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  • miketrup

Is Ageism the Last Socially Acceptable Prejudice in Business?

My late father was a self-made businessman who lost all his money to fraud in his early 50s. He had lived abroad much of his life and had minimal entitlement to a U.K. state pension. Consequently, he continued to scheme and try to develop an income entrepreneurially until he died in his 80s. In his later years, when he was living with my sister and financial support from me, we would encourage him to spend time with his friends and acquaintances of a similar age, but he would mostly refuse.

He would say, 'What do I want to spend time with other old people for? All they talk about is illnesses, who has died and things that happened long ago.' He remained mentally active and in touch with current events, the latest gadgets and technologies until his death. His words left me with what Jung might call a Shadow Character, the fear of a stereotype of what old age might look out of touch, unproductive and irrelevant! It sounds like many other social prejudices that we are thankfully challenging.

Many traditional societies have a respected role for older people, such as sage, spiritual guide or necessary guardian of collective memories. The rate of change in technologies and shortening product lifecycles has increasingly led to the belief that old knowledge is mainly irrelevant. At the same time, society's increasingly individualistic and isolating nature means we judge relevance by material success, the product of the human doing rather than the human being. As people age and become 'less productive' as we measure value currently, they are increasingly consigned to god's waiting room. This attitude is somehow socially acceptable, yet it wouldn't be if applied to our prejudices about other sectors of society.

As someone nearer the end than the beginning of life, I remind mentoring and advisory clients that context and breadth of experience are crucial to good decision-making. 90% of business is business; one may have to update one's interpretations of past events or experiences for nuances to inform today's decisions, but the problems are seldom very different.

As an Angel Investor and a business mentor, it sadly remains true that most founder teams I see are mostly younger white males. Thankfully, we are witnessing the increasing appearance of other genders, people of colour and other minorities, but seldom people in their 60s or older. Most likely, this is probably a product of societal prejudice and our own internalised values about ageing. It really should be unacceptable and is a waste of an increasing percentage of the population.


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