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Brand Strategy Ageism Work & Wellbeing

Dove’s #KeepTheGrey shows marketing is embracing over-50s, so why aren’t workplaces?

By Lyndsey Simpson, CEO

August 26, 2022 | 8 min read

Journalist Lisa LaFlamme hit headlines over claims she was fired for refusing to dye her gray hair, sparking reaction from brands including Dove. Why are workplace attitudes to older women taking so long to change? Lyndsey Simpson looks at the data.


Over-50s in the workplace

Over-50s – and their needs – have long been ignored in marketing, advertising and media. So Dove’s landmark campaign #KeepTheGrey, which launched this week, is a breath of fresh air, disrupting the stale societal rhetoric that being over 50 means retirement, succumbing to stair lifts and embracing a bus pass. It’s a huge leap forward in the retail and marketing world, nodding to a step change in the industry that looks to celebrate – rather than commiserate – aging.

It’s about time, too. We’ve found in our research that the majority (76%) of over-55s actually feel younger than their age, while more than a third (36%) have pursued a new career, relationship or hobby/passion since the milestone. Today, 50 is essentially mid-life – a time of greater freedom typically augmented with more money, free time and choice than those in their 20s and 30s.

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We need only look to the emergence of pro-aging products and over-50 ambassadors of beauty brands, such as Maxey Cosmetics’ recent campaign starring ‘real women’ aged 40+, and Hourglass Cosmetics’ partnership with Julianne Moore (aged 61), to see how brands are starting to recognize this, change tact and focus on positive aging, rather than invoking panic in their audiences to influence their buying decisions.

Like Dove’s efforts, RoC Skincare’s partnership with Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker (aged 57) takes the fight against ageism a step further than advertising. Its #LookForwardProject, focusing on aging with optimism, offers a science-backed campaign full of resources, advice and guidance to show how a positive mindset makes a difference. We’ve seen the powerful influence of a positive mindset in our own research, too; while 39% of over-55s surveyed felt that ‘life is better than ever’ over 55, the results also suggest those who embraced older age and went on to start a new passion, career or relationship are happier over 55 than those who did not.

Yet, while the marketing world seems to be taking note and action, more needs to be done in UK workplaces to fight ageism.

Our report, ‘Shut Out, Forced Out and Overlooked,’ uncovered the sheer scope of ageism in UK workplaces. Two-thirds (68%) of over-55s believed the job market is closed to them and 24% felt forced to retire before they wanted to – despite one in four over-55s wanting to work into their 80s. Worryingly, it seemed bias was sometimes perpetrated in HR teams, with younger HR decision-makers significantly (39%) less inclined to recruit over-55s compared to their older counterparts.

Seeing the numbers is one thing – but how is ageism affecting real people? We’ve spoken with positive-aging influencer Suzi Grant, who felt ‘invisible’ as soon as she turned 50, despite her successful career in radio, television and as an author. One story that epitomizes this in a corporate setting is that of Ron Davies, who described the ageism he faced at age 57 while working as a contractor for a bank. Although he had built up a wealth of skills and experience, he used hair dye to ‘dent the appearance of age’ in order to ‘stay ahead,’ based on ageist company culture.

There is a growing need for our workplaces to mirror the action seen in marketing and advertising, promoting aging in a positive light and increasing representation of over-50s. By 2050, our working-age population will shrink by 25%, while the over-60 population will grow by over 40%. In addition, 47% of all over-50s are forecast to be part of the UK labor force by 2030, according to a report from Legal & General Retail Retirement (LGRR) and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr).

With the UK already facing a severe talent shortage, attracting and retaining over-50s talent will increasingly contribute to business success. So, how can employers seeking to promote age diversity – and attract, train and retain over-50s talent – get started?

Be bias active

Understand the level of bias that exists already in your organization against age and deliver training and insight, while taking action to address misplaced stereotypes or the unintended consequences of focusing on other diversity areas.

Flex appeal

Encourage people to stay in the workforce for longer by creating new flexible roles that appeal to the over-50s talent pool. These could be permanent roles at three or four days per week, through to rehiring retired professionals for key periods of the year on flexible contracts.

The will to skill

Invest in the technical training and reskilling of this age group, for both current and new employees. Investigate if you can create schemes targeting this age group or hire cohorts of over-50s for in-demand roles that require technical or industry training.

Change tack

Stop hiring on previous experience and technical fit, instead focusing on soft skills, behavior and motivation. Support hiring managers to make this transition by creating new ways of recruiting and assessing talent that help encourage inclusivity for all.

Engage the age

Get to know your existing over-50s workforce and be proactive in asking them what they want and how best you can support them to remain engaged in work for longer.

While it’s a significant step to see over-50s recognized and validated on screens and billboards, these gains must influence real-life change. With careers and income central to defining our lifestyles, purpose and happiness, the biggest battle against ageism will be fought in workplaces.

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*‘Shut Out, Forced Out and Overlooked’: Commissioned by consumer membership organization 55/Redefined and charity ProAge, this report highlights the current motivations, attitudes and views on working beyond the age of 55 from the perspective of employees and employers.

The research was completed by an independent research agency WDG Research and represents the views of 257 workers and retirees aged between 55-75 and 202 employers (HR directors/chief executive officers) of companies ranging from small 1-10 employees up to large corporations of 5,000 plus employees.

The gender split for the employers participating was 50:50 male to female. For the employees aged over 55 it was 51% male to 49% female. Further details about the demographics of participants can be found in Appendix 1 of the report.

Lyndsey Simpson is chief executive officer and founder of over-50s platform 55/Redefined.

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