Ageism in the world of Projects

The last couple of years have seen organisations ramping up efforts to become more inclusive and representative of a truly diverse workforce. In the ideal working world, this is a workforce that openly opposes racism and sexism, and one where prejudice is not tolerated. Interestingly, there is an issue that is still very much tolerated across industries in South Africa, and within projects, and it’s that of Ageism.

What is Ageism?

Age discrimination (or Ageism) takes place when employers or employees discriminate against older individuals. This can include instances where older individuals are:

  • Passed over for learning and development opportunities in favour of younger individuals
  • Overlooked for challenging assignments
  • Repeatedly asked about their retirement plans
  • Passed over for raises and promotions

Why do Ageist mindsets still exist?

Studies have shown that there are still ageist attitudes amongst South African employers, with evidence illustrating that negative perceptions about older employees exist. These perceptions revolve around older employees’ abilities to adapt to technological and organisational change.

With organisations across the globe currently facing an unprecedented wave of change propelled by the globalised economy and the impact of disruptive technologies, these perceptions are likely to become even more deeply rooted if left unchallenged and unchecked.

Ageism in the world of Projects

In the ambit of projects, Ageism is often evident during the initial phases when project teams are being set up and the recruitment process kicks off. In our experience, the perceptions of hiring managers exist that younger consultants are believed to be better suited to the project landscape’s fast-paced-ness as energy levels and momentum are thought to remain consistently high throughout the project’s lifecycle. We have also learned from feedback received from client organisations that younger consultants are believed to be better equipped to respond to changes (be these around processes, people, or systems).

Age diversity in project teams can lead to better project outcomes (which should come as no surprise and similar to how diversity and inclusion initiatives help organisations perform better). Refer to The Project Management Institute’s research on the topic which details how diverse project teams increase project value.

Consultants with a depth and breadth of experience can offer much-needed mentoring and coaching to younger colleagues, which can assist with turnover which we have found to be highest amongst younger consultants. Seasoned consultants who have seen ups and downs are also able to hit the ground running during peak periods and when timelines become tight. Finally, seasoned consultants have seen a broad range of approaches, successful or otherwise, and would have taken valuable learnings from them.

Ageism and the South African Law

Employers in South Africa are not legally allowed to hire an employee based on their age. Both the South African Labour Relations Act (LRA) and the Employment Equity Act (EEA) protects all employees against age discrimination – and any other form of arbitrary discrimination.

Provided that a Project Professional can deliver what is expected, age should have no bearing on an individual’s ability to perform their role. The relevant experience of the individual should be the only requirement on which hiring decisions are based.

This protects ALL project professionals from discrimination.

Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995 | South African Government (
Employment Equity Act 55 of 1998 | South African Government (
Ageism in the Workplace: How Seniors Can Break Barriers (