“Age does not play a role” – or the uneven fight against ageism in the labor market.

    • For HR
    • Webinar by AskHenry


This concept may not be familiar to you, but it applies to our everyday life. Perhaps you have even been subjected to them?

“In the United States, 70% of people aged 60 or older said they had experienced some form of age discrimination. In another study, conducted in Europe, 60% of people aged 50 or older said they had experienced some form of age discrimination.”

At the root of the ageism problem are prejudices, stereotypes and cognitive errors. These are responsible for unrelated beliefs about a person’s behavior, such as that a person 50+ cannot handle technology.

The situation for young people entering the labor market is not painted in warmer colors because of the widespread problem of adultism. Adultism involves primitivizing young people and attributing to them characteristics such as irresponsibility, lack of maturity, among others. It is based on the belief that life experience is strongly related to age.

Age discrimination phenomena usually manifest themselves in indirect ways, says Nicole Tomanek, Head of People & Culture at AskHenry.

In the vast majority of cases, candidates hurt by this phenomenon do not receive feedback that makes it clear that the reason their person was rejected from the recruitment process was due to concerns related to their age, so they can only hypothesize about it. This is an extremely difficult situation, because the candidate is left without feedback on the basis of which they can discuss the concerns or improve anything in their future recruitment processes.

Among my client histories, there was only once a situation where a client was told that he was “too old” for the team. It happened at an IT company,” – says Dorota Hetmańczyk – Żuchalska, a career consultant with more than 13 years of experience, who is often approached by people who suspect being wronged on the grounds of ageism.

What can candidates harmed by ageism and adultism do?

Changing your attitude can be very effective. If you don’t, and you think you are being discriminated against in the job market, you can very easily build yourself into a “victim” role. Such a thought can greatly impair your presentation during recruitment, or at networking meetings. What I encourage clients to do is to build their presentation on the strengths they have, their competencies. Also, ask yourself/yourself how do you think about mature or young people? – Dorota Hetmańczyk – Żuchalska states.

What I think reinforces the ageism phenomenon is the stereotypes that are still in place, how we think about mature people 50+ and young people 20+,” – she continues. Here are sentences for self-reflection that I encourage clients to use in a career coaching conversation:

  • Ask yourself how many times have you thought that an employee over 50 or even older no longer embraces technology, is slower to learn ….
  • Ask yourself why a young inexperienced can not be a leader or manager ?
  • Have you ever heard a comment from a colleague at work: “We had a person over 50 working for us but he completely failed ?
  • How often do you make inferences about candidates based on your past experiences with people 40+ who, for various reasons, did not pass the recruitment process ?

The phenomenon of ageism will not disappear, but we can with our attitude and approach reduce it in our perspective. I follow the motto: “I know what I have influence on and what I don’t have influence on, I leave and don’t focus on it.” – she concludes.

What can recruiters do to counter age discrimination on the grounds of the recruitment process? Check out Nicole Tomanek’s advice:

  • Avoid age-related terms at the job offer stage – research has shown that the content of a job ad is an important determinant of whether or not a candidate will ultimately apply to a particular company. It also shows the organizational culture of a given company and its values. At the stage of creating a job offer, avoid age-related terms such as “young, dynamic team”, “experienced veteran”, “10 years of experience required”.
  • Focus on objective verification of competencies – Define recruitment criteria based on competencies and skills. Work on a competency matrix, and conduct the recruitment process in a structured way that allows comparison of candidates.
  • Raise awareness – Ensure access to knowledge and regularly remind recruiters of the biases they succumb to. Promote age diversity within and outside the organization.
  • Monitor the selection and recruitment process – Conduct regular reviews of reasons for rejection of candidates on the ground of individual recruitment projects. Take not only awareness-raising measures, but also remedial ones. React to discrimination!