Last weekend I was lucky enough to catch the fantastic Gallipoli Exhibition at Te Papa. It’s with a degree of arrogance that I say I come from a country with some of the best museums in the world, but this exhibition, with the assistance of Weta Workshop, ranks up there as one of the very best I’ve seen.
Maybe it’s because my partner works in the world of medicine, but the most poignant of the profiled veterans was the story of the surgeon Lieutenant Colonel Percival Fenwick. You can read more about this guy here, but to summarise, Fenwick served in Gallipoli as a surgeon at age 45 and saw some of the most atrocious sights imaginable. Incredibly, at the outbreak of the Second World War some 30 years later, with Fenwick being in his 70s and running Christchurch Hospital, he applied twice to re-join the military to serve “in any capacity”. From relieving junior medics, to training people on treating gunshot trauma, Fenwick was keen to serve in any way he could, at any level. Quite incredible.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, his pleas were met with rejection both times. Perhaps it was felt that man in his seventies was too much of a liability? Perhaps his work was more valuable at home? Whatever the reason, it’s humbling to think that a man who saw the worst of humanity was prepared to throw himself back into the inferno. Fenwick’s insistence that he would work at any level and in any capacity, free of ego or desire for status also got me thinking. In a world increasingly focused on youth, the knowledge, wisdom, and sheer bloody-mindedness of older people is often overlooked.
In our industry, there is a surprising level of acceptance towards ageism. Amongst all the -isms, it seems the last one to be fair game for the watercooler chats. This “-ism” often goes hand in hand with another “-ism” which I will call “experience-ism”. Also known as “(s)he’ll-get-bored-ism”. Or “why-would-(s)he-be-interested-ism”. Candidates are often deemed too old or too experienced to do a job they can do and want to do. Many talented, keen, affordable, and energetic candidates are currently sitting on the shelf waiting for our call. The truth is, many senior candidates, in both years and achievement, are in a situation where a more “junior” job is interesting and attractive. They may not need the money. They may have an affinity for the industry. They might just hate their husband or wife. Whatever the reason, our clients are getting more for less. Yet still, we are met with the above -isms, and our candidates are left high and dry.
I was invited to a SEEK event this week, where with the help of Nicola Laver, we were exploring unconscious bias. I’m increasingly fascinated by stuff like this and find it incredible how little we actually know about ourselves. What’s clear is that to have unconscious bias is human. However, we all owe it to the world to try and understand our biases and work out ways to address them. Amongst my many biases, I’m certainly guilty of ageism. And as someone who is often the gatekeeper to fantastic opportunities, it sure is a concern.
Older workers actually offer many benefits. There’s the obvious fact that whatever the task is, and to quote their grandchildren, it probably isn’t “their first rodeo”. They also take less sick days. I’m guessing they’re also less likely to take photos of their coffee cups each morning. On a macro scale, countries with a growing ratio of older people are actually more likely to have a higher GDP. So much for them being a drain on the system. If I look closer to home, our oldest team member, Jon Rice still manages to come up with the occasional innovative idea after his afternoon nap.
Like Percival Fenwick, older and more experienced candidates are often as game as they come. They bring knowledge, experience, often surprising levels of energy, and a diversity of thought that both us and our clients need. And if you’re down in Wellington, be sure to check out the exhibition.