Ageism: the unrecognised form of discrimination?
The results of Harvey John’s inaugural Diversity & Inclusion Survey are almost ready to be published. We had an overwhelming response (over 700 individuals took the time to complete the survey in early 2022) and we have already learned so much. The premise behind conducting the survey was to gain a better understanding of current diversity and inclusion issues in the accountancy, tax & treasury and legal professions, and their impact on businesses and firms throughout the UK. Amongst the data we have collated, it was fascinating to discover that, although we hadn’t directly asked a question on the matter, ageism was repeatedly mentioned in the free text section of the survey as a form of discrimination that people are currently facing.
As someone who has experienced this issue within her own network of contacts, our Office Administrator Alexandra Louise has reflected on some of the comments collated in the survey and how she has seen this impact recruitment practices recently.
Since starting in recruitment a few years ago, I have had friends and family talk to me about their current jobs and when they are looking for new roles, ask for advice on their next career move. During these conversations, something I repeatedly heard was when searching for a new role there seems to be a subtle but definite trend of ageism creeping in through some job adverts and even hiring processes. It occurred to me that some companies seem to be letting the year someone was born cloud their judgment when it came to assessing suitability for a job vacancy.
It was also notable from the comments I observed in the Harvey John D&I Survey results that people felt that ageism wasn’t taken as seriously as other forms of discrimination. An example of this is reflected in this quote from a respondent:
“...ageism. This is the only type of discrimination that has not been addressed. Religion, race, gender, and sexual orientation have all been addressed but no one cares about ageism” or is just not thought of at all, as another commented, “ageism appears to be a growing but sadly unrecognised form of discrimination
This was further backed up by other respondents' comments:
“I am concerned about possible age discrimination, which is difficult to prove, and whether this might affect my job search.” and it’s not just happening in the UK either, “Speaking about France, there is a blockage to hiring people over 45 years old”.
We hadn’t expected to receive such a strong opinion on ageism in our survey and so it suggests that this is a growing concern.
The Hiring Process
As this wasn’t something we had focussed on, I researched some of the statistics around this issue. A poll conducted by YouGov showed that, since turning 50, 14% of over-50s who are in work believe they have been denied a job due to their age and nearly one in five (18%) have or have considered hiding their date of birth when applying for jobs. Almost half (46%) believe when applying for a job, that their age would be a disadvantage and one in five think that they were viewed by others as less than capable.
Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions show that just over half the people won't be working the year before retirement age. The report predicts that if businesses don’t retain and hire older workers they could face a shortage in skills and experience as older staff leave and there won't be enough younger candidates to replace them.
Although older candidates are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of ageism, this doesn’t mean that younger candidates don’t experience these effects too. In a United Nations Study on ageism, the negative labels attached to younger candidates were “disloyal”, “easily distracted” and “entitled”. Also, younger candidates can have issues when it comes to salary and benefits, specifically younger women.
The issue of ageism is apparent from the very beginning of a job hunt, in the job adverts themselves. The way an advert is worded can be a subtle hint towards a role being marketed for a younger or older candidate. Examples include; asking for a certain amount of years of experience, asking for recent graduates or can even be as subtle as using words such as “dynamic”, “energetic” or “mature”, and “experienced”. Companies need to start considering the effect these words have on the potential candidates that they might be missing out on.
What we can do to help
At Harvey John, we look to combat and challenge this when and where we can.
Here is a brilliant example of how we have helped in the past:
One of our consultants placed an older candidate with a “young” and “dynamic” (there are those words again!) company. They initially overlooked his CV, stating he was “overqualified” for the role, but our consultant challenged this viewpoint and persuaded them to see him. He'd been out of work for a while, so he wanted to step back in at a slightly more junior level - they saw him, loved him and now he is doing well!
Our consultant gave the candidate some sound advice for the interview - to discuss his longevity and loyalty, as he'd been with companies a long time. This can sometimes help to combat the ageists out there, as (not to stereotype the younger generation) it indicates they may not be as much of a flight risk as their younger counterparts. It also means they bring in a vast amount of experience from other businesses.
“If you want to see a change in the world, you have to start with yourself” - Mahatma Gandhi
We also are aware that we don’t have all the answers and that we aren’t perfect, but we are ready and eager to learn ways that we can help. The Harvey John Diversity & Inclusion Survey 2022 has provided insight and suggestions on how to tackle discrimination when it comes to hiring practices. For example, an interesting suggestion which came from one of our D & I Surveys respondents was to promote “anonymous skills testing” as a more effective recruitment tool rather than discussing chronological work history. There is still a long way to go to tackle ageism and we take this very seriously at Harvey John but as this quote so aptly states “skills can be learned, diversity cannot”.
So no matter how old you are, your economic background or how you identify by race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation we are here to guide our clients and candidates through the recruitment process in a fair, equal and balanced way.