When I was called to say I hadn’t got the job as project manager at Guy’s Hospital in London, I was of course disappointed. My interview in July 2018 had gone well, I thought, and I had shown I had the relevant experience. I travelled down, suited and booted, from my home in Spalding in Lincolnshire – then 47, it was my first interview for a full-time job after a period of illness, and I was apprehensive. I’d seen the team I could be working with on their website: they looked a friendly lot across a range of ages and backgrounds, more women but some men, too. My presentation seemed to go down well, though the programme director had been pretty frosty. Afterwards she had asked me if I wanted to meet some members of the team. She didn’t say it was a formal part of the interview, but walked me along to a small kitchen where some young female staff were eating their lunch – and left me there with no word of introduction. They eyed me up and down and were totally disinterested; unwilling to engage with me. One young man did chat to me for about 10 minutes before the conversation petered out. Afterwards, I wondered whether I had simply read the situation wrong. But when I asked for feedback upon receiving my rejection, I was told that the role had gone to a woman who – like the person on the phone – was also in her twenties. The team I would have been working with was made up mainly of women of that same age, she explained, and they hadn’t felt comfortable with the prospect of working with a man “who was old enough to have an 11-year-old daughter”. (I had mentioned my daughter in passing during my presentation.) My disappointment turned to astonishment. I’ve done a lot of recruitment in my time as well as being interviewed, and I had never heard anything quite like this – let alone relayed so casually, as if this was a perfectly normal reason to reject someone from a role. With hindsight, I wonder if she would have told a woman that her children put her at a disadvantage in some way. At the time I was simply flabbergasted. I don’t record conversations, but I had taken notes that I was later able to provide to the employment tribunal that last week awarded me £7,500 in compensation for age and sex discrimination. That verdict has been cathartic for me, but the immediate impact of that phone call was devastating. Three years previously I had been diagnosed with haemochromatosis, a lifelong genetic disease that means I have too much iron in my blood and can cause diabetes, liver cancer, arthritis and heart conditions. It meant I had spent a couple of years away from work, very unwell, in and out of hospital for treatment every couple of weeks. I had suffered from chronic fatigue, but I’d picked myself up, first with part-time work, until I applied for the £40,000 a year role on the interface between technology and NHS patient care at Guy’s. Part of its appeal was that it would allow me to put what I’d been through with my own health problems to public benefit. I believe passionately in the NHS and in 2018 received an award from Matt Hancock as a patient safety volunteer in the NHS – ironically for work I did with a nurse practitioner at Guy’s. I don’t mind admitting that, after that rejection feedback, I became very depressed. I started to believe I was totally washed up, that I was no use to society, that at the age of 47 I was finished. The world of work was no place for “old” men, and I was the only breadwinner for my young family. And I was the only breadwinner in our home. I was genuinely concerned about how I was going to put food on the table. We are a very open family so I didn’t hide my anguish. My wife was a mental health professional in the NHS before we had children: seeing the change in me, she suggested I set myself some goals like getting up for breakfast, applying for jobs, and writing down what had happened in that interview as a way of gathering my thoughts. And as I did that, I got angry. I wasn’t even 50 and here I was effectively being told I was on the scrap heap. All my experience in software engineering, project management, and artificial intelligence, running teams in Britain and in several eastern European countries, was being treated as if it was nothing.