Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
We all assume that when the time comes, the decision to stop working will be ours to make. We may even have a loosely structured plan in place that involves working hard for 30+ years, then easing into retirement with a healthy pension to fall back on; despite never actually saving for one.
But what happens when years into your career, the unexpected happens and you find yourself back looking for work, but unable to find it? This is an issue many older creatives are now facing.
The Equality Act 2010 means that in the UK it’s illegal to treat someone unfairly because of their age. However, within the design industry especially, an unconscious bias towards younger employees has seeped through.
Over half of working designers in the UK (56.6%) are in their 20s, and only 4.1% are in their 50’s **
Diversity in the workplace has become a hot topic of late, and there are now numerous networks doing wonderful work to improve the disparities. However, our tendency to pillage only for causes that directly affect us has kept the focus on gender, race and sexuality with very little being said or done about age-based discrimination; despite it being an area that could potentially affect us all.
People aged 40+ are likely to be looking for work 3 months longer than their younger peers.
Look around your office. How many employees over 40 do you see? How many in junior -midweight roles? Now how many have been recently hired? Probably not many. This doesn’t mean there aren’t qualified candidates within that age bracket applying for roles, we can attest there are many. What it sadly signifies is an age bias in the recruitment process, something Gabriele work hard to combat, and something Bambi Montgomery a past candidate of ours knows all too well.
The recruitment system is broken.
Bambi Montgomery Head of Special Projects (that’s her official title, but she’s so much more) has had an enviable career in advertising spanning two continents, three decades and countless well-respected companies including The Frameworks and The British Museum. She has also founded her own successful design company and ran it for many years.
Gabriele had the pleasure of meeting Bambi 6 years ago when we placed her at a London based design agency as Studio Manager. she spent many happy years there, growing to Associate Director until being made redundant 6 months ago; she’s now struggling to find another role.
Whilst Bambi doesn’t attribute her age to her recent redundancy, she’s in little doubt that it’s the reason why she is yet to find an employer willing to take her on, despite applying for jobs on a daily basis; she also states that she never had an issue finding work until she reached the age of 40.
Although you’d assume she’s much younger, Bambi isn’t shy about revealing that she is in fact 72. She says the recruiting system in the UK Is broken; especially in the capital, and has grown sceptical about ever finding a new design agency to work within.
At 72 Bambi hopes to work for many more years and doesn’t understand why that is shocking.
She has noted that interviewers now avoid asking where she sees herself in 5 years, probably out of fear of offending, or maybe they assume she’d say “retired”. In fact her answer is a staunch “very much still working”.
In direct contrast to the strong employer loyalty found in previous generations, 43 per cent of millennials plan to leave their current jobs within two years and only 28 per cent have plans to stay beyond five years**. This preoccupation with job-hopping and hashtag hustlin’ means those who dare to answer the question “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” with “right here in the same role until retirement” risk being seen as an unambitious liability.
At the heart of the ageism issue within design is the industries fixation with “the next big thing”.
When asked why she feels those over 40 are overlooked for roles within design, Bambi attributes the industries constant pursuit of the “hot new thing” as the problem. “In more traditional industries such as finance, longevity is still a revered trait for employees to have; finding a company you like and spending five-plus years within it is normal”. However, now employees are expected even encouraged (for inspiration purposes) to move around.
The Government have outlined plans to increase the state pension age to 67 by 2028, and to 68 by 2039
By 2022 there will be 800,000 more older workers and 300,000 less 18-24 year olds entering the workforce each year. The UK’s population is ageing, and the talent pool companies like to fish from is shrinking; so the retention of committed and experienced employees of every age is key for the preservation of the industry.
Not only does a diverse team bring diverse ideas and improve employee well-being but companies that are open to workers of all backgrounds and ages are 45 per cent more likely to report growth in market share****.
Keeping senior workers in employment has now become a government priority, thanks to the financial strain a pension scheme plus an ageing population places on the government. Former Conservative leader and Centre for Social Justice leader Iain Duncan-Smith has addressed the issue, stating that “thousands of people aged 50 to 64-years-old are wrongly deemed “economically inactive” by employees. He is determined to change this by accelerating plans to further increase the UK state pension age.
Whilst this means many could die before ever receiving the pension they’re entitled to, the new legislation could spark a much-needed change in attitudes towards older workers.
Despite feeling frustrated, Bambi remains determined to find a role. She, like many her age, still has the same passion for the industry that she did when entering it in her native South Africa during the infamous Ad Land years. She does plan to cut her hours down slightly, but that has nothing to do with age and everything to do with maintaining a healthy work/life balance.
Bambi wants to motivate other senior creatives who are also struggling to find their ideal role, by encouraging them to stand up against the bias and be counted. “Try to make a difference,” she says “we do not have one foot in the grave, we have loads to give”.
* Office for National Statistics, 2017 Reason for leaving last job cross-referenced with duration of unemployment, broken down by specific age bands for JD15
**GraphicDesign, 2018 Graphic Designers Surveyed
***Deloitte, 2018 Deloitte finds millennials’ confidence in business takes a sharp turn; they feel unprepared for Industry 4.0