Age Is Only a Number, So Treat It That Way: How to Know When You’re Falling to Ageism and What You Can Do To Fix It
February 19, 2021

As a human resources professional, you’ve probably heard of the term ageism. On the off chance you have not heard of this term, the World Health Organization considers it to be a form of discrimination that stereotypes individual people or groups solely based on age. Believe it or not, ageism is still a growing problem despite all of the initiatives that many human resources professionals and other organizations have taken against it. In fact, the AARP reported in 2019 that every 3 out of 5 older workers have either been the victim of ageism or have seen it occur based on a study conducted by the organization. In that same study, another 75% of participants noted that they believe ageism is an obstacle when it comes to finding a new job.

Under normal circumstances, these numbers would be horrific. However, the mass layoffs that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic mean that those numbers most likely look a lot worse. Older and more experienced workers have been competing for jobs with much younger applicants in a job market that was already growing increasingly competitive. Even well-seasoned human resources professionals could find themselves unintentionally falling to ageism during their hiring processes or day-to-day operations. Here’s how you can not only ensure you are not a contributor to the problem but what you can do to help to fix it in your organization.

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How to ensure you do not contribute to the problem

We’re only human, and we’re all prone to make mistakes from time to time. Sometimes, we fall short and allow ourselves to contribute to these issues by not acknowledging our own preconceived biases. While these situations are unfortunate, they do provide an opportunity for us to grow and learn from our mistakes. If you’re worried you may have been less open-minded towards hiring older candidates in the past, here are some ways you can ensure you don’t make the same mistake in the future.

Ignore the physical appearance of candidates, especially on LinkedIn

This suggestion is good practice to take all the time, but it also can contribute to your perception of someone based on age. Not only are looks sometimes deceiving, but a picture does not speak to a person’s work ethic or character most of the time. Unless someone’s LinkedIn profile picture is of them drinking piña coladas on a beach, the profile picture or the candidate’s appearance over Zoom should not be a determining factor.

Be mindful of your interview questions and your daily interactions

One of the reasons ageism continues to be a problem is the misconceived notion that older candidates will want to retire sooner than their younger counterparts. Employers typically do not want to invest in someone they feel may not stick around, which is a valid reason to not hire someone if you know for a fact that this job would only be temporary for them. However, making the assumption based on age is the wrong direction to take and you shouldn’t be asking about this subject either. It’s actually illegal to do so.

As a human resources professional, you already know that all hiring processes and interview questions should be well thought out and meant to weed out candidates who are truly unqualified based on aspects such as lack of experience, lack of alignment in values, etc. However, this challenge doesn’t end during the hiring process. Ageism can happen in the day-to-day correspondences between you and your team or when deciding who to give the next promotion to. It takes constant awareness and effort to truly rid yourself of age-based biases in the workplace.

How you can help combat ageism at your company

One person can make a huge impact, but it certainly helps to have more people on your side working as hard as you are to fight against these biases. To help your team combat ageism within your organization, try to implement the following pieces of advice.

Adjust your hiring process and properly follow it

Policies and “regular” practices are not fall-back plans to save your company should things go astray. For these ideas to work, they need to be developed and implemented, communicated to your team, and followed through with. Otherwise, the entire process is all for naught. The below information should help:

  • Consider the job requirements carefully
  • Use a diverse set of tools to recruit talent
  • Avoid asking unnecessary questions in the application
  • Use your words wisely in the job description

Speak up when you hear your colleagues contributing to the problem

One of the reasons problems such as this one persist is because people are afraid to speak out against certain subjects. Whether it’s offhanded comments in meetings, jokes made around the watercooler, or blatant bullying towards certain employees, a good human resources professional knows when and how to speak out against poor behavior in the workplace. If you aren’t willing to do that, you need to reflect on why it is you wanted to work in human resources because uncomfortable conversations are often a standard part of the job.

While these conversations aren’t fun, they are sometimes necessary. If you’re unable to have such conversations, you’ll need to consider if you’re really in the best role for yourself.

Promote an environment based on equal respect

This one can be a bit more difficult because ultimately, you can’t control the actions of others. You can’t control what they do, what they say, how they think, etc. What you can do, however, is lead by example and encourage others to do the same. One method for improving the respect towards each other in the workplace is to offer the opportunity for your team to get to know one another. With more understanding and more opportunities to see one another as people rather than simply coworkers, your team can grow stronger in many ways. They only need to be offered the chance to get there first.

Ageism isn’t something anyone wants to face, but not wanting to face it or deal with it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Because of the pandemic, the workforce has changed dramatically. As your team grows and changes moving forward, you’ll likely be looking at a more diverse pool of candidates. This opportunity should be faced with enthusiasm rather than dread. As the saying goes, age is only a number. When we treat it as such, we open the door for new opportunities. Continue to check in to BrandResumes’ HR Corner for more articles on how your team can continue to create opportunities rather than obstacles. Good luck!



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By Emily Provost

Emily is BrandResumes' Content Specialist and is an Associate Resume Writer. She completed her Bachelor of Arts in Publishing Studies with double minors in Marketing and Journalism from Hofstra University. She has had editorial experience working as an editor for various publications from Hofstra and worked as a writing tutor for undergraduate students.

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