Sitting in the court room with my colleague waiting to present a rent arrears case in front of the Judge. “Mr Freeman and his apprentice next please.” My colleague giggled as I turned to the court clerk and realised I was the apprentice he was referring too. Feeling slightly embarrassed, I stood up in front of all the other Housing Officers in the room who watched as I went to present my case.
I was not an apprentice, I was a 26 year old Housing Officer – a professional with 10 years experience within the sector who had long since passed the apprenticeship that had begun my career. Despite this, the clerk had made an assumption based simply on my perceived age. I didn’t correct him.
A few weeks later I sat at a National Housing Federation event surrounded by fellow colleagues, all networking and discussing their experiences.
“So, how long have you been working within the industry then,” a gentleman who had been discussing the various industries he had worked asked.
“Oh, all my career, I’ve never done anything else” I gleamed.
“Ahh what’s that, 3 years then?” he retorted.
Was this a joke? Or was this casual ageism? It turned out he had only been in the sector for 6 months yet, as he was approximately 20 years my senior he felt this put him in a position of superiority over me.
It was only following this conversation that I began to reflect on how often my age had come in to question during my career.
“One in five adults believe they’ve experienced ageism in the uk, with a quarter of young adults believing they’ve faced discrimination because of their age.”- BBC Radio 5 live survey.
I have faced the cliché experience barrier on many occasions when trying to progress in my career. Applying for jobs to be told I did an amazing interview, was really liked, there was nothing else I could have done and that it simply came down to experience. But how does a 26 year old compete with a 46 year old on years of experience!? The fact is they don’t. Is this indirect age discrimination?
There is a lot of talk around the sector at the moment of how we encourage and retain young talent but for as long as experience remains a major defining factor when we are looking to recruit, then so does age. We are blocking younger people from being able to reach levels of seniority. We are indirectly discriminating on grounds of age and this needs to change if we want any hope of getting fairer representation within the sector.
Do I want to remain working within an industry where I am having to constantly battle to be taken seriously simply because of my age?
Well yes, I do, because I LOVE social housing. But the same won’t be said for everyone. We will forever lose out to other industries who encourage and nurture young talent, if we don’t look at the beginning of the process and the recruitment of staff.
This sector needs organisations full of diversity in order to fully empathise and embrace the diverse range of tenants and needs within social housing and age is a huge part of that. We need to ensure fairer representation amongst staff and boards alike.
At a time when under 35’s are increasingly finding it difficult to get on to the home ownership ladder, when organisations are choosing to bypass them on allocation lists and when the financial pressures of the under 35s is being heavily discussed, it has never been more important for us to ensure we have a voice!
So my plea, from one young person to the leaders of this industry is, let’s stop looking at age or ‘experience’ and focus on skills, talent and potential.
To Nelson Mandela , who once said, “the youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow”, I would ask why can’t the youth of today also be the leaders of today?