How to make sure your company isn't discriminating against older workers: 7 tips

Despite their experience and strong performance ratings, older workers are hired less in tech. Here are ways for your company to avoid ageism in the office.

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When you hear "workplace diversity," you usually think along the lines of gender or race. However, in the tech industry, another form of discrimination often arises: Ageism.

Despite performancing increasing with age, in the tech industry, GenXers are hired 33% less than their workforce representation, and Baby Boomers are hired 60% less, according to a recent report from Visier. Meanwhile, Millennials are hired 50% more in tech.

At 38 years old, the average age of tech workers tends to be younger than their non-tech counterparts, at 43 years old. At the tech giants, it skews younger: The median age of Facebook employees in 2014 was 29; at Amazon and Google, it was 30. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg once famously said: "Young people are just smarter."

SEE: How CXOs can develop a diverse workforce (Tech Pro Research)

This could be happening for a number of reasons, according to Josie Sutcliffe, vice president of marketing at Visier. "One might be cost consciousness--the idea that younger workers have lower average salaries than older workers, and so companies can control their costs by having a higher proportion of younger workers," she said.

As the report found, the typical salary lifecycle has workers earning the lowest average salaries in their 20s, rapidly rising until reaching their peak salary in their early 40s, Sutcliffe noted.

There also may be conscious or unconscious bias related belief that younger workers, who graduated from college more recently, have more relevant skills, Sutcliffe said. "In tech, where innovation is critical to success, there may be an association of innovation with youth," she added.

From age 40 onward, non-manager workers in tech enter what Visier calls the "Tech Sage Age," and are increasingly likely to receive top performance ratings, compared to those in non-tech jobs. And a Dropbox survey of more than 4,000 IT workers found that people over age 55 were actually less likely than their younger colleagues to find using tech in the workplace stressful.

However, these professionals are less likely to get hired than their younger counterparts: 41% of available tech talent is Gen X, yet Gen X makes up only 27% of new hires. In contrast, a similar proportion of Gen X talent exists in non-tech fields (45%), but in those jobs, Gen X makes up 35% of new hires.

Baby Boomers make up less than 12% of the tech workforce, compared to nearly 27% of the workforce as a whole, the report found.

Tech companies that heavily hire Millennials are more likely to see turnover, the report found: Resignation rates are highest for this younger generation, and drop as workers age. The resignation rate for Gen Xers and Baby Boomers is only 10%.

"Older workers resign at a much lower rate than younger workers," Sutcliffe said. "This gives employers a key business reason for hiring more older workers: To reduce turnover costs, which--for knowledge workers like those in tech, can be 150% or more of the worker's annual salary."

SEE: Why a multi-generational team is key to business success

Tips for workers and employers

The first step to getting hired is to get the interview, Sutcliffe said. To avoid any intentional or unintentional bias in recruiting processes, candidates should review their resume: Does it emphasize your key experiences and achievements, or your age? "Younger workers are more likely to be assumed to be innovative risk-takers with 'the latest' skill sets," Sutcliffe said. "Ensure your resume captures your innovativeness, your know how, and the strengths you would bring to the team as a coach and mentor."

"Older workers need to sell themselves on their skills, and their abilities to create, solve problems, and innovate," said Helen Dennis, a specialist in aging, employment, and retirement. "They need to think in terms of the competitive edge, not only for themselves, but how they can make their employer more competitive, and what they can add."

Having a workforce that is diverse in age gives an opportunity for mutual mentorship, Dennis said. "It's based on the assumption that what you can do together is much better than any single person, or any group that is totally homogeneous."

Employers can take the following steps to ensure they avoid ageism in their workforce, the Visier report stated:

1. Review your workforce data to understand the current state of age equity within your organization's promotions, salary levels, turnover, and performance ratings.

2. Set objectives and develop a plan with manageable steps (and a way to monitor your progress) that will help your organization achieve an inclusive work environment.

3. Keep in mind that, as with ethnic and gender equity, age equity is a cultural issue--if pockets of ageism exist within your organization, you will need to devise plans to address them not only via better HR practice and policy rollouts, but through culture change.

SEE: Myth busted: Older workers are just as tech-savvy as younger ones, says new survey

4. Consider the age composition of specific teams, departments, and business units and how managers can build diversity--studies have found that diverse teams perform better.

"Some believe it is part of 'looking like your customer'--the idea that if your company looks like your customer, you perform better," Sutcliffe said. "This may be so, but I think it is more about bringing together a diversity of backgrounds and experience to create a better plan and achieve better results."

5. Consider implementing a version of the Rooney Rule for age, specifically for teams or roles where the workforce is less diverse in age: for every position you have to fill, consider one or more older candidates.

6. Develop hiring practices that reduce the potential for intentional or unintentional bias in the screening out of older applicants.

7. Develop hiring practices that specifically do not screen out candidates based on the length of their unemployment--while this report focused on systemic ageism, many individual stories suggest older unemployed workers struggle to get hired, and studies indicate recruiters screen out candidates that have been unemployed for longer periods of time.

Image: iStockphoto/DragonImages

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