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Over-50s Seen as ‘Poor Return on Training Investment’


The over 50s, particularly women, are more likely to miss out on training opportunities in the workplace than younger male employees because HR managers see older women as offering a poor return on investment.

That was the result of research carried out into age and gender bias in the allocation of training and development budgets by Almuth McDowall from Surrey University.

Working with HR managers in 48 companies, Dr McDowall used a series of fictional vignettes to test out their decision making when allocating funding for training and development.

All of the managers were experienced with an average of ten years’ practice in the field of making training and development decisions.

Each manager was given four scenarios consisting of character profiles of both young people aged 30 or younger and older employees aged 50 or more. There was a careful mix of gender and ethnicity worked into the study.

They were then asked to work with the scenario to allocate a notional budget of £6,000 across four employees and justify their decisions.

The outcome mirrored the contrasting amount of training made available to older women and younger men in the UK, with the characters in the scenarios who were female and over 50 receiving far less of the available budget than younger male characters.

When quizzed about their reasons for this difference, the HR managers justified their decisions in terms of older employees and women being less ‘investment-worthy’ perceiving them to offer a lower return on investment.

Dr McDowall said: “We are looking forward to sharing our initial findings with the HR community as it’s essential they know these biases are real.

“With legislation now having a bearing on age discrimination in the workplace HR managers have to be aware that even though they say they don’t want to be ageist, as many in our study did, there may be subliminal factors which mean they place the training and development interests of older workers and female workers last.”


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