Ageism is the act of discriminating against someone because of their age and it is unfortunately still prevalent in the workforce, thanks to the persistence of several age-related stereotypes.
Older workers are commonly believed to be expensive to hire, reluctant to embrace change and unwilling to learn new technologies and these are stereotypes that persist, despite being proven to be myths.
To ensure your organisation remains compliant and has access to the best possible talent, this guide provides some useful ways to eliminate ageism, both conscious and subconscious, from your hiring process.
Your choice of words in a job description can affect the type of candidates who apply for a position. Without being consciously aware of it, you could be indicating that you are seeking a certain type of candidate simply through the language you use.
Euphemisms often used to indicate that a younger candidate is being sought include terms like ‘ninja’ or ‘rock star’, ’recent graduate’ and ‘digital native’, along with descriptions such as ‘energetic person’ and ‘young dynamic company’.
Make your job description all-inclusive and focus on desirable skills rather than familiarity with certain software programs (the latter can be learned, but the former can take years to acquire).
And include the salary right there in the ad, so there can be no doubt about older workers being too expensive to hire (if they apply for the job, then salary is obviously not their primary consideration).
Finally, place your job ad where all age groups will see it including Seek, LinkedIn and Facebook, not just on university websites or sites more often frequented by young people such as Instagram and Snapchat.
Job applications can also contain age-related bias, either conscious or subconscious and the best way to ensure yours doesn’t is by adopting a blind hiring process. This means removing any date requirements such as date of birth, education completion dates and specific years of employment.
Then remove all identifiers from applications and assess each candidate anonymously, based on a series of job-specific questions designed to determine how well each would perform in the role.
Finally, include several application lodgement methods such as text, email and snail mail, to cater for candidates’ preferences and levels of technical expertise.
‘Close to 1 in 4 (over 50’s) believe they have been turned down for a job based solely on their age.’
The Australian Seniors Series: Ageing in the Workforce 2021
The face-to-face interview is the most telling stage in the recruitment process when perceptions are formed based on how a candidate looks and behaves and whether they would be a good culture fit for the organisation.
The problem with culture fit is that candidates are more likely to be perceived as a ‘good fit’ the more they resemble everyone else, which is not a good recipe for workplace diversity. Better assessment criteria would be to consider what the candidate would bring to the organisation, rather than just how well they would conform.
As well as rethinking culture fit, it’s a good idea to avoid doing Google searches on candidates prior to the interview. That’s because they will often reveal images and age-related information which may influence your perception of them ahead of time. Better to interview each candidate without reference to identifiers and assess them as you find them.
Obviously, more than one person may be involved in the interview process and the more the better in terms of gaining a wider spread of opinions about a candidate. And the more you and your colleagues talk about the possibility of bias and ways to avoid it, the better your chances of hiring candidates based solely on merit.
Age-related discrimination has negative implications for everyone;
- For the candidate – being rejected because they are considered too old can have an impact on their health and wellbeing and cause them to value themselves less highly.
- For the organisation – the Age Discrimination Act (ADA) is a federal law that applies to every Australian business and carries hefty penalties if a complaint of discrimination is found.
- For business in general – excluding such a significant portion of the talent pool will have consequences for future growth and productivity, because our rapidly ageing population means older workers will be in the majority in just a few years from now.
How to protect yourself
Taking the steps mentioned here will reduce the likelihood of your recruitment process being compromised by ageism. But accidents happen, so to further protect yourself you could;
- Document your recruitment process so if you are accused of discrimination you’ll be able to show you were hiring lawfully.
- Video your interviews so you’ll have evidence in your defence in the event of a misunderstanding or allegation of bias.
Collaborate with colleagues involved in the process so there’s more input and less chance of age discrimination occurring, even subconsciously.