Workers age 65 and above represent the fastest-growing contingent of talent, yet that group is the most overlooked. Add gender to the factor, and potential talent is even more discarded. Add race and gender to the equation, and the possibility of obtaining work at 65+ is almost impossible.
Right now as many people are turning 80 as there are babies being born. Falling fertility rates mean nearly every country could have shrinking populations by the end of the century. And, while many predicted another baby boom when the pandemic hit, the opposite occurred, with birth rates dropping around the world in 2020. In the US, the birth rate dropped 7%.
Essentially, the average age is increasing around the world, yet the average age in the workplace does not mirror that fact.
Age bias and discrimination occur whenever age is used to stereotype or discriminate against others. In reality, age bias doesn’t just impact older people. It also affects the youngest of our workforce beginning their careers, expected to work insane hours for low pay and a free lunch on Friday.
Rejection of certain aged applicants based on the perceived value they offer and the exploitation of younger workers leave all ages feeling worthless, invisible and powerless to do anything about it.
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If we don’t provide employment opportunities for all-aged workers, the projected number of 65+ living in poverty is expected to double. And, if we don’t change the workplace culture around age, younger workers will also age out of work before they achieve the financial security to last them through their lifetime.
The projection of a 60 to 80-year work life and the increasing numbers of centenarians is just one indication that it is past time for a new and healthier narrative around aging and work. This indicator alone creates the urgency to address these questions:
- How can we adapt to a 60 to 80 work life with safe and repeating on ramps and off ramps to ensure health and wellness?
- How can we build trust across diverse, differently aged talent?
In the same way that leaders have focused awareness and bridge-building on other dimensions of diversity, we must do the same across the generations.
Equity Across the Age Spectrum
At both ends of the age spectrum, employees express frustration with the lack of development and opportunities. On the one hand, younger employees are told they need more experience. On the other, older workers are deemed out-of-touch and are being made redundant. In both scenarios, ageist stereotypes prevent organizations from fully leveraging their most valuable investment–their talent.
To create workplace age equity, every effort should be made to reduce age bias and stereotyping and make it clear with a written policy that the company has zero-tolerance for any form of bias and discrimination–including age, across the age spectrum.
Every company policy and process should be reviewed with an equity lens across all dimensions of diversity — age included. And every company should review its equal employment statements to ensure that age is included in the list of protected categories.
When leadership focuses on age inclusion and equity, employees receive the training and education they need to recognize their own biases and hold themselves and those around them accountable.
However, because age is rarely included in the DEI equation, many employee cultures are not learning how age bias and discrimination show up in the workplace. Nor are they being schooled on the intersection of age across other dimensions of diversity, including ableism.
The exclusion of older workers is particularly unsettling given that it predicts the future for everyone younger. That threat becomes, psychologically speaking, a shadowed threat, undermining trust and a sense of belonging.
Helping employees recognize their own unconscious bias is part of any diversity, equity and inclusion initiative — and understanding how age bias manifests in the workplace and how to effectively challenge it is a critical first step. Leaders just need to recognize the urgency and do something about it.