Last week equal opportunities minister Margaret Hodge threw out a challenging deadline for employers (Personnel Today, 25 July). You have a year to tackle ageism in the workplace using the voluntary code of practice on age diversity or tough new legislation may follow.
Legislation to combat workplace ageism is the last thing employers want. But employers have a long way to go. The review of the voluntary code of practice shows that ageism is alive and well in the workplace. In fact most employers do not even know the code exists – three in 10 employers have never heard of it and of those less than a quarter of them have seen a copy.
Groups such as Age Concern are renewing their call for legislation, pointing out that this proves that awareness-raising and spreading good practice have their place but without legal force little will change.
But this week there is evidence that employers are starting to wake up to doing something about ageism in the workforce before the Government changes its softly-softly approach.
Employers’ organisation the CBI has been delighted with responses from 100 of its members which give concrete examples of what they are doing. They are training interviewers to be ageism aware, they are not putting age limits on job adverts, they are trying to avoid any encouragement of early retirement and they are monitoring the age profile of their workforce.
The Government must play its part and repeat the messages in the voluntary code at every opportunity. Publicity campaigns following the launch of the code have been sketchy. The fact that employers are ringing Personnel Today’s office saying they have never seen a copy of the code of practice and what is it anyway shows that any attempt at a publicity campaign has failed so far. The message has not reached its audience.
Hodge has promised a more concerted effort, for example a campaign next week targeting recruitment consultants. But much more is needed in the coming months or it will be unfair to castigate employers in a year’s time for failing to tackle ageism.