HOW ORGANISATIONS CAN AVOID UNCONSCIOUS AGEISM BIAS
What is Ageism and Age Bias?
In a world where organisations spend tremendous figures on diversity training trying to prevent race and gender discrimination, it’s rather surprising that preventing age discrimination isn’t as common. Although the UK’s Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society, organisations might still struggle to discover and address age discrimination because often managers and employees don’t even realize they have age bias.
By definition, ‘Ageism is stereotyping and/or discriminating against individuals or groups on the basis of their age, which can be done casually or systematically.’ In the UK, based on the Equality Act 2010, it is illegal to discriminate against someone because:
- They are/they are not a certain age or in a certain age group
- Someone thinks they are/they are not a specific age or age group (known as discrimination by perception)
- They are/they are not connected to someone of a specific age or age group (known as discrimination by association)
“Ageism, the bias of one group against another, has been used mainly to the bias of younger individuals toward old individuals. Inherent ageism is the awe-inspiring anxiety and anxiety of growing old, and hence, the want to distance ourselves from old men who are a proxy portrait of our future selves. We see the youthful fearing aging and the old envying youth. Ageism not only reduces the standing of old individuals but of all individuals.”
Where age discrimination occurs at work?
Ageism at work can start even as early as with the job description which implies that the company is seeking a candidate of a certain age. For example, if a company is looking for someone ‘buzzing’ and ‘passionate’ and an older candidate applies, he or she might be considered not the right fit because of stereotypes and assumptions about people of a mature age group. It can also put off certain groups from applying because they don’t perceive themselves as such even though they have the right skills and experience. Similarly, younger entrepreneurs might refrain from applying for more senior roles because of the corporate jargon and suggestive tone that the candidate should be older.
According to ACAS, age discrimination is most likely to occur in four areas of employment:
- Recruitment – by using wording that suggests an applicant of a particular age would be best suited to the job
- Training – by making assumptions about an employee’s needs or ambitions based on their age or overlooking older workers for opportunities for overall development
- Promotion – by ruling out a capable employee to take on extra responsibilities because they are considered to be too young/old for the new role
- Pay and terms and conditions of employment – by having different terms and conditions of employment because of an employee’s age, perceived age, or the age of someone they are associated with
Why organisations are reluctant to hire older people?
- They might be considered too expensive because of their experience
- Concerns their skillset is not updated or they don’t know the newest technology
- Concerns about their communication problems
- Authority concerns if the team is made of younger employers
Why organisations are reluctant to hire younger people?
- Lack of experience (which can create ‘no-experience broken loop’’ for young people and delay the start of their career
- Lack of work ethic and professionalism
- The need to provide them with more training which might increase the expenses
- Employers’ perspective and misconceptions about young people
- No time to provide younger people with support on the job
Below are some stories about some of the people we have spoken with (names have been changed to protect confidentiality)
Bram is 65 years old and has been working in a law firm for over ten years. She works as a conveyancing administrator .She earns a salary of £18,000 a year and is constantly worried as she has a £70,000 mortgage and is not able to retire just yet.
Bram’s situation is impacting her mental health and making her struggle, but she’s too afraid to leave her job or to speak up as she feels if she does this she may be let go and then she would be in a worse situation. To earn extra money she cleans after her primary job which gives her an extra income of £200 per month.
‘I’m too afraid to look for a new one because I’m too old for anyone to hire me.’
John used to be a very successful IT director, but due to his personal circumstances, he lost a job when he was 41 in 2001, after this period he struggled to get into a similar level of employment. He had to take on smaller roles in order to pay the bills, From 2001 to 2014 he tried getting into IT and attended numerous interviews, but every time people younger and less experienced than him would get the Job, with limited feedback from the employers.
After not having job prospects for a very long time, and struggling with ongoing health issues he finally managed to find a job in teaching. He is now 63 years old and has to work longer because he doesn’t have financial freedom. He may like to work in IT again, but he just doesn’t have a chance because of the competitive nature of the sector.
‘Every time I go for an interview, I have a feeling other people are looking at me and thinking, ‘Why is this older man applying for this job?’ He feels that often his experience is overlooked and all employers look at is his age.
Alenna used to be a very successful Chief Operating Officer, but after the company has closed down and she has suffered an illness, she wasn’t able to get back to a full-time job after that.
Through her 50s and 60s, she’s been working here and there as a consultant, but no organisation was eager to take her on a full-time role.
‘This was never because of my skills or experience, and although nobody would say it, I knew it was because of my age. Other, much younger people with no experience would eventually get the job I was applying for.’
How organisations can be inclusive by being aware of the age bias?
Since age discrimination can be so difficult to detect, many organisations might not even realize they have an ageism issue, especially when their employees are not conscious they’re discriminating against someone in the first place.
In order to prevent ageism in your organisation, you may consider some of the following :
- implement training programmes that will constantly upskill and evaluate the skills of your employees – retaining an existing employee is usually more cost-efficient than replacing them with someone new
- implement communication & diversity training to make sure younger and older employees can understand each other and that they’re able to recognise bias, harassment and discrimination, and be able to report it immediately
- offer additional recruitment training for HR employees and double-check the language of job descriptions to prevent discrimination at early stages
- introduce internships like Youth Intern Programme or Senior Intern Programme
- constantly evaluate career and progress opportunities for all the employees
- Understand that a mature workforce brings in experience that can be used to support organisations grow and develop
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