It’s an issue not often discussed in relation to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I), but ageism is a challenge of growing concern in the global economy. As the population ages and birthrates decline, older workers will represent a more significant percentage of the workforce. Many will delay retirement, either because they cannot afford to do so, or simply because they like to work. Some may change careers or start something completely new in their “second act.”
As these older workers look to take entry-level positions and grow their careers, many companies may not be prepared to hire them. Mona Mourshed, CEO of the non-profit organization Generation, told The McKinsey Podcast that “only about 50 percent of companies consider age part of their DE&I strategy.”
“[H]iring managers, and this is across sector and across seven countries, consistently said they perceived only about 15 to 18 percent of the 45-plus candidates they saw to be a fit for the roles for which they were hiring,” said Mourshed.
Other research suggests that the economy suffers when older workers are pushed out of the workforce. A study by the AARP found that the US economy lost $850 billion in GDP in 2018 due to older Americans being out of work, unable to change careers, or stalled in their career paths. This lost value doesn’t account for older workers who leave knowledge and personnel gaps when they leave the workforce, another economic loss that is hard to quantify.
Ageism profoundly affects the economy and financial stability of older workers, but companies stand to lose a tremendous amount of experience, knowledge, and talent when they neglect to include older workers in their DE&I focus.
Here are four ways to widen your DE&I initiatives to combat ageism in the workplace:
1. Screen your recruiting process for subtle or unconscious bias
Eliminating a requirement for dates on an employment application is just the first step. When recruiting for new hires, be sure to screen for words that unconsciously suggest a bias toward youth. Requirements like “high-energy” or “digital native” could communicate that older workers need not apply. Review your process from start to finish through the eyes of someone 45 or older. What subtle messages can you revise or eliminate?
2. Create multi-generational teams
Whenever possible, create teams that include people from all age groups. Encourage managers whose teams have older workers to amplify those voices.
3. Capture knowledge
Encourage a culture of knowledge sharing. Create opportunities for older workers to share their company and industry knowledge. For employees embarking on new careers, capture the knowledge they bring to work in general. Openly acknowledge soft skills that older employees acquired in previous positions. When employees complete training, ask them to share their new knowledge or takeaways with colleagues.
4. Include workers 45+ in formal mentoring and training
Remember, 45 is not “old”! An employee who has returned to school to learn new skills or complete a degree may have 20, 30, or even 40 more years left for work. Don’t neglect those employees when opportunities arise for mentoring or training. Developing your older workers can pay enormous dividends for both of you.
For many people aged 45 and over, the best is yet to come. They may feel optimistic and excited about what their next decades have to offer, and they may have no intention of retiring at a particular time. By including a focus on combatting ageism in your DE&I initiatives, you’ll improve the economic outlook of older employees and widen your own company’s experience and knowledge.