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Reflections on the Old Elephant in the Room

 Nov 27, 2019 11:00 AM
by Helen Spence

Not long ago the Toronto Star published my article entitled “The (Old) Elephant in the Room”. For those of you who didn’t see it, you can find the link here or in the news section of our website. Needless to say, this was very satisfying to me personally. What I hadn’t expected was the response I’d get from many of the readers.
 

The subject obviously struck a chord with a silent segment of the readership. It ignited an unintended conversation about how many people out there have been and are affected by ageism. I heard from people who have cases in front of the Human Rights Tribunal currently; others who have been denied professional development and opportunities for promotion as well as from all those out there who are desperately seeking work but can’t find any.


Although the article resonated with many, I couldn’t help but think how profoundly sad it is that so many talented, capable and enthusiastic people are being denied a chance to fulfil their potential and at the same time contribute to Canada’s economic and social prosperity. Their work lives have been shortened, usually at around age  65 because of a number (established when average lifespans were 62) that describes nothing more than chronological age.


We wouldn’t ever say that a child is too young to be a genius.  Why do we generalize and believe that one is too old to work, create, be productive?  I am not naive. There are some professions that don’t lend themselves to continuing in the same capacity as earlier in a career. Clearly, if you have developed a tremor in your hands, your professional time as a surgeon is over. However, more roles than not are not as limiting at older stages in life. All that is required is the will on the part of employers to accommodate where necessary and make a shift. The research states repeatedly that these small accommodations and retaining older workers improve overall productivity.


As I found last week at yet another conference, diversity doesn’t seem to include age. It is still elusive and a misunderstood factor for most companies, organizations and governments. We have so successfully segregated age into silos and internalized age bias, that we can’t find our way out. If we don’t start looking more closely at the demographic shift that is already upon us, we will be even less prepared for the future of work. It’s time for all to start speaking up more loudly. Canada’s future prosperity depends on it.

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