Ageism in Recruitment

Companies are increasingly seeking to cultivate more diverse and inclusive workplaces. Typically, that effort is viewed through the lens of race, ethnicity, and gender, but age is also an important component of diversity and inclusion. Unfortunately, recruiters and recruitment processes are often impacted by implicit biases that can make them subconsciously shy away from older and younger workers alike, depending on the situation.

Age Discrimination at Both Ends of the Spectrum

“Age discrimination means that over-50s are more than twice as likely as other workers to be unemployed for two years or longer if they lose their current job,” writes Sophia Epstein in an article for BBC Worklife. “One study showed that a 50-year-old worker was up to three times less likely to get an interview than a 28-year-old applicant.”

Older workers’ being disfavored is perhaps what comes to mind first when one thinks of age discrimination. But the unconscious bias around age cuts both ways. Younger workers are also at risk of losing out due to implicit bias. “It’s not just older job-seekers facing automatic rejection; young people can also be discounted for roles because of their age,” Epstein says. “Although this type of ‘reverse’ ageism is much less researched, studies show that younger workers can be considered undesirable employees, and that this can lead to them not getting hired.” 

Legal and Practical Implications

Discriminating against older workers is a violation of federal law, and it doesn’t even need to be the intent of policies that favor younger workers over older workers. “An employment policy or practice that applies to everyone, regardless of age, can be illegal if it has a negative impact on applicants or employees age 40 or older and is not based on a reasonable factor other than age (RFOA),” says the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) Age Discrimination page.

While most people are probably more familiar with the federal prohibitions on discrimination against older workers, some states also have laws against reverse age discrimination.

Legal implications are perhaps the most immediate and concrete effects of age discrimination, but they are certainly not the only or the most impactful implications. Any policy or practice that disproportionately disfavors certain groups puts companies at a disadvantage compared with more inclusive organizations, and they consequently miss out on the insights, worldviews, and experiences of underrepresented demographics. In a follow-up post, we’ll discuss some tips and tricks for recruiters to avoid ageism from any end of the spectrum.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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