work for at least two years" (6) In our own survey of over 4000 people over 50, it is the second most cited barrier people claim they face when it comes to finding work. 43% of people over 50 feel their age is a disadvantage (7). In a European wide survey, ageism is the most common form of discrimination people report facing (8)

According to Aviva (9) with more than half the entire workforce wanting to make career changes, where are the opportunities to retrain and do something new? Try and think of the number of career changer schemes and trainee programmes targeted at those who are older? We are extremely proud we’ve helped Health Education England (10) move the needle with the NHS who last month have announced their career changer programme for the Allied Health professions. Barclays for some time have also operated their ‘Bolder’apprenticeship scheme. Now Teach has done a tremendous job in making access to teaching appeal as a new career to those mid life onwards but the list of organisations doing this relative to the demand is surprisingly small.

Words, policies and think tanks are not enough. Solving a problem of this scale takes each of us to do our bit. Anyone reading this has a role and a part to play. Over the next few months, we will be publishing more articles along these lines with more indication of ideas and possible solutions. If you are doing great work in this area of diversity, get in touch: we would like to showcase some of the best examples and promote best practice. With any luck, the 100% likelihood that you will be in this boat (if you aren’t already) should hopefully focus the mind.

Lucy Standing

Founder Brave Starts

Brave Starts CIC is a not for profit focused on providing resources and developing skills for those as they age to remain employ-agile. If you work in an organisation and want to share the work you are doing to support ageing employees please get in touch:


  7. Age-friendly-employers-stats.pdf (
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Lucy Standing

Lucy Standing is a business psychologist and co-founder of Brave Starts