Google calls them Greyglers. A term applied to anyone in their team over the age of 40. While likely intended as a charming moniker, it is reasonably insulting – implying that Google belongs to those sub-40. What it also manages to do is put a name to the age discrimination facing both men and women.

Professionals who are keen to return to work after a break are often unable to find roles commensurate with their experience and pay-grade1. Staggeringly, there are more people over the age of 50 in the work for the dole scheme than those in their 20s. Mental health issues are on the increase for those over 50 because roles are simply not not open to them.(1)

Women, traditionally, are the major care givers, and are more likely to take some time out during their career to give birth to and raise the family – but it appears that those who take longer breaks – of say 10 years find it difficult to get back into the workforce.

According to Judith Warner, writer for the New York Times and author of the article “the opt-out generation wants back in” suggests that of the 89% of women who “off-ramp” to spend a decade at home with families, only 40% of them get back in with a full time role. (2)

Troublingly, in Australia, of all the hours worked, women between the ages of 45 and 65 complete only 15% of those hours. (3) Comparatively, the male participation rate exceeds the female rate, with the gap largest for the age groups 20-24 years, 55-59 years and 60-64 years. The only cohort that has more women participating in the workplace is between 15 and 19. (4)

According to research out of the UK shared in the Government’s Business Champion for Older Workerswomen’s careers are being ‘‘cut off’’ at 45 thanks to a combination of ageism and gender discrimination. Older men face discrimination too, according to the report, but they manage to last another decade in the workplace before slipping backwards in hierarchy, skills and promotion. (5)

Additionally, less than 18 percent of executives are women, less than 14 percent are on boards, and a mere six percent are CEOs of North American companies. The number of board positions that have gone to women in the past three years has increased by 0.2 percent. (6) At this rate, we should parity by the end of the century. (6)

It’s unfortunate, not only because younger women are denied the benefit of learning from more experienced and qualified women, but Mckinsey suggests that diversity is a moneymaker. In fact, companies who have a diverse workforce outperform those that don’t by 34%. This stands for gender, age and ethnicity. (4)

In her article, Warner uncovers that the longer a woman work from within the home the less likely she is going to get back to the role she wants. However, there is a burgeoning new approach to reintroduce professionals to the workforce who are looking to try something different. Some large firms in the United States are trialing the notion of the midlife intern.

Typically, internships are established for younger people keen to enter the workforce, but these midlife internships have been designed for people who have been out of the workforce for more than two years. Mature interns also tend to be paid for the work they are doing – although they may not command the big salaries, but 50% of interns are offered permanent roles at a higher wage(7).

Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO of iRelaunch in the United States, says that Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan Chase have all implemented retraining or internship programs. (7)

“These programs are usually for women who are re-entering the workforce after extended maternity leave, but the programs are open for all mature workers,” Cohen says.

Mike Thompson, Barclays’s Head of Apprenticeships, one of the sponsors for the intern programs, says the bank sees other advantages.

“We see real benefit in employing a workforce that reflects the diversity of our customer base. For example, those who have had previous careers and greater life experience can have empathy and are able to really understand and support our customers,” he said. (7)

If the trend continues, Australia may start to see internships offered to all age groups. The midlife internship does not directly solve the ongoing issue of pay discrepancies or address how to bring women back as CEO, the program should have a halo benefit enough to spark a necessary renewed approach to retaining, retraining and hiring more mature, qualified and capable female (and male) talent.

Author’s note – both Larry Page and Sergey Brin are in their forties and therefore also Greyglers!

By WID Blogger Michelle Tucker