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Title: Exploring age norms and barriers in UK organisations : the critical case of mature graduates
Author: Morris, Francine
ISNI:       0000 0004 5919 5447
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2016
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This thesis takes the critical case of mature graduates to explore whether or not embedded age norms in UK organisations create age barriers. Despite widespread discussions on demographic change and more diverse life courses, age has not received the attention given to other characteristics, in particular gender, class and ethnicity. Where age is addressed, the focus is mainly on older workers, and issues such as longer working lives. Mature graduates can be considered to challenge career age norm assumptions by seeking to reshape their careers through the acquisition of new skills and formal qualifications at a later than expected point in the life course but the barriers this group faces in pursuing these non-linear careers have yet to be analysed in depth. This thesis seeks to address these gaps in understanding age norms and barriers through analysis of interview data collected from 72 key actors, including mature students and graduates, HR managers, line managers, employees, graduate recruitment consultants and a trade union equality officer. The research involves three levels of analysis; the pre-entry stage to employment to explore career aspirations, expectations and choices; the entry stage to employment, analysed through a focus on the recruitment process into graduate training schemes; and the post-entry stage, that is through an investigation of organisational diversity policies and their implications for age norms and age barriers which may shape the working experiences of mature graduates. Throughout the research utilises an intersectional approach to difference and inequalities to reflect the reality of how age norms and barriers may intersect with other aspects of disadvantage and identities, thereby creating specific forms of age disadvantage that are difficult to explain by age alone. The first paper draws on interviews with mature graduates and students to explore the ways that the institutionalisation of age norms within education and labour market systems shapes their career aspirations prior to re-entering the labour market. Even though mature graduates recognised the presence of some age barriers in the labour market, they did not necessarily perceive themselves as victims of disadvantage. In particular women with children anticipated some constraints around their career choices, demonstrating the value of an intersectional lens on age norms and barriers. The most frequently perceived disadvantage related to age norms around graduate work. This issue is explored further in the second paper, which applies Acker’s inequality regimes framework to age barriers in the recruitment process for graduate training programmes through interviews with key agents in addition to mature graduates. Age norms in the recruitment process are found to be perpetuated by organisational pressures on recruitment managers and consultants, the construction of graduate jobs and the perceptions and actions of mature graduates themselves. Notions of graduate jobs were found to be openly constructed around young graduate workers, revealing that discrimination by age is still largely seen as legitimate in recruitment. More indirect age barriers were also found interweaved with gender, ethnicity and class, including notions of flexible working or mobility needs. Finally, the third paper draws on a reformulated version of Liff’s diversity policy framework to consider how two organisations, one public sector and one private sector, are responding to age as a protected characteristic. Approaches to age difference were found to be complex and often lacked coherence. In the private sector organisation, in the few instances where age was recognised as an issue, the driver was the narrow business benefits to be derived from utilizing age differences. In the public sector organisation, business case approaches coexisted with a residual social justice approach, reflecting wider diversity policies more aligned with an equal opportunities approach, such that age differences were valued not simply utilised. Taken as whole, the evidence at the three different levels suggests that not only is the institutionalisation of age norms still relatively strong, at least within the graduate labour market, but also that age as a form of diversity policy remains in its infancy and requires more attention in terms of its conceptualisation, theorisation and practical application in organisations.
Supervisor: Rubery, Jill ; Hebson, Gail Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available