The imbalance in favor of hiring “younger people” vs. “older people” is increasing.
“Age discrimination cases account for about 20-25% of all Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) cases”source: 34 Age Discrimination Facts That May Shock You and Your Workplace by Vervoe
And, 2/3 of workers aged 45 and up have experienced age discrimination at some point in their career.
So, what is unconscious age bias, what causes it, and how do you confront it in your company?
Let’s dive in.
What is Unconscious Age Bias?
“Unconscious bias, also known as implicit bias, refers to attitudes or stereotypes about certain groups which are often based on mistaken or inaccurate information.”source: The Diversity & Inclusion Glossary [a List of 200+ Terms] by Ongig
Unconscious age bias means any prejudice against a specific age group — most often older people. Many people don’t even realize they have it.
Even though most companies are hiring people from different generations (baby boomers, gen-X, millennials, and gen-Z) now more than ever, there are still many stereotypes (and biases) based on age.
Unconscious age bias happens across many industries. But, there are specific sectors where it’s more common (e.g., business and finance, crypto, social media marketing, hospitality, healthcare, and energy.)
CWJobs research shows tech and IT workers start experiencing “ageism at work” at age 29, compared to the average age of 41 in other industries.
What Causes Unconscious Age Bias?
Unconscious age bias exists because of prejudices formed on superficial information. One of the more common stereotypes about people over 50 is they are resistant to change, not innovative, and hard to manage.
And, during the hiring process, hiring managers often look for qualities like “energy,” “agility,” or “savviness” in candidates that might deter older people from applying.
“using terms like “digital native” or “tech-savvy” can be interpreted as ageist because they exclude older candidates. According to Passport Photo Online’s study, 69% of the respondents said they are likely or very likely to skip job ads on LinkedIn with gender-coded or ageist language.”source: The Worst Hiring Mistakes Recruiters Make [on LinkedIn] by Ongig
Ageist beliefs also largely depend on the personality type of the employee. People who are…
- more extroverted and conscientious
- value collaboration and community
- are physically and mentally healthy
…are less likely to have unconscious age bias.
5 Ways to Confront Unconscious Age Bias At Work
To make older employees feel more engaged, respected, and valued, it’s essential to have consistent protocols for working with them. And with this, younger employees are more likely to view the company as a home for years to come. Especially if they see loyalty and hard work are rewarded.
So, here are 5 ways to confront unconscious bias at work:
1. Conduct an age equity audit
An important step is to conduct a full audit of age equality in your company. It should address internal and external policies, processes, and messaging. Here are some questions to answer during your aduit:
- Is age part of the company’s anti-discrimination and harassment policy?
- Is age used in a company’s diversity recruiting strategy as an aspect of diverse hiring?
- What is the balance of age across different departments and groups?
2. Show support for all ages on your career site
Candidates’ first interaction with your company is your often your career site. If it lists information about an exclusive group of millennials who play video games, it is unlikely that people over 40 will want to work in this company.
Your career site will look more inclusive to all ages if you have photos or other visuals of older employees, or a mix of age groups.
HPE does a great job at this on their diversity page:
Another idea is to include employee bios or testimonials from employees of all ages in different types of roles. This shows you don’t discriminate against people based on age or give preference to younger groups.
3. Offer training sessions
If employees, regardless of age, are interested in learning and expanding their skills, offer them training and development opportunities.
Also, make it a part of your company culture to encourage employees’ desire to develop their skills. Hosting training sessions on diversity helps fight against ageism at work.
Part of any diversity, equity and inclusion initiative is helping employees recognize their own unconscious biases. And a critical step is to recognize any age bias in your biz and combat it effectively.
Age bias and employee stereotypes only reinforce potential discrimination in other areas of diversity (e.g., race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc.).
Note: Ongig offers its customers training sessions on removing biases (like age bias) from your job descriptions so your hiring managers (or recruiters) aren’t unconsciously excluding older people.
4. Implement mentorship programs
Mentorship programs help candidates overcome age-related tensions.
In these types of programs more seasoned employees pass on their knowledge to newer staff. The experience and knowledge older employees have is very useful. They’ve been at the company, they know the ropes.
Another way to bring age groups together is a “reverse parenting” approach. In this case, young employees help their more senior mentors with specific technologies, applications, or social networks. This is great for closing the knowledge gap for both groups and building an empathic point of view.
5. Support the culture of promotions
You shouldn’t hire older candidates with the idea that they’ll be happy to stay in one role with little chance of promotion. Older employees also expect to be rewarded for their hard work and commitment to growth.
Just like young employees, older people get bored doing the same thing every day. An essential step towards creating an age-appropriate work environment is the well-deserved rewards for the best and brightest, regardless of their age.
Why I wrote this:
Unconscious age bias is real, and we all still need time to overcome it. But we can do this only by destroying stereotypes, and responding to them with a high-quality and professional approach! A good first step is removing any biases from your job descriptions. Ongig’s software scans your JDs for age (and other biases) and gives you more inclusive replacements so you attract talent of all ages.
- 34 Age Discrimination Facts That May Shock You and Your Workplace (by Vervoe)
- Everyday ageism in the tech industry (by Cate Sevilla)
This is a guest post from Tania Doshko. Tania is a motivated and avid content creator who believes in the power of quality writing for business success. She finds her inspiration in careful observations and amazement with the fastly developing world. Find her at LinkedIn.