How to create an age-diverse workforce in charities

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Third Sector Jobs spoke to the British Council and the RNLI about how they're building a culture of inclusivity.

Equality monitoring, championing younger workers and abolishing default retirement ages has gone a long way to removing any direct or more casual forms of age discrimination from charities in the UK. This article looks at the unique and creative ways the third sector is building a culture of inclusivity regardless of how many birthdays you have or haven’t celebrated.

Age discrimination can occur at any stage of life a person is in, yet older people are often subjected to particularly high levels. It is often influenced by the concept that older workers are incapable, either physically or mentally, of performing a role. Comparatively, younger workers can also be excluded from entering the jobs market on the basis that they don’t have the required experience or skills, whilst sometimes women of childbearing age are also discriminated against adversely by employers who may wrongly assume they will quickly leave to start and bring up a family.

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees, job seekers and trainees because of age. For example, this may include because they are 'younger' or 'older' than a relevant and comparable employee. Yet despite the legislation, ageist views and discrimination continue.

Third Sector Jobs spoke to two charities, the British Council and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) to find out how they tackle the issues and ensure they are inclusive whatever a person’s age is.

Equality monitoring

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. Founded in 1934, it has expanded to over 200 offices in over 100 countries around the world.

Fiona Bartels-Ellis is the charity’s global head of equality, diversity and inclusion. She says the springboard for strategy is data: "We capture our age data and analyse it. We already know it varies around the world and that we have a diverse workforce."

This process is very important, admits Bartels-Ellis, who says that the data is the focal point from which policy is based.

Championing younger workers

Bartels-Ellis says that at the British Council they recognise that the workforce is not very diverse at the younger end. "There are not many employees aged 21 or under, for example. It’s partly because the statutory age at which you can leave education in the UK has increased to 18, whereas it used to be 16."

With people staying in education longer and more going onto university, Bartels-Ellis admits it is hard to capture the very young workers, but the British Council has been working on not excluding them from the workplace if they choose to go straight into the workforce on leaving formal education: "There is a range of operational roles which attract school leavers or younger workers and we aim to ensure they are able to access them by ensuring we don’t impose requirements to hold a degree unless absolutely necessary."

Sue Kingswood, inclusion and diversity manager at the RNLI, says they have a very successful apprenticeship programme which welcomes all ages, but for the most part, attracts school and college leavers.

"Some operational roles, however, currently have an upper age limit due to their physical nature. In terms of improving engagement with young people and in addition to our other networks, we are delighted that we now have a young professionals’ network," comments Kingswood.

Abolishing the default retirement age

Bartels-Ellis says the British Council is very proud of abolishing retirement ages before statutory legislation obliged them to do so: "In some countries of course, this is not possible because work permits are not issued to those aged 60 plus but here in the UK we removed the default retirement age before we had to, and we currently have 13 workers who are aged 70 and over. We have recently recruited someone who is aged 72."

In many of the locations in which the British Council operates the population is ageing, including much of East Asia and across Europe, so the numbers of older workers are growing.

Screening language

Scouring the language used by the charity has been in place for a while, says Bartels-Ellis who recently challenged the term ‘digital native’ for being potentially ageist. This all forms part of their messaging communications which are carefully monitored to make them inclusive.

"We have a lot of discussions about age, we recognise that some of our workers want to work longer and retire later and we have found this is particularly true of some of our female workers who may still have dependants to care for and need the financial income.

We have a saying that it’s an ‘open club’ – hang around long enough and you’ll become a member!"

Along with the printed and spoken word, is a careful filtering of images associated with the charity. Bartels-Ellis says it is important to ensure that the published pictures reflect the age diversity that the charity has worked hard to achieve.


Bartels-Ellis says the British Council is focused upon inclusion and ensuring that whilst they champion older and younger workers, neither is ‘pitted against the other’. "We take an intergenerational approach. Using exit interviews is one way to ensure that there aren’t any concerning patterns relating to age that are overlooked."

It is very important, too, that all ages of the workforce are made to feel important. The British Council celebrates the international day of older persons each 1st October.

It’s a point the RNLI also agrees upon. Kingswood says: "Age diversity, as with any diversity, enriches the organisation because it brings different perspectives, ideas, experiences and challenge to the cultural mix. This strengthens the organisation and helps to avoid ‘group think’."

Hiring the best person for the job, regardless of their age, gender, sex or disabilities is always the right course of action. Employers can at times unknowingly exclude either younger or older workers from accessing jobs – this may be down to the language in advertising material, default retirement ages or putting in unnecessary barriers to entry for school or college leavers.

Both the British Council and the RNLI have demonstrated that being aware of these issues and with careful monitoring, age should not be an issue if you are the right person for the job.

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