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Committed to (un)equal opportunities?: 'New ageism' and the older worker.

By Chris McVittie, Andy McKinlay and Sue Widdicombe


In recent years the principle of equality of opportunity in employment has been widely promoted as a means of addressing the marginalization of various groups of workers, including older workers. Evidence suggests, however, that equal opportunities have not improved prospects for older workers. The present study employs discourse analysis to examine a variety of accounts of those responsible for employment within a number of organizations. Analysis shows that these accounts are rhetorically oriented towards potential attributions of age discrimination. As evidence of a non-discriminatory stance, participants attend to possible shortcomings in written policies by making explicit their organizations' equal opportunity practices. In describing their workforces as comprising predominantly younger employees, however, they make only implicit reference to practices involving older workers. When they account for the apparent age imbalances in their workforces, they attribute these imbalances to factors outwith their control so that the organization's practices become completely 'invisible'. The contrast between this 'invisibility' and explicit claims to be committed to equal opportunities allows participants to position themselves as non-discriminating employers and at the same time justifies the marginalization of older workers

Publisher: British Psychological Society
OAI identifier: oai:eresearch.qmu.ac.uk:1281
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