Almost everyone in the recruitment space knows age bias and discrimination have been hot button topics in recent months. Just two weeks ago, WSJ published an in-depth article about a class-action lawsuit (filed in April 2016) against Big 4 accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, in which the plaintiff (aged 40+) alleges he was denied employment, due to “systemic discrimination against older applicants for accounting positions.” PwC, priding itself on a “youthful” culture, primarily hires entry-level accountants through campus recruiting and, at the time of the lawsuit filing, was not posting entry-level accountant positions on its careers website. What’s more is that PwC requires partners to retired by age 60, thus perpetuating the perception of an ageist organization.
Facebook was also in the news recently as the focus of an age discrimination class-action lawsuit filed December 2017 on behalf of the labor union Communications Workers of America (CWA) and three of its members against major employers T-Mobile US, Amazon.com Inc and Cox Communications and Media Group (among hundreds of other large employers). According to a New York Times article, as well as CWA’s press release, CWA alleges the companies used Facebook’s paid advertising platform to target younger age groups and “hide job ads and opportunities from older workers nationally.” Ironically (or perhaps not?), the lawsuit was filed just days after the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which prohibits age discrimination nationwide. Because of this lawsuit, Facebook now requires employment ads include ages 40-65+ in the age targeting and has a two-step self-certification process before ads will go live (more on this topic can be found in our blog post). Another stroke of irony? This all happened just before Facebook released Facebook Job Postings, allowing employers to post jobs on their Business Pages (also discussed in another KRT blog post earlier this month).
In light of the heightened awareness of potential age discrimination by job seekers over age 40, it’s crucial as a recruiter to explore unconscious age bias. I will be the first to admit that as a hiring manager in previous jobs, I was often evaluating resumes for candidates with MUCH more experience than the position called for. I would find myself confused as to why the recruiter would send me these resumes, thinking things like, “Why would someone with 20 years of professional experience want an entry-level advertising role?” and “They are absolutely going to ask for a way higher salary than what we have approved!”What I didn’t know, until after going through a very thorough employment law training a year ago, is that I had been operating with unconscious age bias, which (unbeknownst to me at the time) could potentially be a slippery legal slope when it comes to candidates aged 40+.
So just how does a recruiter or hiring manager begin to explore and undo unconscious age bias? I certainly don’t purport to know all the answers, so I turned to the woman who usually does: my mother, Lori Bitter. She also happens to be the President of The Business of Aging and a leading expert on the Baby Boomer generation (and a Boomer herself!), so I asked her why a hiring manager should consider a candidate aged 40+ for roles they seem overqualified for on paper:
“The main benefit of hiring a Baby Boomer is that you’ll get someone with a ton of experience, both professionally and personally. We have tried things, failed at things, picked ourselves up and have had to rethink what matters. We have a natural resilience…it’s our ‘superpower.’ For example, if a company has layoffs and is asking employees to “adapt” or “do more with less,” Boomers are generally okay with this, whereas younger employees might have a tough time working longer hours or adding time onto their commute – especially if they have young children. This is not a criticism at all, rather the younger demographic hasn’t experienced change as much and is still learning adaptation skills.” She goes on to note, “We are at a point in our life where ’failure is not fatal.’ We are willing to try things outside of our comfort zone, like an assignment that is daunting or a role in a completely different industry than where we started, as risk is assessed differently with added life experience.”
According to Bitter, a 40+ year-old candidate is also innately suited for roles in sales and customer service, as this demographic prefers face-to-face communication over phone, texting and social media. This could be better for a company’s bottom line too, as a recent WSJ poll found that reports 82% of people report in-person contact – meetings, lunches, collaboration – as more valuable than ANY form of online networking. What’s more is that an older team member can quickly become a “go-to” and mentor for more junior counterparts, potentially freeing up more time for managers to be less involved in the day-to-day. According to a 2014 report by Stanford Center on Longevity, “older workers are their organizations’ pillars: more loyal, better collaborators and more effective mentors.”
There is a wealth of information and studies on the 40+ job candidate (and employee) so aside from educating yourself, take some time to consider changes to these three aspects of your recruiting duties:
Employer Brand and Recruitment Marketing
Take a fresh look at your company’s employer brand and how it might translate to a 40+ job seeker – especially if they are looking at entry to mid-senior level positions. Are there primarily images of young employees on your careers website and social media accounts? Consider working with your team to source and add images of older employees, as well as groups of age-diverse employees. Also ensure that any job ads with age targeting capabilities include those 40-65+ along with age-diverse imagery.
In the same way a job description can include inadvertent gender-biased language, it could also include language that conveys age bias. According to Bitter, “Job postings can often, though very unintentionally, include ‘code’ that signal age bias. One example is ‘strong social media skills,’ which, to an older job seeker, could be perceived as the company only wanting Millennial candidates.” According to Randstad, other perceived youth code includes, “energetic,” “fast-paced,” “multi-tasking” and “deadline driven”. As a best practice, dust off that Thesaurus and avoid any term that could be potentially misconstrued as discriminatory based on age.
As much as possible, employ a “blind recruitment” mentality when reviewing applications. Don’t look at the college graduation date or dismiss a long resume as an overqualified candidate. Rather, focus on identifying how the candidate’s experience and skill set directly correlates with the requirements of the role, as well as how more experience could potentially lead to a shorter ramp-up/training time for the candidate. Additionally, if it makes sense for the role, consider adding skills-based assessments as part of the application process, which can put all candidates on a level playing field and be a good predictor of job performance. Many assessment tools can plug right into your ATS, so inviting a candidate to take a test can be as easy as clicking a button.
Ashley Mercier is a fourth-generation advertising/marketing professional (great-grandpa was a “Mad Man”… albeit in Kansas City), with 15+ years of experience in agency and publisher-side advertising client services roles. Current, she is a Media Solutions Manager at LinkedIn, where she specializes in the development of media campaigns for Talent Solutions clients. Originally from the Midwest, she is known to belt out 90’s country music songs in the office, as well as make recommendations on the best casserole recipes (must include a can of condensed soup). When not responding to emails in less than two minutes and keeping track of 100 details at any given time, she enjoys spending time at home with her husband and two boys, ages six and three.
This article was originally published on the KRT Marketing Blog on March 21, 2018.
We published a 2-part interview with Lori Bitter last June. She commented. “I do know that an age diverse workforce is a stronger workforce and there is something to learn from older people.” Read and listen to the interview.