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Is your company missing out on exceptional individuals through unconscious discrimination?

By James Bessant, 16th April 2016

Let’s be upfront immediately; if I asked everyone who reads this post ‘have you made a judgement about someone based purely on their age?’, I would expect 99.99% to put up their hands and say ‘yes’. 

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With most of the focus being on old age discrimination, it is easy to forget younger generations can also be unfairly judged by their older peers.

Discrimination unfortunately happens in all walks of life but age based decisions are always felt hard in your business life. Being turned down for a job or struggling to get an interview can often feel as though businesses are making pre-determined decisions based purely on where you are in your career.

On a personal level, my father was made redundant from the company who he worked for nearly 30 years when he was in his early 50’s. Remembering back to how this personally affected his confidence (before he started his own business) really reiterates to me the importance of keeping an open-mind whenever I start an assignment with a new client. At the time it happened when I was in my teenage years, it did not dawn on me how being out of work can impact someone so heavily but the more you interview people who are facing the same challenges, the greater my understanding comes of how low my father must have felt.

There is no doubt global business has significantly improved over the past 10 years in creating a more inclusive and diverse demographic of employees. However, despite this point, there is still a long way to go before a person’s age should bear no impact on their chances of success when applying for a role.

My opinion is that unconscious discrimination in hiring is most commonplace at a team level. Where a culture and team fit is established which works, it is hard for a line manager to look outside of this as there is too much risk associated with hiring someone who doesn’t fit within the established collective. This fear of ‘breaking the norm’ holds back many companies from using skills and capabilities as a primary factor to hire.

Are you missing out on an exceptional person in your current hiring process?

The next time your hire for your team, remember to think through these five points to ensure you are considering all applicants irrespective of their age:

  1. Remember age is just a number; someone who is younger can have an incredibly mature approach and can be more malleable to fit into your team alongside more established, older colleagues. An older candidate can still have a dynamic, outgoing, fresh approach to the working world.
  2. Age brings wisdom; someone who has worked in a similar capacity in the past (who has perhaps gone beyond the level you are now hiring for but is prepared to take a step back in their career) has been there, seen it and done it. They have faced failure and have learned from their mistakes; they are often in the best position to hit the ground running as they do not have to face such a steep learning skills learning curve coming into a role.
  3. Being toward the end of their career does not mean they do not want to be challenged; a more experienced candidate will often thrive in an environment where they are pushed and challenged to perform successfully on a daily basis. As soon as my father had his own business, he was determined every single day to grow the revenue of his company through to the day he retired in his early 60’s.
  4. ’An upward curve’ can be subtle, unconscious discrimination; we hear plenty of companies asking for candidates on an ‘upward curve’ in their career. While this does not theoretically discriminate against anyone (someone in their early 60’s could still be progressing forward in their career), the unconscious implication is the client wants someone who is still ‘young enough’ to grow and develop in the company. Focus on skills and capabilities when discussing a role rather than the stage of where someone is in their career.
  5. A more diverse workforce can bring greater team stability; always hiring the same type of person (particularly those who are hungry for progression and development) will create a high performing but potentially unstable team where people will continually be looking for the ‘next big thing’ in their career. A greater mix of young and older employees gives stability to your team as these people will often have different priorities to consider (an appreciation of a stable role for an older candidate and the ability to learn and develop for someone who is younger).
  6. Clients and customers value being approached in different ways; there is a reason why major retail brands have a fantastic approach to age diversity. They understand their customer demographic needs to have a different type of customer service given every single day. If I own a company who sells mobile phones, I would hire a varied sales team (young to old) so we could segment our customer base by age.

Recruiters and businesses need to keep an open mind to the skills and value that someone can offer at the latter end (and the very beginning) of their career. I am pleased to confirm our eldest worker has just turned 75 and consistently works over 40 hours per week. He came to us in 2010 and has been working in temporary assignments for the majority of the last six years. 

At Park Street People, our youngest consultant is 21 and our eldest is in their late-50’s. This diverse range of ages perfectly fits our spectrum of clients, who value the different style and approach needed to provide them with a highly effective recruitment solution. 

Before you make a judgement on that next CV, stop and ask yourself ‘Am I missing out on someone who can genuinely and positively add value to my team?’

Tags: age discrimination, older workers, younger workers, recruitment news, employer advice, assign James Bessant

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