Lack of opportunities for over 50s: which sectors are falling short?

people walking along corridor diversity and inclusion in the workplace research

40% of over 50s state that there is a lack of opportunity for promotion with their current employer, with an overwhelming three quarters (74%) not yet  offered a promotion at their current employer.

New research from Robert Walters highlights the lost opportunity of today’s employers who are not investing in a growing pool of ageing workers that will make up a third of the  workforce by 2020.

Driving Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace: Spotlight on Age is the first whitepaper of a three-part research series, taking an in-depth look at the experience of 9,000 UK employees to identify where work needs to be done in establishing a diverse and inclusive workforce in regards to age, gender and ethnicity.

Pre-order the research series here

Respondents were surveyed on the barriers they encounter when aiming for a promotion.  Lack of opportunities being offered was identified as the top challenge for Baby Boomers (51 – 70 year olds), with this trend most prevalent within disciplines largely made up of younger generations.

So which industries are falling short for older professionals? Take a look at our key findings.

Media & Marketing

62% of 50-60 year olds in the media industry (and 48% of marketing professionals respectively)  confirm being overlooked for promotion is their greatest challenge, with half of this age-group below middle management level.

This could perhaps be down to opportunities instead being offered to Millennials, perceived to be more ‘digital-savvy’, having been immersed in relevant technologies from a much younger age compared to older generations.

Companies must work hard and fast to get rid of the ‘best before’ date culture which may have historically existed in many industries.

Interestingly, a quarter of 50-60 year olds working in media also felt unsuited to the company culture. This is not surprising to see given that media & marketing is built on a foundation of relationship building and social environments.

A separate Robert Walters report - Retaining Millennial Professionals - found that a third of millennials (30%) felt that meeting in their colleagues in a social setting was the most important, compared to less than 1% of Baby Boomers.

In a similar vein, professional development was also limited for over 50s in this area due to the lack of training on offer. Nearly 40% confirm that their employer has never offered them training, adding weight to the notion that professionals reach their shelf life at 50 in this industry.


55% of legal professionals aged 50-60 feel overlooked for promotion. Known for their long working hours and fast paced environments, it’s probable that this age group are perceived to be less flexible than younger employees.

33% of legal professionals over the age of 50 also state that they don’t feel a part of the company culture and a third don’t think their company’s employment offer suits their needs, indicating that legal firms are more angled to younger legal professionals.  

Accounting & banking

Around half  of accounting & finance professionals (40%) and banking and financial services professionals (55%) over the age of 51 stated that there  are a lack of opportunities presented to them.

What should be alarming to employers is that 40% of this cohort stated that they would leave their role if a  progression path wasn’t made clear to them. In a candidate-short market, exasperated by Brexit-related concerns,  employers run the risk of losing the breadth of skills and experience offered by mature workers by neglecting their progression potential.

The research reveals that the industry is made up of over half (54%) of Millennial professionals, with employers heavily focusing their recruitment and development strategies on younger generations.

Widely considered to be highly demanding industries, employers need to be mindful of adopting stereotypes and the unconscious bias towards favouring younger professionals that they believe are more capable of coping with the pressures of the industry.


Half of technology professionals in their fifties do not feel they get considered for promotion in the same way as younger generations.

From the research report – Retaining Millennial Professionals – it was apparent that the key difference between generations was their adoption of new technologies. In fact, a third (34%) of millennials reported that older workers not understanding new technology was the chief cause of conflict.

As the sector at the forefront of rapid technological change, progression opportunities will be handed to those that are most skilled with the latest tech. A surprising third of Baby Boomers stated that there was a lack of training on offer within the tech industry - the highest proportion out of all professional disciplines.

If older professionals are not given relevant training to keep pace with new advances, this will likely impact negatively on their progression path as well as inter-generational working practices – further driving away from inclusion and diversity.

What can industries do to improve progression paths for older professionals?

Chris Poole, UK Managing Director at Robert Walters, highlights that the conversation around progression and training needs to remain open:

“One of the largest takeaways from this data should be that on average a professional’s career and earning potential flatlines at 50 across multiple professional sectors. Management teams need to do more to encourage discussion around progression paths and present employees with opportunities or career routes which gives the employee value and adds longevity onto their career.

Whilst the phenomenon of the ageing workforce is new, it is not one that will be going away soon. Companies must work hard and fast to get rid of the ‘best before’ date culture which may have historically existed in many industries.”

Pre-order Driving Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace to read the full report findings.

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