Older, Wiser, Unwanted: Shifting From Ageism To Equality In Workplace

Ideally a workplace culture includes employees of all ages.

Ideally a workplace culture includes employees of all ages.

You may not know it, but your peak earning age is 42 years old.

“After that, it’s downhill across all industries,” says Dave Weisbeck, chief strategy officer of Visier.

The developer of the leading people strategy platform released a new study on systemic age discrimination that exists within tech hiring practices. “The Truth About Ageism in the Tech Industry” study is based on an analysis of 330,000 employees from 43 large U.S. enterprises.

“Everybody favors younger workers, but tech is the most extreme example,” Weisbeck says.

Ideally a workplace culture includes employees of all ages. #WorkplaceEquality

While researchers saw there were “more complaints about age than race or gender,” Weisbeck says, there were no multiplicative effects. For instance, an older woman of color was not discriminated against more than an older white man.

In earlier research, Visier’s 2016 Gender Equity report including analysis of 165,000 workers representing over 30 blue chip companies, they found a gender wage gap that widens at age 32. It starts with women earning 90 percent the wages of men, and decreases to women earning 82 percent the wages of men by age 40.

The gender study also found that women are underrepresented in manager positions from age 32 onwards—the same age at which the wage gap between men and women broadens.

Yet, recent anecdotes of older women discriminated against are rampant. Consider the recent interview of Jane Fonda by Megyn Kelly who wanted to talk first about plastic surgery.

Mel Robbins writes in CNN, “Why does the wrinkle count of a two-time Oscar winner and talented actress matter? Simple: because we are obsessed with how women look and even more obsessed with escaping the reality of aging. And research shows that our world today is indeed biased against older women.”

Robbins continues, “In one remarkable study, researchers at UC Irvine and Tulane University, sent out 40,000 faux resumes for online job ads in three age brackets — but they focused on older men and women. According to an article about the study in the Washington Post, ‘using a sample of only female applicants, those age 49 to 51 got 29 percent fewer callbacks than applicants age 29 to 31, and workers age 64 to 66 got 47 percent fewer callbacks. Sales jobs, which had applicants of both genders, also showed a much greater premium on youth for women than for men.'”

Visier’s new research upholds that notion that getting in the door is hardest if you’re older.

Research upholds the notion that getting in the door is hardest if you’re older #AgeDiscrimination

“Think about biases and about how difficult it is to get in or how people are left behind,” Weisbeck says. It is harder for an older person to get hired in the first place. “It’s the getting in that shows the real disparity,” he says.

The study found that while older tech non-managers are consistently rated higher performers than their non-tech counterparts, they are less likely to be hired. And some of that may have to do with the language and culture surrounding hiring practices.

Yes, some of that preference for younger workers is because they may be considered a “cheaper source of talent,” Weisbeck adds,”There is also a preference for a chance to develop and grow in a learning culture.”

These younger workers are talked about “in code,” he says.

“In the tech industry, there is talk internally of hiring ‘blue flames,’ or flames that burn the hottest and can put in the hardest work without all the trappings of life and family,” Weisbeck says.

The study shows that performance starts lower when young, then increases around age 30, starts a slow decline. Skills decrease, then hit a peak.

But because younger workers move around more frequently, the attrition rate is costly, up to four times that of an older, more loyal worker, who will stay at the company longer.

“Over the last 20 years, age-related-discrimination charges filed with the EEOC steadily increased until a peak in 2008, and have gradually decreased since. According to the commission’s records, 20,857 ADEA-related-charges were filed with the EEOC last year. In 2008, there were 24,582 age-related-discrimination charges filed with the commission,” according to Amy B. Wang writing in the Washington Post about a Dallas case of a traffic reporter suing a CBS affiliate station for age discrimination in hiring.

Laws do protect workers over 40, but companies need to change practices long before it gets to that point.

Laws protect workers over 40, but companies need to change before it gets to that point #ageism

The paradox is that older female employees have much to share and can be more succecssful, Kerry Hannon writes in Next Avenue.  “I would say that women over 50 starting their own business actually have more advantages than disadvantages in comparison to younger women,” Kimberly A. Eddleston, a professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at Northeastern University and a senior editor on the EIX Editorial Board of the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, told Hannon.

“The added work experience and the associated boost to their self-confidence significantly assists in the development of their businesses,” says Eddleston.

Weisbeck suggests in order to be “stronger, better companies,” the culture needs to shift away from ageism with these suggested practices:

  • Review your workforce data to understand to find any signs of potential age bias in hiring, promotions, salary levels, turnover and performance ratings.

  • Keep in mind that, as with ethnic and gender equity, age equity is a cultural issue – if pockets of ageism exist within your organization, you will need to devise plans to address them not only via better HR practice and policy rollouts, but through culture change.

  • Consider implementing a practice that for every position you have to fill, consider one or more older candidates (or candidates who will help create a more diverse team, in general).

  • Develop hiring practices that reduce the potential for intentional or unintentional bias in the screening out of older applicants.

While younger tech workers are the norm, there is also a downside, Weisbeck says. “There is this notion in tech of job hopping,” Weisbeck says of younger workers.

“It’s a turnover problem. Ignoring older workers means you are undermining where talent has tremendous performance. It’s a missed opportunity. A younger worker will join for two years, then jump ship.”

An older worker will likely stay put.

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About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon www.micheleweldon.com