Forward-thinking corporations are all about diversity and inclusion these days, and rightfully so. These conversations and actions are overdue, as a sundry of colleagues means a more well-rounded business perspective and experience. Yet, one of the major prejudices we face in the workplace has to be addressed – ageism.
Businesses time and time again want the seasoned mindsets of a veteran worker, yet oftentimes choose to hire younger to give a cutting-edge aesthetic. With the emergence of startups and booming tech companies, these new places are actively seeking an energetic, hungry, and youthful team as opposed to older adults. Concerns about an overall modern image, as well as genuine discrimination, can be to blame.
Many factors add to the strenuous recurring issue of ageism. One that’s made a big impact is the pandemic and the workforce. According to a report in 2020 from the AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons, and the country’s largest non-profit organization focusing on Americans over the age of fifty, “perceptions of age discrimination grew during the pandemic.” Alarming stats such as 78% of older workers, age forty and up, having “seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace” (up from 61% in 2018) are tied to longer-term unemployment. After the Great Recession, it took senior workers twice as long to find a new job than their younger counterparts. Even finding a new job meant encountering further bias – 41% of older job seekers were asked to give age-identifying information on applications, like birthdays or college graduation dates.
It would be amiss to forget there are further roots in sexism and racism. The AARP reports that 72 percent of women ages 45-74 believe ageism is a workplace problem, while 57 percent of men concur. Grievances further when looking into race – white workers’ ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act) complaints have declined from 1990 to 2017, while Asian and Black workers’ have only gone up. Women and people of color already have predispositions in careers; age unfortunately adds to the long list of innate discriminations.
So what can businesses do to combat this and ensure that they are including older adults in their diverse ecosystem? The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has the ADEA law of 1967, which prohibits stereotyping against adults 40 and older in companies with twenty or more employees. However, organizations and start-ups famous for their culture and innovation can easily get caught up in ageism due to false narratives of younger adults portraying modernity. Veteran workers are, in fact, entrepreneurial in their past seasonality and extensive backgrounds.
A great enterprise can implement extensive DEI initiatives to include older adults, as well as proper training for any and all candidates. Proper checks and balances in the hiring process allow for room to empower a well-rounded workplace. Meanwhile, mentorship and promotion possibilities mean retention too. Senior persons are still constantly learning, and investing in their growth just as a company would with younger employees, is key to keeping them on board. Members of all ages strive to continuously improve and move up the corporate ladder.
Older adults bring a world of expertise and cultural and intellectual capital that is invaluable to any organization. Putting aside any judgments and pivoting to a mindful and aware overall company environment will help gather the right employees of all ages.