Employee retention starts with their first interaction with a company. This fact is widely known by recruiters, so companies that want to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) must install it into their recruiting and onboarding from the start.
For this reason, I have attended endless trainings, earned certificates, and completed courses at Cornell and other prestigious institutions over my past 25 years in the talent acquisition industry. But, despite the countless hours I’ve spent learning how to support DEI initiatives for BIPOC, women, and people with disabilities,I can count on one hand the amount of times age has been acknowledged.
ONE OVERLOOKED DEI PILLAR
The importance of diversity in the workplace cannot be understated. Fortunately, many organizations understand this need, increasing DEI leaders and initiatives meant to support employees as individuals and not just stereotyped groupings.
While the importance of DEI is more widely understood now than it was even a few years ago, the aging workforce and how to be a good ally against ageism in the workforce still needs to be discussed in DEI training.
Additionally, it is typically not a priority topic in the boardroom until potential layoffs, at which point plenty of resources are put toward ensuring the company is compliant with the law and not disproportionately impacting protected workers.
THE FALLOUT OF HIDDEN AGE BIAS AT WORK
While racism, sexism, and homophobia dominate the DEI discussion for good reason, ageism flies under the radar as a workplace-appropriate bias, perpetuated by untrue stereotypes and hidden ageist language in materials like job descriptions. For example, an entry-level job ad claiming a good fit for a recent college grad discourages an older worker from applying, even if they are interested and qualified.
Ageism can go unnoticed. But, just like racial and gender biases, it is perpetuated by stereotypes. For example, older workers are stereotyped as not being technologically savvy. There are also stereotypes that these older workers cost the company more money in compensation (to match years of experience) and benefits.
The current laws in place protect all employees over 40 years of age from discrimination based on age. However, when workplaces have a new generation joining the labor force every few years bringing new knowledge and new ways of doing things, you’d be surprised that ageism can affect employees and job seekers well under 40 years old. In fact, 36% of workers under the age of 32 have reported experiencing ageism in the workplace.
Additionally, if Gen X were to leave the workforce, whether they retire, make a career change, or step down to part-time work due to ageism at their current job, we would lose out on valuable knowledge transfer across industries. For example, when it comes to retail, a lot of companies will tailor their products, services, and marketing to Gen X because they have the majority of the buying power right now. Companies are succeeding at this because Gen X workers, which are approaching retirement age, still currently dominate decision-making roles higher up in corporations. If ageism were to edge these voices out, the demographic and sales may be lost.
AGEISM AMID ECONOMIC UNCERTAINTY AND PAY TRANSPARENCY
Layoffs are a sad reality in today’s economy and can significantly impact the aging workforce, affecting their ability to find new employment, financial stability, health, career goals, and retirement benefits. While there are teams of people that ensure layoffs don’t disproportionately affect workers over 40, employers should take extra steps to minimize the impact of layoffs on their aging workforce, such as offering retraining or upskilling programs, severance packages, and outplacement services to help find new employment.
Talent acquisition leaders are also discussing pay range disclosure laws as states adopt transparency and equal pay. Pay transparency is important to the aging workforce because it promotes fairness, retention, career development, financial planning, and morale. By being transparent about pay, employers can build trust and loyalty among employees, which can lead to a more engaged and productive workforce.
COMBATING AGEISM STARTS WITH RECRUITING
Creating an inclusive workplace culture does not stop at race and gender. Not only should workplaces provide basic respect and support to all employees, we should also consider the many benefits of varied ages in the workplace.
Gen X and boomers are some of the most loyal generations in the workplace. In fact, 40% of boomers stayed with their employer for over 20 years compared to Millennials that have an average of two years and nine months. However, relying on their loyal nature alone will not cut it.
Leaders should treat every employee, regardless of age, as an individual rather than a group. Stereotypes are damaging and discouraging. For this reason, leaders should take the necessary steps to scrub all materials of ageist language and implement the necessary policies against ageism in the workplace. Ensuring your hiring team has undergone bias training and can acknowledge and avoid all types of intrinsic and explicit bias will help employees and job seekers feel valued and promote loyalty and longevity at the company.
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