What You Can Do About Age Discrimination in the Workplace

Sixty-two percent of the workforce is 25-49 years old while 32 percent is 50-64 years old and 6 percent is 65 and older.  

“Age discrimination is everywhere. I hear more examples of age discrimination than I hear about sex discrimination, racial discrimination and every other kind put together,” writes human resources guru and Forbes contributor Liz Ryan. 

Ryan’s observation about age discrimination is shocking, but is it true? If this is the case, it impacts every person in the workforce, and it’s imperative to build awareness and create more inclusive environments where job candidates of all ages are truly given equal employment opportunities.

A 2015 American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) study captured data from nearly 2,500 job seekers ages 45-70 as they tried to find work after they lost their employment over the course of the last five years.   

More than half the respondents, 51 percent, implicated age discrimination as impeding their search.

Half of respondents were working at the time of the survey, and 48 percent of them were earning less at their new jobs than they were making at the jobs they left. Respondents gave multiple reasons for this; some started over professionally and moved to jobs in new industries. Some respondents accepted lower level roles than their previous jobs. Others took positions that offered fewer hours.

AARP’s sample was taken during a difficult economic time, and it may not be representative of most job seekers’ experience. Still, it’s disheartening to imagine making these concessions at a stage in our careers when we will likely have garnered ample expertise and experience. Is this what we have to look forward to as we continue to mature into our professional selves, and how do we alter this sobering picture?   

A good first step in addressing age discrimination is to start talking about it. Diversity training usually involves recognizing and discussing the biases we harbor. When it comes to professionals in the later stages of their careers, some of the misconceptions that erroneously characterize them suggest that they work more slowly or that they are less capable of grasping evolving technologies in the workplace.  

If we harbor negative misconceptions about older professionals or about ourselves as we age, it’s important that we identify them for the erroneous beliefs that they are and dispel them in favor of information that is more accurate and fair. These biases are fixable intellectual impurities, misconceptions that we have to recognize before we can train them away.

Recruiters and human resources professionals have often taken a strong hand in conducting diversity work. If you find that your teams are skewing young, or if you feel like there may be resistance to hiring older professionals in your corporate culture, maybe it’s time to request some professional diversity training for your group.

Sometimes a professional’s guidance helps lead necessary, but difficult conversations. There are plenty of online diversity training programs that are well-rated, and you can also find individual diversity trainers who will come in and work with your team.  

Creating an opportunity for managers and staff to talk about diversity helps to reaffirm your company value for pursuing a plurality of perspectives when it comes to building teams. Age diversity sometimes gets cut from this conversation. But you can help change that.   

Another way to create a more inclusive professional environment is to review hiring practices to ensure they don’t unfairly advantage some candidates over others. Standardizing your hiring practice can help; for example, a written test may measure candidates’ abilities in an unbiased and uniform way.  This data is a useful component to add to your interview process.    

Government data predicts that by 2020, 25 percent of the U.S. workforce will be aged 55 or older. So this is the right time to take an honest look at age discrimination and to create cultures of tolerance where professionals of all ages can find a place.    

In the short term, this vital work will create more inclusive work environments that, in the future, will stand to benefit all of us.