Avoiding Ageism in Recruitment

In a previous post, we discussed the challenge of ageism in organizational recruiting. Many organizations, whether wittingly or unwittingly, tend to favor applicants of a certain age in their recruitment efforts. This might take the shape of giving short shrift to an application from a 50-something candidate or discarding an application from a candidate in his or her 20s.

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Dangers of Ageism (‘Reverse’ or Otherwise)

Few recruiters would openly admit that they intentionally pass over applications from candidates who seem either too old or too young. But the presence or lack of intent is not going to save an organization from the consequences of ageism. We covered this in our earlier post.

“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. And while the federal government may not have laws against discrimination against younger employees, many states do.

Aside from the legal consequences, there are important organizational consequences of turning a blind eye toward age-based discrimination, regardless of intent. Companies that lack diversity and inclusion tend to be less competitive relative to those that embrace diversity and inclusion.

Unconscious Bias Training

One of the best measures to protect against unconscious bias is to train staff to avoid or mitigate it. Unconscious bias is particularly troublesome for organizations because those who make decisions based on such bias are, by definition, unaware they’re doing so. Therefore, simply educating decision-makers on these dangers can go a long way toward preventing them.

“Whether it’s assuming older employees will take more sick days (they don’t) or younger applicants are job-hoppers (they aren’t), these clichés don’t have to be true to make an impact,” writes Sophia Epstein in an article for BBC Worklife.

Blind Recruiting

Another strategy to avoid age-based bias is to remove age from the equation to the extent possible. “Blind recruiting” has long been suggested as a means to avoid discrimination based on race and gender, but it can also be a viable tool to fight ageism. Removing graduation dates from résumés can help make applicant evaluations more age-neutral, as can looking only at the most recent years of employment history. Of course, this isn’t realistic for every position, but it’s worth considering for companies looking to take an age-blind approach to recruitment.

Diversity is often considered through a race/gender lens, but it’s a much broader concept, and many companies overlook the impact of long-standing policies on age-based diversity to their own detriment.

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

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