What would you think of automatically rejecting one third of your job applicants before reviewing them? Kind of like tossing out a third of your groceries before even getting them home from the store.
Unfortunately, this is what many employers do when they reject candidates based solely on their age, or perceived age. Age discrimination occurs at each end of the spectrum and is not always easy to spot. Race and gender discrimination are more commonly addressed, but age equity should also be a key consideration in your diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and goals. Valuing the richness of differing ideas, skills, and levels of experience from teams that include all age groups can be a game-changer for your company.
“Some of my hardest working employees are in age ranges that typically experience discrimination,” says Peggy Shell, founder and CEO of Creative Alignments. “When you put together the 63 year olds and the 23 year olds in an inclusive culture, you get a lot of shared learning and flexible thinking. There’s a melding of insight and wisdom gained over the years, with the perspective, ideas and emerging skills from a generation that is newer to the workforce. This makes a company stronger and more adaptable.”
IS “OVERQUALIFIED” REALLY CODE FOR “TOO OLD”?
We’ve all heard the line: “I’m afraid that candidate is overqualified for the role.” What does this really mean? As recruiters, we’ve heard candidates worry that their extensive experience will count against them, rather than in their favor, after repeatedly being rejected from jobs for which they are fully qualified. Perhaps employers think the job won’t be challenging enough, or the candidate will cost too much. Are these real concerns, given that the candidate applied for the jobs in the first place, likely with their experienced eyes wide open? Maybe, or maybe these concerns come from misperceptions and biases. Take the time to learn more about a candidate before writing them off.
Perception: If a resume says a candidate was a director in their current or previous role, they definitely will want a title bump up in title.
Reality: Not every candidate wants to be a VP someday. They may prefer boots-on-the-ground, individual contributor roles. Avoid making assumptions based on previous positions and job history. Instead, find out the whole story by asking questions such as:
- “What is your main priority when it comes to a new role?”
- “Is taking a step down in title a deal breaker for you?”
- “I see you were a director in your last role. Just wanted to check that this role aligns with your goals and expectations since it is a senior manager title.”
Perception: If a candidate has 20+ years of experience, their compensation will be through the roof and nowhere near our range.
Reality: When it comes to compensation, candidates may be prioritizing other factors like flexibility, quality of work, geography, or a benefits package. If you’re worried about higher compensation expectations, explore it with them by asking:
- “The compensation range for this role is $X-$Y. Does that align with your needs?"
- “Based on what you know so far about the company and role, what are some of the most attractive elements?”
Perception: Workers in their 50s and 60s are going to retire soon, so they won’t be a long-term employee.
Reality: Workers over 55 have been shown to stay at their jobs three times as long as their younger counterparts. Go a little deeper into this by asking questions like:
- “What are you looking for in a new role?”
- “Where do you see yourself five years from now?”
STEREOTYPING A GENERATION
Younger workers also experience ageism, often based on a generalized perception of characteristics of the Gen Z and Millennial generations, versus a stage of life.
Although younger candidates may have an easier time finding new jobs, negative perceptions about them can lead to discrimination and decrease the amount of time they stay in their roles, negatively affecting them and their employers.
Perception: Candidates from these generations are entitled and don’t need to work hard for the opportunities they get.
Reality: Workers under 40 don’t have any formal protections against discrimination based on their age. Additionally, workers between 18 and 34 years old reported that they are facing age-based discrimination as well, at a rate of 13 percent more than workers 55 and older.
Perception: Less tenured candidates are getting more opportunities and being paid more than their more tenured counterparts.
Reality: Despite the greater educational status of young workers today compared to the past, workers ages 18-24 earn 14% less in constant dollars today than they did in 1970.
Perception: Younger candidates aren’t hard workers because they don’t want to work after hours.
Reality: It’s true that 18-34 year olds are more likely to prioritize work-life balance than previous generations. However, this is a good thing. We should celebrate work-life balance. It is important for your company culture and your employee’s well-being.
Defining people by stereotypes or perceptions is a tricky, self-perpetuating cycle because it can hamper people from learning and getting the experience they need to be successful in their job. And, as we know, successful employees translate into successful companies, so it’s important for all age groups to feel valued.
SIX STEPS TO CREATING AN AGE INCLUSIVE COMPANY CULTURE
- Review your job descriptions for terms that could be ageist. For example, the terms “high-energy” or “hungry” or “fresh perspectives” or “flexible” can be interpreted as young, unattached. “Experienced” or “seasoned”, or “strong network” can be interpreted as looking for an older employee.
- Ensure your interview panel includes a wide variety of ages.
- Consider how people of different generations would feel working in your company. Would they feel welcomed and supported? If not, what are some steps you could take to create a more inclusive environment?
- Offer comprehensive benefits for both employees and dependents to include people in all life stages.
- Listen to the “water cooler talk” in the office and the topics you hear most often. If they tend toward exclusivity (e.g., responsibilities with children, cultural references that only certain generations “get”, etc.) try to interject other topics that are accessible.
- If your company regularly requires work after hours, understand the challenge (or impossibility) this may pose for employees that have a lot of responsibility outside of work (i.e. aging parents, young kids, demanding social schedules, etc.). When employees are overburdened they are less likely to remain in their job.
With all this in mind, look at the makeup of your team’s age range, company culture, job descriptions and hiring process to build awareness of any age discrimination that may be at play, and consider ways to make the most of what each age group has to offer. There is real power for companies in building diverse teams, which means looking at all aspects of identity.