Age is not a reliable marker for capability


Attracting and retaining older workers, as well as tapping into the benefits of a multigenerational workforce, brings many advantages for small businesses. Diversity of skills and ideas, enhanced productivity and innovation can only come with having diversity high on your recruitment strategic agenda and that diversity needs to include diversity in age. Sarah McCann-Barlett the CEO of Australian HR Institute says,”Organisations aren’t taking advantage of all that older workers have to offer. It’s simple, if you are not nurturing older talent you are missing out.”

Ensuring that our HR practices do not exclude a valuable portion of the workforce in your business is an important step to take to create a diverse workforce that represents all of the communities you work in or sell to. That’s simply good practice.

Addressing unconscious bias in the recruitment panel around ageism is the first step. Ageism isn’t just anti mature workers. It’s addressing the stereotypes we have towards different age groups. Young people for an example are seen by Australians as “attractive and still finding their way”, lacking experience. This can be true, but many young people have been engaging with tech for longer than even your senior employees so they have something to add. In the same study “Australians see older people as nice (if frail) onlookers to life”.

What is really surprising in this study is that Australians regard 51-55 age group as “older”.  I, for one (whose next birthday will be the festival of fifty) do not consider myself a nice onlooker to life. It was a sobering thought to think that others do. COTA Victoria’s recent Reach Train and Employ trial project busted the stereotype myths of older workers demonstrating they are willing and able to learn new skills by retraining into a new career. Our participant age range was 50-75. Having a multigenerational recruitment panel to combat unconscious bias towards the stereotypes of older workers, particularly when it comes to deeming someone as ‘overqualified’ or assuming they do not have the technological know-how or ability to learn new skills, is important. Age is not a reliable marker for capability.

Okay, so you want a diverse workforce in your business that includes age diversity, but older people are not applying for your jobs. So, what’s preventing older workers from applying for the vacancies you have? More often than not, it’s the language you use in your job ads. The language you use unconsciously applies an age bias in your job postings. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research Report “ageist stereotypes may affect the hiring of older workers” and further “that job-ad language that is highly related to ageist stereotypes is associated with hiring discrimination”. For example, if you use language in your job ads like “vibrant fun team” you will unconsciously filter out applicants based on age. If you added the words “young, dynamic or highly developed IT skills” you may find that many older workers won’t apply. Instead, language like “experience in using CRM Database software is a bonus, but training is provided” is much more inclusive of those who may have basic level IT skills but are willing and able to learn.

Removing age as a marker for capability in the recruitment process and really considering the skills you need for the position regardless of age and being conscious that your aim is to recruit the best person for the job regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or disability will ensure you actually do recruit the best person for the job. By focusing on recruiting a diverse and inclusive workplace including age diversity does not just make good sense from a social responsibility point of view, it also makes good economic sense.