Half of all professionals in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics professions are stereotyped as “resistant to change” based on their age.
The Wasted Potential survey, conducted by Professionals Australia, reviewed the workplace experience of STEM professionals over the age of 45 and found 16.6% of respondents received “less favourable” treatment on the basis of their age.
Almost a fifth of professionals reported they had been sidelined for promotions due at least partially to their age, with close to a quarter stating their employer was less likely to invest in development for older staff compared to younger staff.
Of the 1671 STEM professionals surveyed, 18.1% worked in companies with less than 100 employees, 19.97% worked in companies with 101-500 employees and 61.93% worked in organisations with more than 501 employees.
Chris Walton, chief executive of Professionals Australia, told SmartCompany this is the first time his organisation has conducted research about mature workers in STEM fields and the report highlights a culture of stereotyping.
“Essentially you’ve got incredibly skilled staff that are both critical for the business – particularly who we surveyed with STEM skills – which are clearly essential to business with digital disruption and yet these very people who are surveyed are not having an opportunity to develop the next generation and are leaving early,” he says.
“The Prime Minister has described the importance of Australia’s future relying on an ideas boom to drive productivity and innovation… critical to that innovative future will be STEM staff and yet this report shows we are not developing the next generation of STEM professionals.”
The report shows 41% of respondents report their employer does not currently offer development or training for mature-age professionals.
Eve Ash, psychologist and chief executive of Seven Dimensions, told SmartCompany businesses shouldn’t assume that age is an issue when it comes to training and career advancement.
“Everything needs to change because people bring different qualities and experience to work and we can no longer assume that because someone is older they are incompetent… in fact it’s often the opposite,” she says.
“I think there is an issue that people who at any age need to be really open to learning and open to change otherwise they will be left behind because you’ve got to keep up and you’ve got to be really enthusiastic about what’s changing….and that’s why especially in those professions there are competency professional development points to maintain.”
Ash says businesses shouldn’t rush to enforce policies but instead run discussions that encourage openness to diversity and to appreciate experience.
She says performance reviews or appraisals are one way to review performance standards or deliverables.
“People’s performance should be managed no matter what age 20 or 80,” she says.
“Some people have limitations and some people have amazing strength and the really good [business] leaders know how to best put them.”
For Walton, what businesses have to do is simple.
“What can employers do? They can support mentoring programs, they can have better transition to retirement planning including flexible working arrangements,” he says.
“I don’t think we need to tell business the basics of developing a younger professional they know they’re not work-ready out of university.
“It’s this older generation of professional that are critical of developing that generation before it’s too late.”