In recruiting for an opening, recruiters and hiring executives need to stay alert to and aware of their own implicit (and perhaps explicit) biases and hold them in abeyance when evaluating candidates. Just as the best candidate for a technical position may look like someone who is barely old enough to work, the best candidate for another position may appear (particularly to a younger interviewer) too old. In both cases, this is ageism at work. Being young does not magically make you a tech wizard, and an older person is not necessarily unaware of the latest advances. It is a critical skill in recruiting to see the person, not their age, gender, disabilities, etc.

Ageism consists of stereotypes, prejudice, or discrimination for or against people because of their chronological age.
ageism tends to reinforce social inequalities as it is more pronounced towards older women, poor people or the neurodiverse.

There are two forms of ageism: hard and soft
. Hard age discrimination is the kind of discrimination that is spelled out in labor laws, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, benefits, and any other term or condition of employment. Soft ageism is mostly interpersonal rather than organizational and consists of microaggressions, myths, and stereotypes. While ageism works both ways (against younger people as well as older) it is considered more prevalent and more of a problem when it is against older workers. One study[1] found that soft discrimination was experienced more often (28.6% of respondents) than hard (15.7%) “with higher occurrences among women, persons in precarious job situation or residents of urban areas.”

Ageism plays a critical role in shaping labor market opportunities and participation for older people (or the lack thereof); it can affect retention, recruitment, and retraining. This ageism is partly driven by myths and stereotypes about older workers, most significantly raising concerns around their health and capacity to work into later life.

Ageism can be understood to affect any group where age is the basis of stereotyping or discrimination. There are three fundamental aspects of ageism:

  • Stereotypes: what we think about people with respect to age
  • Prejudice: what we feel about people with respect to age
  • Discrimination: how we behave towards people with respect to age

When we overlay ageism with other stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination such as racism, classism, sexism, and ableism, we produce a minefield of potential traps that can be avoided by eliminating any consideration of age from the recruiting process.  Evaluating each candidate based on the merits of their individual ability to meet and exceed stated goals and strategic plans is a stronger and more reliable indicator of long term success.

[1] Stypinska, J., Turek, K. Hard and Soft Age Discrimination: The Dual Nature Of Workplace Discrimination.

Eur J Ageing 14, 49–61 (2017).

[1] Ibid.


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