Everyone has bias. We all have preferences; some of our preferences we are aware of and some of them we are not. When it comes to hiring and firing, however, there are laws that should prevent employees from suffering from the scourge of discrimination. One of the more common, but often tacit, forms of discrimination is ageism.
What is ageism?
Ageism is one form of workplace discrimination that people over age 40 can experience. An older worker will often not be hired, or will be the first person let go, because they are seen as less desirable, simply because of their age.
Because we are living longer, working longer, and having children later, those who study employment trends have seen a shift. Silicon Valley trends aside, it can be difficult to prove ageism in people who are in their 40s and less difficult to prove it once a person reaches age 50.
But the fact that workplace ageism happens is undisputed. The BBC reports that workers who are over 50 are “more than twice as likely as other workers to be unemployed for two years or longer if they lose their current job.” Those over 50 are also up to “three times less likely to get an interview” than someone who is 28 years old.
People tend to shrug off workplace ageism
While we are seeing major shifts in DEI training at many workplaces, one facet of discrimination that has not been highlighted is ageism. Research done by professors at Stanford Graduate School of Business shows that not only is ageism ignored, it’s actually condoned. In her research on discrimination, Stanford professor Ashley Martin found two things: one, that ageism is not discussed, and two that the people in charge of ensuring diversity in the workplace are often more likely to have a bias against older workers.
The real reason older workers are not being hired
Employers and HR department personnel often cite other reasons such as tech skills, culture or position elimination for ignoring, terminating or not hiring workers over 45. However, a deeper dive into the impetus for these decisions was highlighted in an October 2021 Psychology Today article by Smithsonian Institution Fellow Lawrence R. Samuel, Ph.D. The reasons behind age bias and discrimination are:
- Older is equated with weaker and unattractive. Youth is celebrated.
- Older people remind younger workers of their parents.
- Older people are not “socially viable.”
- Older people have more experience and that is threatening.
- Older people cause existential angst. Having older people in the workplace reminds younger people that they too will get old someday.
Older workers who recognize that their age has been used against them in the workplace in the form of not getting promoted, being forced to retire, or being targeted for a layoff should be sure to document what happened and seek legal counsel. Ageism is illegal per the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).