We all know that it’s against the law to discriminate against people based on their age in hiring and employment practices. But we all know that it happens anyway, even if it only occurs subconsciously in many instances.
And we all know that ageism in the workplace has only gotten worse as digital technology has become more integrated into more jobs. While older employees were once highly valued for traits like their personal and professional experience, their breadth and depth of knowledge, their work ethic, their professionalism, and their likelihood of staying with the company longer, they’ve increasingly become seen as a liability for not being as well-versed or adaptable in the realms of digital tech as Gen Xers and especially Millennials.
Of course, these are stereotypes. As such, there may be some truth to them at times, but more importantly, they’re an unfair way of judging people that can easily lead to poor decisions.
The reality is, it’s well established that a diverse workforce is a more innovative, productive, engaged, and happy one. This doesn’t just mean having a good gender balance, people of different ethnicities, and individuals from different walks of life, though; it also means having a mix of people of different ages and yes—even entirely different generations.
So, here are some ways to promote age diversity at your organization and for avoiding ageism in hiring practices. They’re not intended as any sort of accusation; as mentioned above, age discrimination often happens without your even being aware of it, not as a result of conscious, deliberate choices. These tips should help reduce or eliminate inadvertent ageism.
How to Hire a More Age-Diverse Workforce
- Include age in your diverse hiring strategy. While many businesses have formal or informal plans, practices, statements, and objectives set out for diverse hiring, these often don’t make any mention of age.
- Mention age diversity in your job ads, too. This helps age diversity stay top-of-mind for human resources personnel and hiring managers, but it also helps encourage applications from older job candidates.
- Watch out for ageist language in job ads. Certain terms and phrases can have a deterrent effect on older applicants, and may even make your organization sound ageist. For example, “digital native” is a popular one these days. Similarly, language like “energetic” and “fresh ideas” read like synonyms for “young” to older job seekers.
- Use language that values older workers in job ads. Certain words and concepts reassure older job seekers that they’ll be given fair consideration. For example, emphasizing things like long-term experience, a culture of mentoring, the ability to work independently, or leadership abilities speaks to candidates with decades of work history.
- Don’t cap how many years of experience you’re looking for. Sure, it frequently makes sense to say you want someone with “at least 3 years of experience.” But if you say you want someone with “3 to 5 years of experience,” that upper limit turns away a lot of older people with more experience who assume you only want someone younger.
- Refrain from asking for birth dates or graduation dates on applications. This signals an interest in age, and it also creates an easy opportunity for subconscious age discrimination during the process of sorting through the applications.
- Don’t only look for new hires where you mostly find young people. Career fairs at colleges are a great source for new talent, but don’t overlook job fairs hosted by municipal, job placement, faith-based, and other organizations. Consider listing job ads in the local newspaper. Also, be careful about only advertising jobs on social media networks.
- Avoid getting too hung up on specific tech tools. If you’re overly focused on how much experience job candidates have with a particular software program, app, or other tool, you’ll automatically weed out older candidates. Stay focused on the real skills that matter.
- Use imagery of older adults. Make sure they’re pictured on your website, in your marketing collateral, and elsewhere in organizational materials. This sends a clear signal that you have an age-inclusive company.
- Steer clear of stereotypes and assumptions. Just because an applicant is in his or her 50s or 60s, that doesn’t mean they’re no good with technology. It also doesn’t mean they hope to retire soon, or that they do things more slowly, or that they’re “overqualified” or not genuinely interested in the job, etc.
- Don’t be skeptical about why an older worker would look for a new job. This is especially true if it seems like they’re taking a step down from their current or last position. There are plenty of good reasons for wanting a change, wanting to get “unstuck,” wanting to get back to actually doing work they now only supervise, and so on.
- Be careful of the “culture fit” trap. Company culture is hugely important. But it doesn’t mean assembling teams of people who are all the same in any demographic sense. It’s about values, approaches to decision-making, definitions of success, and other meaningful attributes. Don’t get caught up in thinking that older individuals wouldn’t fit in with your culture because of their age—or in using that as an excuse not to interview or hire them.