Not too long ago I sat in the audience and listened to a speaker from a very large financial institution describe the usage statistics (by age) of their banking app. He noted that take up of the app was very low above the age of 55. The conclusion being, he went on to say, that the app was simply not for older people.
It struck me as odd how that was just accepted without any push back either from his fellow panellists or from the audience – the narrative that the customer was to blame for not using the product. In most discussions low customer uptake would trigger an internal review of the product, an examination of the design and so on. But when it came to the over 55’s, blaming the customer for not using the product was simply accepted.
That kind of insidious ageism is damaging to the consumer. The lack of diversity in teams also means that this type of ‘status quo thinking’ about how products meet the needs of a broad range of consumers, goes unquestioned.
“That kind of insidious ageism is damaging to the consumer.”
Ageing is inevitable and, all being well, is something that most of us will experience. Yet ageism is pervasive and often remains a socially and commercially acceptable form of discrimination. The complex web of assumptions that are made about the needs, wants and abilities of older people has a profound impact on the way that products are created, designed, distributed and advertised. The result – products that don’t deliver what they could and miss the mark.
Looking at the demographic trends, populations that are living longer and, in many parts of the world, rapidly declining birth rates, ageism is out of sync with the changing structure of society. As we enter the era of the 100-year life, as outlined by Lynda Gratton and Andrew J. Scott, the imperative to address ageism becomes ever greater.
In the workplace, the journey into retirement is changing and is a transition rather than a dictated end. Driven by a desire to carry on working for personal fulfilment or a financial need to do so, working life no longer finishes – for many – with a hard stop around the age of 65.
The reality that many older employees face is one of outright age discrimination manifested in lack of training opportunities, being nudged towards the door before they are ready, insufficient recognition of their skills and value to the business and outdated assumptions with regards to productivity. The intersection of ageing and gender means that for women that discrimination begins even earlier in their working lives and they are already at risk of being side lined at the tender age of 40.
With ample evidence that diverse teams (including age diversity) deliver better outcomes and the prospect of declining numbers of young people entering the workforce, some companies are starting to implement new policies and strategies, with the retention and retraining of older workers playing in key role. This involves a re-think of recruitment and retention strategies but also of the benefit packages offered and making the necessary accommodations to working patterns and physical surroundings where required.
Tackling ageism matters not just because people are working and living longer but also because devising products that meet the needs of an ageing population are best done and understood by diverse teams.
“The intersection of ageing and gender means that women are at risk of being side lined at the tender age of 40.”
Don Norman, former Apple VP and a leading authority on inclusive design, describes how design is failing older people by not incorporating their evolving needs into technology. It should be perfectly possible to design for evolving physical needs without creating things that are unappealing and stigmatised by being deemed solely for the elderly. Good design benefits everyone – physical impairment, for example, isn’t restricted to age and the same innovation that assists an older person with physical limitations benefits everyone with physical limitations.
An exploration of ageism and how it manifests itself across the workplace, the creation and design of products, homes, shared infrastructure and so on will be an important topic of discussion at FinTECH4Life 2020. It poses crucial questions for an ageing society and sets the context for our discussion around not just more innovation but better innovation to meet those challenges.