Today, real public discussion has become problematic as the negatives that are directed to any individual uttering anything remotely controversial invariably results in that individual no longer bothering to discuss issues for which there may well be solutions.
This can certainly be applied to ageism, where even the spelling, let alone the word, evokes controversy and, nowadays, a certain amount of resignation rather than indignation!
The RANZCOG Board has recently circulated Fellows with a personal letter, ‘Operating with Respect’, in which there was espoused a wish to eliminate discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment to achieve the goals of inclusion, respectful communication and safety in the workplace; however, the elephant in the room – ageism – received scant attention!
Rupert Sherwood’s treatise on the ageing surgeon1 very eloquently dealt with their technical abilities and possible solutions along with touching on their emotional responses with the often quoted solution of ‘early preparation for retirement’, which may no longer be applicable to the documented increasing number of Fellows who might wish or need to work longer.
Industry however, due to demographic and fertility trends, have recognised that companies, in order to increase cognitive diversity, must bring back or retain older workers who are well placed with their knowledge and experience to take advantage of this initiative and ‘add to the economic edge’ of progressive organisations.2
There are a number of solutions that have been proposed to seamlessly include older employees, but perhaps the most significant is that organisations must teach younger leaders how to utilise older workers’ talents in an inclusive and respectful fashion.
Hence, to make a positive social statement in ‘Operating with Respect’ then, RANZCOG should encourage the omission of the negative intonation and inference of terms such as ‘succession planning’, ‘technologically inept’, ‘resistant to change’ from the common vernacular and, like our colleagues in industry, be proactive in setting the agenda for older Fellows to ‘add to the clinical edge’ of our specialty.