Am I too old for promotion?

‘Am I too old to go for that promotion?’ asks Mary. At 53 years old or young, she is questioning the possibility of going for a promotion at work.

Mary took a career break to bring up her 3 children. She re entered the workplace 7 years ago when her youngest child started secondary school. With the youngest just having started university and the older 2 children in employed positions, Mary feels that now she has the opportunity to focus on herself and to pursue those aspirations which she had put on hold whilst bringing up her family.

She recognises that this was her choice and one which she does not regret. Over the years, she has blossomed in her 3 days a week role, taking on additional responsibility, getting good performance reviews and being well respected by her colleagues.

A role has come up which she knows that she is capable and competent at undertaking. It will be a significant step up, with more leadership and strategic responsibilities and in a full time capacity.

She is is excited, enthused and motivated as she talks about the new role and the opportunity to progress her career.

Suddenly she pauses and a frown crosses her face. ‘Am I too old to be having these thoughts? Will they want to promote an older person? Am I mad to think about career aspirations at my age?’ she questions

In 2010, the Equality and Human Rights commission in their report, ‘The over 50s, the new work generation’ found that the majority of workers over 50 (62 % of women and 59% of men) wanted to continue working beyond state pension age.

This year, the Institute of Leadership and Management in their report, ‘Untapped talent: Can over 50s bridge the leadership skills gap’, the ILM surveyed  over 1400 UK managers with some interesting findings:

  •  61% of managers say their over 50s workers have low (20%) or very low (41%) potential to progress
  • This is despite the over 50s scoring higher than younger workers for occupation specific knowledge and skills (85%) and understanding of customers (78%)
  • The over 50s rated their own keenness to develop at 94%, higher than the youngest millennial age group surveyed, who trailed in last place with 87%.

Kate Cooper, head of Applied Research & Policy at ILM is quoted as saying :

We are seeing signs of organisational ageism, where highly skilled and talented staff members have less opportunity to progress as they get older. It seems this culture is so embedded that many workers over 50s are accepting they have limited opportunities in their current organisations.”

The report cites the Department for Work and Pensions figures  which predicts that an estimated 13.5 million jobs will be created over the next 10 years, over which time only 7 million young people will enter the labour force. This will leave the UK with a skills gap especially within leadership and management positions.

An earlier ILM report ‘Leadership and Management Talent Pipeline’ found that around 93 percent of UK employers worry that low levels of management skills are preventing them from achieving business goals

Should Mary be worried about her age as a factor which will hinder her promotion?


Will her organisation see this as an opportunity to recognise the benefits of an age diverse workforce and realise the untapped leadership talent of the over 50’s?

In July of this year, People Management ( magazine of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) announced its ‘50 over 50’ list, a celebration of the UK’s best workers over the age of 50.

The list which was nominated by the public ‘represents the very best of what older employees have to offer the modern workplace, and should serve as an inspiration to workers, managers and organisations alike to recognise and value their contribution to the British economy’.

Knowledge, talent, ambition and aspirations do not fizzle out when you reach a certain age.

People want different things from their lives depending on their motivation, aspirations, life phase and choices and pathways taken earlier

When we think of ‘talent’, are we conditioned to think ‘young, rising stars ’? How many employers, talent managers… when they considering  ‘high potentials’ and future leaders’ think of older workers?

Should talent not be nurtured throughout the organisation rather than focusing on age?

If you demonstrate the ability, motivation, aspiration and desire to progress surely age is irrelevant . Is it not more about the individual person?

Outdated stereotypes and ageist attitudes are holding many older women (and men) back.

Ageing starts at birth, not at 40, 50 or 60 years old. 

 What would you say to Mary?

If you were Mary’s employers, would you be worried about promoting her? 

                                                                                  Photo credit: Campus of Excellence

Wishing you greater career success, Vera



About verawoodhead

I'm an executive coach, leadership facilitator and learning & development consultant working with managers and leaders to develop the skills and behaviours to inspire performance and drive results; achieve promotion ; make successful career changes, be resilient and thrive at work. Within organisations, I help to facilitate better conversations, design learning interventions which deliver practical and lasting solutions aligned to business strategy and goals. Connect with me on Twitter @verawoodhead
This entry was posted in Career and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s