Achieving a diverse workforce and learning how to use social media to recruit talent are two common goals for employers. Sometimes, though, the two objectives can work against each other. Gone are the days when employers would specify an age, gender, or other characteristic in a newspaper help-wanted ad. Today’s social media-aided recruiting opens a world of opportunities to find a diverse set of potential employees. But the technology social media uses also can lead employers to exclusion, rather than inclusion, if they’re not careful.
The practice of microtargeting—pushing ads to people with certain characteristics and keeping those ads from showing up for other users—has led to complaints from jobseekers that have even led to litigation. In December 2017, the Communications Workers of America and three individuals filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court in California against companies they claim are unlawfully discriminating against people because of age.
The suit claims the employers have limited the audience for job ads on Facebook to younger users in violation of state and local laws as well as the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which prohibits discrimination against people 40 or older in hiring and on the job.
Focus on Inclusion
Although technology can be used to exclude certain groups, Lindsay Stanton, chief client officer for online data app Digi.Me, says employers should look to social media as a way to enhance diversity.
“Attracting specific demographics is really about inclusion, not exclusion,” Stanton says. “Social recruiting is about reaching candidates with niche expertise and experience, not about discrimination. When posting career opportunities on social media, recruitment professionals should use hashtags related to the job title, industry vertical, responsibilities, and experience, all of which is targeted to a diverse group of potential candidates.”
Stanton says, if done right, recruiting via social media allows employers to leverage their company brand so that people from “all walks of life” can share and promote job openings and make an employer’s career site go viral. “The beauty of going social is candidates help spread the word for you if your message is compelling,” she says.
In December, ProPublica and The New York Times co-published an article explaining how companies have targeted ads toward certain age groups. The article also notes that several companies that had run targeted ads have decided to change their strategies. Others, including Facebook itself, defend using targeted ads.
In a December 20 blog post, Rob Goldman, vice president of ads for Facebook, defended the company’s practice of tailoring job ads by audience. “These individual ads are part of broader-based recruitment efforts designed to reach all ages and all backgrounds. We completely reject the allegation that these advertisements are discriminatory,” he wrote.
Goldman’s post went on to point out that federal law prohibits discrimination in employment based on a number of protected characteristics. “That said, simply showing certain job ads to different age groups on services like Facebook or Google may not in itself be discriminatory – just as it can be OK to run employment ads in magazines and on TV shows targeted at younger or older people. What matters is that marketing is broadly based and inclusive, not simply focused on a particular age group. In addition, certain employers want to attract retirees, or recruit for jobs with specific age restrictions like the military or airline pilots.”
Tony Puckett, an attorney with McAfee & Taft in Oklahoma City, urges employers to carefully look at their online job postings and other recruiting materials.
In the January 2018 issue of Oklahoma Employment Law Letter, he wrote “The ability to narrowly focus a search for job applicants may appear to be an efficient use of recruiting resources, but the practice goes against the intent of the ADEA,” adding that disappointed applicants often sue, claiming they weren’t hired because of age.
Puckett says employers should audit their ads and job postings for age-specific references or placements that may limit access to just certain applicants. “You should also make sure your overall recruiting strategies include job advertisements in media that individuals of any age can receive or access,” he wrote.