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Ageism in Hiring Persists Even When It Might Be Working Against Employers

Dive In
  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Bromstein

Ageism in hiring is a longstanding issue. A new report finds hiring managers are biased against older candidates even though these candidates perform as well as, or better than, their younger peers.

A new report from Generation, a global employment non-profit, states that older workers face larger barriers to employment than younger workers.

Ageism hiring in is a big issue on the job market. Hiring managers admit to believing during the hiring process that candidates aged 45 and older will struggle to learn new skills, try new technologies, and fit in with company culture. This despite the fact that global employers say their age 45+ hires perform as well, or better, than younger employees.

The research report is based on a survey of 3,800 employed and unemployed people, and 1,404 hiring managers, in Brazil, India, Italy, Singapore, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The report places a particular focus on people seeking, or working in, entry-level and intermediate roles with no formal post-secondary educational background and low income levels.

A media brief states that “the findings highlight the stark unemployment challenges faced by mid-career workers across the world, offering insight into why they struggle.”

Hiring managers hold negative perceptions of older job candidates

The survey shows that people age 45 and over face persistent and rising pressure in the global job market, and that 71% of current seekers see their age as a major obstacle. This might not mean much on its own – just because they think it’s their age doesn’t mean it is their age – but the research also finds strong evidence that perceptions of ageism are well-founded:

“Hiring managers hold negative perceptions of age 45+ job candidates, stating that only 17% are application ready, 18% have relevant skills or experience, and 15% have the right fit with company culture.” Employers at the same companies also, paradoxically, state that 87% of hires over age 45 perform as well as, or better than, their younger colleagues, and also that 90% of their age 45+ employees are as likely as, or more likely than, their younger peers to stay with a company long term.

This may result in hiring managers overlooking better candidates in favour of younger ones, which can have costs for businesses. These include the cost of hiring lower-performing workers and also of potentially having to hire and onboard new employees when those younger employees leave.

These trends existed before the pandemic, but job seekers say COVID-19 has made matters worse during a time when so many are having to look for new jobs and even entirely new careers.

All this being said, there is evidence in the findings of a reluctance to pursue training among older respondents, which gives some credence to hiring manager concerns. The survey found that unemployed people over age 45 whose job prospects would most benefit from training are the most hesitant to pursue that training. Fifty-seven percent express reluctance and only one percent say that training would increase their job search confidence.

Reduce your own ageist bias to change ageism in hiring

All other things being equal, however, with those who don’t require additional training or who are willing to pursue it, employers would be well advised to check their own biases.

Steps might include taking a look at teams and noting how many older employees they include. We place a lot of emphasis on diversity in the current hiring world, yet older workers are still left out. Some companies even go so far as to conduct a blind hiring process to avoid this bias. Requiring candidates to take a standardized work sample test is another strategy used to help boost diversity in hiring (all forms of diversity, not just age diversity).

According to the Harvard Business Review, Iris Bohnet, director of the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School, and the author of What Works: Gender Equality by Design, says “Work sample tests that mimic the kinds of tasks the candidate will be doing in the job are the best indicators of future job performance.”

Evaluating work sample tests from multiple applicants helps you to judge how Candidate A compares to Candidate B despite age differences. And Francesca Gino, a professor at Harvard Business School, says that asking candidates to solve work-related problems or partake in a skill “forces employers to critique the quality of a candidate’s work versus unconsciously judging them based on appearance, gender, age, and even personality.”

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