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November 5, 2019

How to Combat Discrimination Against Older Workers and Hire Generationally Diverse Teams

older worker discrimination

Love them or hate them, birthdays mean one thing: you’re getting older. 

For most people it’s something to celebrate, but for others getting older can be a solid pain in the proverbial—especially when it comes to the workplace.

As the population of over 60s grows, discrimination in the workplace is making it increasingly difficult for older people to secure or maintain work—whether it’s ‘youth speak’ in job ads that puts applicants off, or bosses deciding their older employees are no longer capable.

Either way, in a world where new technologies are racing ahead, the gap between generations is often perceived as being bigger than ever.

Luckily, there is a silver lining. Significant pushback against ageism in the workplace has opened up a widening space for debate, and change is happening

And with brand giants like Facebook buckling under growing pressure, it’s time for all businesses to jump on the bandwagon and start flying the flag for older generations—and that includes yours.

So, what’s the deal with ageism?

Ageism is illegal. Fact.

The 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) stops employers from making any hiring or promotion decision based on someone’s age.

But over 50 years on, there’s still a long way to go to truly combat discrimination against older workers. 

A quick Google scan highlights some of the problems—from irresponsible influencer comments (such as venture capitalist Vinod Khosla stating “people over forty-five basically die in terms of new ideas”) to mainstream businesses using ageist policies (think Tinder’s policy to double their price for over-thirties)—and these inter-generational judgments inevitably filter into the workplace.

Why age discrimination still exists—and how you can challenge it

It’s clear ageism still exists in the workplace. 

Because seriously uncool myths about older people continue to stick around. 

Add the ageist actions of influential brands to the mix, and you’re left with a problem that just won’t go away. (Think Google’s recently settled age-discrimination lawsuit which will see an  $11 million payout to over 200 rejected job-seekers aged over 40.)

So, what can a people leader do in the face of persistent prejudices?

Let's tackle a few of the most common myths to help you pull age discrimination apart and get rid of entrenched stereotypes for good.

Stereotype #1: Older people are slower and less capable

Let’s call BS on this once and for all.

Older people have lived a life. They understand how to work, and at what pace they need to. In other words, treating older people like children is not OK.

But it’s no longer good enough to fall back on simply saying older workers have more experience—we need to bring out the hard facts.

So, listen up. Here are the key facts you need to know to blow this myth out of the water:

  • Older people still have energy: 68% of older workers plan to work past 65, including 28% who don’t plan to retire at all.
  • They are loyal: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, "the length of time a worker remains with the same employer increases with the age at which the worker began the job."
  • They are hard workers: Older workers have a better attention span and are more consistently productive than their younger counterparts.

When it comes to down it, older people are just as capable as younger employees. 

Add to this their experience, networks and productivity, and what do you get? A pretty awesome team member.

Point proven? We think so. 

Your challenge: Spread the word about older employee’s capabilities by reciting these facts. Again. And again. And again.

Stereotype #2: Older people can’t Insta

Social media may have started out as a young person’s game, but news flash: those days are over.

In fact, as of July 2019, almost 15% of Instagram users and 20% of Facebook users were over 45, whilst almost 35% of Twitter users were over 35. 

The problem is: when it comes to tech, the stereotype sticks—mainly because of age discrimination issues in Silicon Valley and the likes of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who famously stated “If you want to found a successful company, you should only hire young people with technical expertise. Young people are just smarter.”

Crazy. 🤦

It’s no wonder most people assume older gens + tech = problems.

But get ready for some serious myth-busting, because according to a report by Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, “Among the very fastest-growing new tech companies, the average founder was 45 at the time of founding.”

“Experience can bring substantial insight about specific markets and specific technologies, in addition to skills at running things,” said Kellogg researcher Benjamin Jones. “The longer you’ve been around, the better your odds.”

Take that, Zuckerberg.

Your challenge: Ignore the Silicon Valley mindset and take note of the experience older workers can bring.

Stereotype #3: Younger people understand our audiences better

The (huge, shiny) problem with this myth comes from the rising influence of what’s being called the ‘silver dollar’.

Haven't heard of it?

Well, get this. The AARP estimates that nearly $8 trillion of consumer demand now comes directly from the over-50s

That’s more than the total GDP of France and Germany combined.

So, what does this mean for business?

With rising consumer demand from older generations, comes the rising need for older employees who understand what those customers want.

It’s true, a 60-year-old would probably struggle to understand a 20-year-old’s mindset. But it works both ways—and with an aging population, it’s time to start thinking about who’s best to engage the silver generation.

Your challenge: Think about how your audiences are changing, and how older employees could help you understand your entire customer base to the max.

Stereotype #4: They won’t fit in with our younger team

There’s a lot of things wrong with this statement. 

We could start by suggesting that a discriminatory team reeks of disaster, or that only hiring young people would create a stale business monoculture.

But we like to focus on the path to success here at Breezy—and businesses need diversity to succeed.

According to a study by Boston Consulting Group, companies with more diverse management saw an increase in both innovation and revenue.

In other words, more diversity means more profitability. 

They reported, “The biggest takeaway we found is a strong and statistically significant correlation between the diversity of management teams and overall innovation. Companies that reported above-average diversity on their management teams also reported innovation revenue that was 19 percentage points higher than that of companies with below-average leadership diversity.”

So, how do you achieve a diverse workforce?

You invest in an extreme blending makeover.

A blended workforce means combining a variety of employees on different contracts including job shares, full-timers, part-timers and freelancers. This pulls potential recruits from all backgrounds—and acts as a big “WELCOME” sign flashing above your company door.

Your challenge: Mix things up. Look into creating a more inclusive environment by offering a variety of different contracts.

What changes will you make?

Now it's over to you.

Whether it's challenging your own thought process when reviewing graduation dates on your next crop of applications, or sitting down with your CEO for an uncomfortable chat about why the entire floor looks like a scene from The O.C.—the time for hard truths is now.

Because as the evidence over the value of older employees continues to grow, you can bet your competitors' hiring processes will also evolve to include this high-impact group of talent. So, whatever you do, remember that when it comes to hiring, it's never a good idea to get stuck in your ways.

Aim to keep your recruitment and hiring process as fresh and dynamic as the quality talent you're searching for and you'll be sure to attract the rockstars you need to keep your business ahead of the eight ball—regardless of when they were born.