My friend texted me last week with a fairly urgent sounding message “Hey Ed, can you call me when you have a minute? Got some news that has me worried”. As any good friend would, I texted him back as soon as I could and we got on a call not soon thereafter (hey – they are phones and I still think talk > text). After the normal pleasantries he got right to it – his company was being acquired and he was worried. Yes – he was worried about what that would mean for his job security in the short term, but his worries were beyond just keeping his job. He was in his early 50s and was in the technology space. He worried that because of his age that getting a new job was going to be more difficult than when he last looked for one, which was when he was in late 30s. We talked through some initial strategies about his current situation and I offered up some advice on how to go forward. I spoke in depth about things he could do to network, stand out, update his resume and get to key decision makers and other things too. Yet, inside I knew his worry was real – and it pisses me off.
I have been doing this HR/Recruiting/Employer Branding thing for 23 years now and there have been a ton of improvements when it comes to hiring and retaining diverse talent. It really has been amazing to see the huge focus on this issue over the last 5 years or so. What I do not understand is why most agree all the “ism”s are wrong and not healthy to a productive workforce, the one “ism” that is still primarily accepted is ageism. We can all pretend it doesn’t exist (and most companies do) but the reality is that it does – especially in certain sectors. Here are some stats found after a basic google search on the issue:
- On average, it takes someone age 55 or over three months longer to find a job than a younger person.
- 1 in 3 older workers has either experienced discrimination or seen it happen first-hand since 2008.
- 64% of workers say they have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace.
In addition, here is some more information from the AARP Article 10 Things You Should Know About Age Discrimination:
- It is currently legal for employers and prospective employers to ask your age as well as your graduation date. AARP is working to strengthen protections against this line of inquiry. You can opt to remove this identifying information from your LinkedIn profile, or try to deflect the question in an interview, but there’s nothing stopping a prospective employer from asking.
- A 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling made it harder for older workers who’ve experienced proven age discrimination to prevail in court. The court said plaintiffs must meet a higher burden of proof for age discrimination than for other types of discrimination. In other words, the Supreme Court moved the law backward and sent a message to employers that some amount of proven discrimination is legally allowed.
- Most people believe age discrimination begins when workers hit their 50s, according to AARP research of workers between the ages of 45 and 74. Still, 22 percent believe it begins even earlier, when workers hit their 30s and 40s. And 17 percent say they think it begins in one’s 60s.
- There’s also a gender difference in the perception of age discrimination: While 72 percent of women between the ages of 45 and 74 said they think people face age discrimination at work, only 57 percent of men in the same age range said so.
- Among older workers surveyed by AARP, not getting hired is the most common type of age discrimination they experienced, with 19 percent of respondents citing it. An additional 12 percent say they missed out on a promotion because of age, and 8 percent say they were laid off or fired.
- Last year, the EEOC received 20,857 charges of age discrimination. Age discrimination makes up more than 1 in 5 of the discrimination charges received by the EEOC.
- Contrary to stereotypes, workers age 50 and up are among the most engaged members of the workforce,according to an AARP study. Sixty-five percent of employees age 55 and up are “engaged,” compared to 58 to 60 percent of younger employees. They also offer employers lower turnover rates and greater levels of experience.
After this conversation with my friend, I posted a brief post/rant on LinkedIn that got way more activity than I had anticipated, with lots of comments (mostly offline or in my direct messages for fear of public “outing”) from many different people sharing the same outrage at this topic. One brave poster, living in Silicon Valley, said this publicly (good on him!):
“As a recruiting professional who is post AARP Card in Tech, I can tell you ageism is rampant, especially in Silicon Valley”
His comment was especially jarring with the “AARP Card in Tech” mention, because one quick look at his profile showed that by no means was he AARP eligible yet – not even close. The “in tech” mention is something I have seen often that basically means that in tech (and other industries) there is a certain age (getting younger with every year that passes) where you start to look “old” to the hiring powers that be. “Old” can mean a lot of things to these people in the hiring chair in these offending companies. It can mean expensive, not open to change, a clock puncher, old school in thought, not technically “up to date”, not creative and many other derogatory things,. The fact is that, like any other age group generalities, these things are untrue. Each person is unique. Each person has their own story, work styles, learning capabilities and passions. To generalize like this because of someone’s age is no different that generalizing because of someone’s gender or race – two things we (rightly so) have been outraged at in recent years. Yet – look at those stats again. It still happens – a ton – and industry (on the most part) still puts their collective heads in the sand on this issue. Yes – there are some companies out there who make a point to be better about this, but in all honesty they are in the minority as far as my perspective has seen.
Note that AARP bullet above about the legalities on asking someone’s age. The advice given is to, if you want to, hide it from your profile. Heck, I know some professional resume writers whose stuff I have read over the years that state it is best practice for older workers to leave off early dates and experiences and the person’s graduation date altogether. They are not advising this for no other reason than the prevailing ageism that still very much exists. The fact is that the companies that get hip to the fact that this segment of the workforce has a lot to offer will be the ones benefiting from hiring some people who have a ton to add. You will hear lots of arguments on this topic from various different people, saying things (in private – never public) like early career talent is cheaper, that younger people are “digital natives”, they work longer hours and other crap that as I mentioned earlier is sweeping generalizations of people because of the years they have been alive. No logical person would make the same statements about any race or nationality or gender, but this is still whispered in back offices by many today about the “older” workforce. Look at the fascination in business media about “millennials” and now “Gen Z”. Article after article, video after video working to crack the secret code of how better to hire, understand and retain these elusive species. Let’s face it – the business world is super focused on getting younger without appreciating the great talent it already has.
I have no other goal in this post than to just shine some light on something that DOES exist and really truly sucks – in every sense of the word. Call me crazy, but if I were hiring I would want the best person for the job, and if that person happened to bring experience and wisdom too well then even better. Back to my friend – he still has his job but is already networking….
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