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How to take on ageism in your organization

Society is getting better and better at spotting and calling out businesses for a lack of diversity and inclusion – elements that aren’t only moral and PR necessities, but great for profits as well.

But one type of discrimination that still falls under the radar all-to-often is ageism. Looking to foster new talent and capture the audiences of tomorrow, organizations are busy recruiting from and marketing to a young demographic, despite the fact that the effectiveness of this approach isn’t supported by the numbers.

Why it matters

Statistics consistently show that older demographics are better consumers for many goods and bring valuable experience, knowledge and stability to a workplace as employees.

In the high-tech world, 45+ year-olds account for 29% of employees – nearly an entire third of the workforce in an industry generally pigeonholed as exclusively for the young. What’s more, the 2019 Human Resources in High-tech Report by the Israel Innovation Authority indicates that the bigger and more successful a company is, the greater percentage of over 45s it employees. Coincidence?

Obviously, hiring only older employees on the verge of retirement probably won’t get your organization very far, but neither will counting out these individuals due to their age alone. With such a large number of middle-aged and senior consumers in the world, it’s important to include their experiences and perspectives in your business operations, particularly if your product may be used by those same demographics.

Besides, older employees often bring qualities to the table that you won’t find anywhere else. These include dedication, leadership skills acquired during decades of work experience and loyalty; while younger employees are often looking for the best way to move up the ladder and feed their ambitions, most older candidates tend to prioritize stability more. At the same time, they love tackling technical challenges in an enjoyable, engaging environment just as much as their younger counterparts.

Bridging generational gaps in the workplace is certainly a unique challenge, entirely unlike integrating employees from different racial or cultural backgrounds, but it can be done. Aptive Environmental, a pest control firm in the U.S., is known for embracing older generations in the workplace alongside younger employees, creating a healthy and friendly mix that has benefited the organization in the long run.

Whether they recognize it or not, businesses are also going to have a hard time avoiding hiring older employees in the future. According to the World Health Organization, population trends show that the proportion of over-60s in the global population is expected to double, reaching 22% by 2050. These figures are expected to be reflected in the workforce as well. If everyone continues recruiting exclusively young talent, they’ll be missing out on a massive pool of talent.

How to overcome ageism

The first step is to make a point of hiring individuals from different age groups – not only based on their age of course, but based on merit. Let’s say your organization is almost entirely made up of under 40s. If your choices for a new position are a 25-year-old and a 50-year-old with similar qualifications, you may find yourself drawn to the 25-year-old, but be sure to ask yourself why. It may just be that the 50-year-old is a better fit.

But it’s not enough to make sure that you employ one or two representatives from different age groups in whatever way in your organization, it’s important to implement variety on every level possible throughout your organization.

Sports teams, for example, don’t only benefit from having older, more experienced coaches, a good team also makes a point of keeping a group of veteran players in the clubhouse and on the field while in certain cases relatively young coaches give the team the right energy of leadership they need.

The more your younger and older employees can interact with one another, the more familiar they’ll become and the quicker social barriers will be broken down. Isolating age groups in different departments or levels of management won’t make your efforts to end ageism in your recruitment processes worthwhile.

The end goal, however, is actually to not think about age at all during recruitment. Business is the best platform for meritocracy so, even as you aim for a reasonable amount of diversity, don’t forget that eliminating ageism in your organization doesn’t mean much if you aren’t hiring the most capable people for the job.

 

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