Ageism: It’s real, and needs to stop

It’s unbelievable to me that ageism has become such a big thing. What kind of crazy concept is this? But it’s true. Three in five older employees have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. That’s a very high number of people who are being discriminated against for having gained expertise.

Today, ageism isn’t what people think it is, either. When most folks think of ageism, they think it affects people who are around retirement age or have retired. That’s just not true today.

Ageism now affects a huge population of what I call “prime age” workers. In fact, 66% of people at the young age of 40 have felt ageism. So, by the time you reach a solid level of experience to qualify you as an expert, whereby others should appreciate what you’ve done and you should be teaching and mentoring the younger folks in your industry, now you get labeled as overqualified, unqualified or unfit to work.

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And the older workforce is growing. More than a third of the workforce (almost 35%) will be 50-plus by 2022. Meanwhile, Americans ages 65 and older are expected to be the fastest-growing segment in the workforce through 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Why? Many more people are delaying retirement for two main reason. First, people really do enjoy working, contributing and being part of something. Second, many older people simply cannot retire due to the cost of living as well as the fact we are all living longer these days.

Statistics like “three in five workers over 45 have experienced age discrimination at work” from credible sources like AARP abound in the past few years and reports that older people struggle to get work in the new corporate world are everywhere. One in four have heard negative comments about their age from a boss or coworker, and 12% suspected they were passed up for a promotion or another chance of getting ahead due to their age.

In the same survey, 44% of those looking for work recently said that they were asked for their birth date or other age-related information — which is illegal.

It’s time to get real about ageism because we are all living longer and quite frankly, 40 is not old. Let’s assume you are in a workforce leadership capacity. 2020 has shocked the world with Covid-19 and we’ve seen unprecedented international anti-discrimination campaigns in terms of racism, and rightly so. The time for discrimination in any form as a corporate strategy is over.

HR and talent acquisition leaders would be wise to start leveraging their time, money and resources to what will make their organization look more appealing to skilled workers. There are many companies with a global perception they only hire young people and that’s less appealing to a great many potential and high-skilled candidates in the marketplace.

No one is saying doing the right thing is easy. But actively working to make things harder for society is never a good strategy. And, if you are part of an ageist culture, how will feel when your organization is planning your exit strategy? Food for thought.

Vinay Singh

Vinay Singh
Vinay Singh is a workforce development and talent acquisition strategy consultant. Singh is the author of Your Future in Pieces, which discusses how ageism affects your career. Connect with him onLinkedIn.

Vinay Singh

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