How To Increase Age Diversity in the Workplace

By Astrid Wonderley on June 10, 2022

You might think that Gen Z and Millennials are the growing workforces, but that’s not the case. Instead, it’s a group some are referring to as the “gray wave.”

“While the overall American labor force is projected to grow by 5.5 percent over the next decade, the 65+ workforce will grow by a whopping 61 percent,” according to Glassdoor’s Job & Hiring Trends 2020 report.

Historically, Americans retire at age 62. Why is this generation working longer? They are healthier, have less physically demanding jobs, and when compared to previous generations, they must continue working to earn more for their retirement.

In 2020 and beyond, recruiters need to adapt as Baby Boomers become the fastest- growing segment of the workforce. To effectively recruit this generation, we have to address ageism and the lack of age diversity in the workplace.

Acknowledge ageism

HR and organizations have a responsibility to follow the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967, which forbids employment discrimination against people that are age 40 or older. At the front-line of an organization’s hiring, recruiters need to be equipped with the tools and processes to enforce ADEA. Unfortunately, numerous studies indicate that age discrimination is a very real issue for many Americans.

In 2017 research published by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, they found “job candidates between the ages of 29 and 31 received 35 percent more callbacks than those ages 64 to 66, despite having similar qualifications and skills on more than 40,000 dummy applications.”

Similarly, the Urban Institute tracked older adults in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) from 1992 to 2016 and found that about 50% of full-time, full-year workers between the ages of 51 to 54 experience an employer-related involuntary job separation after age 50. Both studies indicate the lack of age diversity in the workplace.

Recruiters play a critical role in helping change this trend and creating positive hiring experiences for people of all ages.

Cast an inclusive recruiting net

Make sure that when you are casting your net to find candidates, you aren’t excluding anyone. For example, don’t have maximum experience guardrails and don’t target ads based on age.

A recent article in the New York Times reported that dozens of leading employers in the United States, including Amazon, Target, and Facebook, placed recruitment ads limited to particular age groups. In one case the ad targeted people aged 25-36 in a specific city. People outside that age group never saw the ad.

Avoid making assumptions about what it means to be older. For example, don’t assume an older person demands a higher salary. Or that older adults aren’t tech-savvy. One way to include everyone is to look at your job descriptions and make sure you aren’t using language that implies youth.

An article published by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) suggested words that might discourage older candidates from applying:

  • Digital native
  • Guru
  • Ninja
  • GPA of 3.5 or higher

While the intention may not be to exclude older workers, experts say these phrases can have that result.

Create a more equitable screening process

Candidates of all ages bring a diverse range of skills, perspectives, and cognitive abilities. Unfortunately, not all applicants are viewed on a level playing field, regardless of their traits and abilities. But there are steps recruiters can take to create a more equitable screening process.

Start by providing unintentional bias training. Reinforce protocol that discourages hiring teams from reviewing a candidate’s social online profile and photos, as these accounts can reveal someone’s age. Consider using “blind resume reviews,” which remove identifying factors such as names and dates of employment.

Among other tools, assessments can help an employer level the playing field to evaluate candidates’ cognitive skills to predict whether they will succeed once on the job. Leveraging assessments help organizations make hiring decisions based on data, rather than their age, their experience, or their appearance, improving age diversity in the workplace.

Promote the power of varied perspectives

Creativity and innovation become possible when organizations have a diverse workforce, with each member adding a unique perspective to achieving goals and objectives. Many 65+ workers have the long-term industry knowledge and a wealth of experience that newer members in the workforce may not yet have.

Make sure your organization’s diversity goals encourage inclusion for all. Work to remove bias about race, national or ethnic origin, religion, marital status, physical or mental disability, sex, pregnancy or gender, sexual orientation, and age from your recruiting and operational practices.

The image of today’s typical employee is evolving. Thankfully, it’s no longer limited by race, gender, age, or any other characteristic. Employers who welcome all workers—including those who are older—are better able to expand their talent pool and find the right person for the job. Likewise, thanks to the diversity of thought and perspective in the organization, these companies are better positioned to understand and meet customer expectations.