Ageism - Recruiters, Are You Just Being Politically Correct?

This topic can be quite a minefield and a conversation that may need to be looked at from many different angles. In the UK age discrimination has been unlawful in employment, training and education since October 2006. In the recruitment world in the UK there are strict rules in relation to posting job adverts, collecting resumes and obtaining information from candidates that contain data reflecting their age.

Are their similar rules or laws in the USA and other countries? How far has your government gone or governing body to stop ageism in the workplace?

Now what I am looking for here is comments and responses relating to you being honest, this is a blog post for honesty and not just the 'Politically Correct' answers. Here some questions to put some meat on the bone:

Do you really agree with ruling out Ageism in the work place?
What obstacles have you come across in recruitment which relate to an individuals age?
Have you ever been accused of being ageist and what was the outcome?
Have you been in a situation when ageism was against someone because they were too young?
Do you honestly think older people are more wiser and better groomed for the working world?
If a client asks you how old a candidate is, what do you reply, how do you deal with this?
Removing dates of education on a resume is a step too far don't you think? But the dates do give away the persons age!

I am going to sit on the fence on this one, the jury's out for me and I am really undecided. With more candidates and less jobs currently it would be a tough call to choose between a 30 year old Oxford educated individual and a 58 year old person with 35 years worth of commercial experience. Is it fair to discriminate when it comes to age. If you are, lets say over 50, how would you feel up against a 27 year old for the same position?

What are the right answers here?? This is a tough one.... Let's debate.

Views: 995

Comment by Krista Ardhuerumly on July 28, 2010 at 12:38pm
Do you really agree with ruling out Ageism in the work place? YES. Our job is to find the most qualified person, period the end. Our job is not to discrimate against legitimate candidates looking for their next gig. The irony is that usually the folks promoting the practice of ageism are on the fast track to being "washed out" themselves.
What obstacles have you come across in recruitment which relate to an individuals age? Several. For instance, I send in a 45-50 year old, 90% of the time the manager will send feedback of I am really not impressed, even though you know as a recruiter doing your due diligence, they have worked on really cool projects, moved along with the digital nation we live in now, and are more qualified than teh Gen Y'er who is going to quit in 6-12 months because "they didn't see even growth" (which is another subject for another day!)
Have you ever been accused of being ageist and what was the outcome? NO.
Have you been in a situation when ageism was against someone because they were too young? Nope.
Do you honestly think older people are more wiser and better groomed for the working world? It doesn't matter what age you are. Age doesn't determine maturity, ambition or ability.
If a client asks you how old a candidate is, what do you reply, how do you deal with this? I let them know that is completely innapropiate, and really puts me in a bad place.
Removing dates of education on a resume is a step too far don't you think? But the dates do give away the persons age!
If you keep the dates, obviously if one can add, you can tell. If you remove the dates and go the "functional" route, it makes it obvious that you are either concealing age or bad employment history.
Comment by Mark Lennard on July 28, 2010 at 12:44pm
Krista, welcome to the debate... You make some very valid and interesting points. It is very apparent that ageism in the recruitment world is a tough topic.. you work on behalf of both your candidates AND your clients.. but both may have VERY different views on Ageism... but should I dare ask the question of.... "but who pays the recruiters fee?"
Comment by Martin H.Snyder on July 28, 2010 at 12:50pm
I read that under 1% of Google employees are over 40.

Yes, age discrimination is endemic to every aspect of human life, as are all kinds of other discrimination. social class, beauty, height; you name it.

I dont think there should be any laws barring discrimination - the free market should sort itself out, and where there are losers in the sorting, some kind of social insurance (paid for by all, in proportion to one's winnings in the market) should assure a dignified and reasonable life for those who the market cannot provide a living for. If that's socialist or whatnot, so be it.

My guess is that the market would accomodate all but a small percentage of people- firms that specialized in hiring older, or uglier, or shorter, or otherwise undervalued or misvalued people would do well, just as stock-pickers who seek undervalued investments can do well.

By the action of free markets, we would know at what age certain roles become marginal (if any) and which roles favor the young, the old, or the otherwise non-ideal resource projection.

Discrimination laws based on group membership (e.g. assigned status based on some attribute out of the control of the person) are basically immoral regardless of intent, and create social and economic distortions that are a net expense to society in the medium and long terms.

What do you do when an immoral majority oppresses a minority ?

That's the essence of the problem. You need laws that protect, without favoring...... good luck with that......
Comment by Mark Lennard on July 28, 2010 at 12:56pm
Great contribution Martin and I am really not shocked at the Google 1% fact..
Comment by Judi Wunderlich on July 28, 2010 at 1:18pm
We've had laws in the U.S. for quite some time about age discrimination and other types of discrimination. I was very surprised to learn that the UK only made the common sense decision to enact a law in 2006! So do you mean that before that it was perfectly OK for an employer to specify they will only hire someone who is 25-30 years old? That's terrible.

Being over 50 myself, I am very alert to ageism. Sadly, as a third party recruiter at a staffing firm, I see our clients routinely practicing ageism, however they are aware they cannot acknowledge they are doing so because of the law. They try to get around not hiring 'older' people by saying they want someone with 5 to 8 years of experience - no more than 8.

What they don't realize is that any good attorney can still build a case for discrimination against them if they advertise a 'top limit' on experience and turn away qualified people who have more than 8 years. I just wish people would sue more often for age discrimination; maybe then it will abate.

Yes, there are people over 50 who are technologically old-fashioned and thus some companies don't want them. But there are those who are amazingly savvy and attuned to current trends. You just can't generalize that an entire demographic group of people aren't qualified just because of age, nor can you assume they are not energetic simply because they are older.

However, I live in the real world, and in this world humans DO have biases and tend to make assumptions about people based on their age, sex, race, etc. I can rarely get my over 50 candidates placed in either contract or full time jobs even though they are highly qualified. This annoys and frustrates me immensely.

We recruiters must keep on trying to dispel those myths and promote our qualified candidates as hard as we can, and we should even 'fire' clients who we're certain are discriminatory.

Judi Wunderlich
Vice President, Talent
Comment by Kelly Blokdijk on July 28, 2010 at 5:18pm
Age discrimination has been unlawful in the US since 1967.

Here is an excerpt:
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age. The ADEA’s protections apply to both employees and job applicants. Under the ADEA, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of his/her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training. The ADEA permits employers to favor older workers based on age even when doing so adversely affects a younger worker who is 40 or older.

While the law is clear, there is plenty of debate about whether or not it is consistently applied and enforced. Every person has their own biases and if they believe something negative about a particular trait, then that is how they form their opinions and make decisions.

I do agree ageism is an unfortunate issue, but not one that is necessarily as severe and rampant as some might choose to believe. Most employers truly do seek the best qualified person for the job regardless of their physical characteristics. Those that don’t are probably not worth worrying about because that would just be one sign of a dysfunctional organization.

My (possibly not – PC) take on this is that – YES, there are individuals who discriminate based on age and many other irrelevant factors. However, when it comes to age, I don’t necessarily believe it has to do with actual age as much as perceptions about a person being, acting, looking or speaking like an “old” person. What I mean by this is in the simplest terms is “image is everything.”

I routinely encounter people who have convinced themselves that “age” is the reason they are having a tough time regaining employment. While that may be a factor in certain cases, my objective assessment of their demeanor, mannerisms, conversation topics, etc, suggests that either they are conducting themselves in such a way that they subconsciously make age a focus, when it may not have otherwise been. Or, they are failing to consider that hiring decisions are based on multiple criteria and most of the final selection phase is subjective, intangible “fit” and gut feel. It could be something entirely trivial or arbitrary that puts the final choice at the top and may have absolutely nothing to do with that person’s or anyone else’s age.

The other element that comes into play with the ageism topic is compensation. Usually, the further along one is in their career, the higher their salary tends to be.

With the economy in such a down trend for so long, employers are seeking the most cost-effective ways to remain viable. Whether accurate or not, many equate experience with expensive. And in those cases, it doesn’t mean they are ageist, just prudent. Blaming ageism becomes a convenient excuse for those not hired to dwell on it rather that taking proactive steps to increase their appeal and attractiveness to other potential employers.

This is definitely a controversial topic and one that will likely be with us forever. My advice to job seekers of any age is to focus on representing yourself well (on paper, online and in person) and customize your message to your target audience. Pay attention to making the most of what is in your control and ignore the stuff that isn’t worthy of your attention. My recommendation to employers is to source, screen and select the best available talent to serve the needs of your organization.
Comment by Charlie Allenson on July 28, 2010 at 6:16pm
In a strictly annectdotal way, age discrimination can take many forms. A friend of mine who is a brilliant art director and designer, very well read (not just for an AD but for anyone) -- high end fiction, books on politics, finance, social trends, you name it. She's also a film maker - was selected by Steven Spielberg himself to be in a special film program. She's in her 40's. Very knowledgeable about social media, and as well as the psychology of marketing. She was invited to be interviewed for an art director/design position at the interactive arm of a mega media company in LA. The interviewer was about half her age, and didn't ask a single question about her work, talents, or anything else related to what she'd actually be doing. Instead, the first question out of the interviewer's mouth was, "Who do you follow on Twitter?" The second question was, "Do you have a blog?" Someone please shoot me if this is the future of HR and humanity and the future is here.
Comment by Ross Clennett on July 28, 2010 at 6:18pm
Ageism and other non-competency selection criteria is practised by recruiters and hiring managers who don't understand competencies and, instead, make vast generalisations about a person based on their age, gender etc.

Employers wants high performers. High performance at work is not a factor of age. High performance at work is a combination of technical skills, behavioural competencies and motivation.

ALL recruiters and hiring managers should focus on these three components of a person they are interviewing and not their age.
Comment by Bill Smith on July 29, 2010 at 10:31am
All of the recruiters here seem to be missing a key point. WE recruit based on the specifications mandated by our clients. If we know a certian client looks for younger candidates then we send them what they ask us for to retain their business. As a recruiter it is not my job to argue with my clients about the qualifications for the position they want to hire for or inject my personal opinion of their hiring practices. In a perfect world this would be the case but it doesn't really apply to the agency/client structure we currently have in place. For instance, if I have a company that has historically only hired candidates under 30, then I should target these candidates in my recruiting process. If I don't then the client will respond poorly and their faith in my ability to fill their jobs could come into question. Not to mention the fact that I won't make any money...........
Comment by Paul Hanchett on July 29, 2010 at 10:42am
Ageism is alive and well in IT/Software Development. It usually comes in the form of an applicant being "over qualified". (According to statistics a very large fraction of the work force in the US is over qualified for the position they hold.) This tends to keep more experienced job seekers unemployed for longer periods of time. After about six months they are considered "stale" and no longer qualified because they have been away from their profession too long.

Many times policies about not hiring over qualified individuals is actually policy (even if it is not written down). A few studies have been done and they seem to show that experienced employees are not so much a liability as management folklore claims, but that they must be managed in a more participative manner-- oddly, older employees seem to think they are deserving of some respect for their accumulated experience!

I think many times managers (and even some HR people) are not aware of the psychological defects and biases that drive their decisions, especially when those decisions cannot be based wholly on objective criteria; matching an applicant to a non-trivial job is the HR equivalent of an NP-Complete math problem-- Some choices are demonstrably bad but there is no way to prove which is best.


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