Deteriorating leaf with green and brown patches

An organisation isn’t diverse if there is unconscious ageism

An organisation isn’t diverse if there is unconscious ageism

Posted on August 2021 By Nicholas Farley

Deteriorating leaf with green and brown patches

When diversity is assessed in an organisation, the things that typically get reviewed are gender, ability, culture and linguistic diversity.

The benefits of having a diverse workforce have been widely reported. But, one diversity segment that is often overlooked is age. Employees have a responsibility to prevent ageism in the workplace, but beyond that, managing diverse and inclusive multigenerational teams is crucial in guaranteeing a high performing and productive workforce.

Tapping into the skills of a multigenerational workforce brings many advantages for small businesses. A diverse mix of ideas and skills, productivity improvements and innovation are benefits of having a strongly diverse strategy for your recruitment agenda – and attracting and retaining these older candidates is critical to achieve this.

Of 1,109,188 receiving JobSeeker and Youth Allowances in June 2021, 452,755 were aged 45-64 years. This represents nearly half of people actively looking for work.

Age discrimination continues to be an issue in many Australian workplaces. However, in every day life, age 45 wouldn’t be considered older. But the age that Australian workers are considered “older” is becoming progressively younger – with about a quarter of Australian businesses stating they’re reluctant to hire older workers.

But surely someone aged 45 isn’t considered “older”? The age at which workers are considered “older” is becoming progressively younger and it can be different depending on the employer. However, it is alarming to see nearly 50% of employers are reluctant to hire older Australians.

So if you’re ruling out this age group, you’re reducing the potential candidate pool by 50% and this number is growing as our society ages. In a candidate short market, this could be the difference between filling your vacancy and it being open for months.

Ageism as with any “ism” expressed during recruitment in Australia manifests as an unconscious bias towards older workers. The myths around this include the subconscious assumption an older worker will be looking to retire soon, they don’t have up to date skills or they are over qualified. It may be assumed they don’t have the digital literacy; they aren’t willing to learn new skills or new ways of learning. These assumptions are simply false and these cautious attitudes actually constrict businesses from reaping the benefits.

In 2019, Council on the Ageing (COTA) Victoria together with RMIT, Future Social Services Institute and Good Shepherd Australia and New Zealand and with the support of Department of Social Services commenced a pilot project to test what would be needed to retrain older unemployed jobseekers.

The first cohort started their Certificate III two weeks before the pandemic hit Australia in March 2020. Some didn’t have Internet in their homes, but had to move online to commence and complete their course. The age range of the participants in the trial was 50 to 75 years old. Last month 30 of the original 37 graduated and the majority secured employment prior to graduation.

The cohort represented a group of people, diverse in age, physical abilities, experience, skills and culture. They demonstrated a willingness to engage in education and learn new skills. With some encouragement from the sidelines and some practical assistance in IT, study techniques and interview skills, they exceeded all their own expectations and achieved their employment goals.

Generally, the life expectancy of Australians are increasing and living healthier lives, so don’t assume someone is unfit for the roles your recruiting for. Having a highly diverse team of staff from the Gen-Z to Boomer generation can eliminate the potential for group-think and gives it the best chance of success with these varied opinions.

With 50% of the recruitment pool in this category, if you’re struggling to fill a role and haven’t explored this option – this could be why.

This article has been adapted from a piece from Inside Small Business.