Age Discrimination: Going Away or Alive and Well?

by Michael Haberman on July 6, 2011 · 5 comments


A recent article entitled How to Start a Career at Any Age quoted Michael Brandt, chief operating officer of BrightMove, a Florida-based company that designs recruiting and staffing software. He said “Age really has no bearing. The only thing that really matters is the skills that you have.” Mr. Brandt estimates that 95 percent of his clients do not use age as a search criterion. That is encouraging but in all honesty I have my doubts that age discrimination has disappeared that much in the workplace.

Articles by AARP, Monster.com, and other career sites warn of the potential of age bias. AARP reports that a study of BLS figures show that the number of unemployed Americans age 55 and older rose over 300% between January 2000 and December 2009. And the recent hiring of 80-year-old Jack McKeon by the Florida Marlins as their coach, despite his qualifications, brought forth unbridled derision and widespread ridicule.

In these times of attempted recovery it is important for people to update their skills and even switch careers. Age is not always a roadblock to learning new skills. However, attitude is. If you consider yourself too old to learn something new it will be a bar. As I near my birthday I keep reminding myself how important it is to keep my skill base up to date. Of course I fled the corporate world 20 years ago to make my own way in the world, a world in which age is a benefit and not a detriment. But I have seen age bias alive and well in the lives of my friends.

The good thing is that employers are beginning to see the value in retaining and hiring older workers. Even small employers, who try to avoid older workers due to the impact they may have on health insurance policies, are getting some experience that the value derived is greater than the associated costs of older workers. Also, the nature of work has changed and the “strength of your back” is not quite as important as is the sharpness of your mind. And as long as an older worker you constantly strive to keep you skills up to date you may fare well.

I am curious however, how many of you have a “mental model” of “old” that includes slowness, ineptness, lack of new skills? Have this entered into you decision making on hiring or promoting?

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Shelley July 6, 2011 at 7:36 pm

As a legitimate conversation posting, I thought about our upcoming Dbrief (webcast) next week about a topic related to the retiring workforce and the gap it is leaving for employers. The topic is the contingent workforce. Companies often find it difficult to buy or build flexible, scalable workforces. Can a contingent workforce be a way of supplementing core talent while addressing global growth and workforce strategies? I just thought it might be a relevant discussion. If anyone is interested in the topic, you can join the free webcast by clicking here: https://event.on24.com/eventRegistration/prereg/register.jsp?clientid=404&eventid=320592&sessionid=1&key=F6AD9B83A0E2F16B2C7E697219917DAF

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Liz July 7, 2011 at 8:49 am

Age discrimination goes both ways. I’m 26 and in the past 6-7 years of my “professional” career, I have continually been subjected to “young thing” statements, derisive “when you grow up” attitudes and “you’re too young to know what you’re talking about” claims. I am mature, professional, have one of the stronger work ethics wherever I go; my LinkedIn profile has 16 recommendations from colleagues, clients and superiors who tout my hard work and results. Yet when I interviewed recently for a position as office manager I was informed that they were looking for someone with (looks over glasses and smirks) a little more……experienced…..like a few decades. Really? Basically I wasn’t old enough. I contend that ageism is just as rampant towards young people as it is (unfortunately) towards older. It behooves ALL of us to be accepting of others – the wisdom, experience and maturity that often comes with age could use a facelift in keeping up with the technology and social media of our day, but that same wisdom, experience and maturity is not gained by young people unless they are given the chance to succeed as young people working alongside older ones.

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Michael Brandt July 15, 2011 at 11:26 am

Michael,

I wanted to clarify my comments in that article. I stated that the recruiters searching for talent have no way of looking by age with the technology being used in the mainstream and my percentage was more like 99% of recruiters don’t even have a way to search their database by age. When it comes to identifying applicants in an ATS, you can’t search for people based on age. Chris and I were digging into the identification process of initial candidates and not into the entire hiring process.

I was not saying age distrimination doesn’t exist because I think it probably does in many industries but not for the reasons most people would think. I believe a big challenge in age discrimination comes from the generational gap of the applicant and recruiter and how they can relate to each other. Much of recruiting is about the connection between the hiring recruiting and the applicant and if the two dont connect, then they are less likely to advance. I do not believe that is intentional and a also think thats something both sides need to work on.

Michael Brandt
COO
BrightMove Recruiting Software
http://www.brightmove.com

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Michael Haberman July 18, 2011 at 10:59 am

Michael:
Thanks for the response and clarification. Your point about much of recruiting being how the recruiter and applicant connect was interesting. I wonder how many recruiters are younger these days and have a hard time connecting with a boomer in his/her 60s? Hmmm…. thoughts?

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Evie poling July 21, 2011 at 6:54 pm

For the past two years every job I have applied for always asks for the years I graduated from high school and college. Don’t tell me they need to know my age before I even get an interview.

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