Ageism in the Workplace: What it Is and What to Do About It

In recent years, organizations across all industries have made strides when it comes to building diverse and inclusive teams. In fact, companies are increasingly hiring and promoting employees from historically underrepresented groups, and they’re also extending offers to more and more women, who now make up the bulk of the U.S. workforce. But despite this progress, there’s still a lot more work to be done, as outlined in Hired’s 2021 Wage Inequality Report

While organizations might have improved the gender and ethnic diversity of their teams, many of them are still discriminating in other regards, such as on employees who are further on in their careers. This form of discrimination called ageism.

What is ageism?

Simply put, ageism is a prejudice that causes organizations to overlook qualified older candidates and hire younger workers instead. 

According to the AARP, ageism is pervasive in America. One recent study found that nearly 25% of workers 45 and older have been the subject of disparaging comments due to their age. What’s more, roughly 60% of older workers have seen or experienced ageism in the workplace. Ageism is perhaps most prevalent in the tech sector, where seven of the largest 18 tech firms have a median employee age of 30 or younger.

Add it all up and it comes as no surprise that the same survey found that 76% of older workers agree that ageism is a major obstacle standing in between them and a new job. 

For this reason, many older workers tend to stay at jobs longer than their younger peers; they’re fearful that they might have a hard time switching jobs.

What causes ageism?

Ageism is a bias that makes businesses see older employees as more of liabilities than assets. 

In an age of technological innovation, companies might think that older employees might not be technically proficient enough to work productively. At the same time, older individuals are thought to be stuck in their ways, making it harder for them to embrace change or try something new.

In some instances, ageism might be linked to the fact that older employees tend to earn more than their younger colleagues due to their deeper professional experience. Cash-conscious companies might opt to extend offers for candidates just out of college who are happy to work for less.

How COVID-19 exacerbated the ageism problem

It’s no secret that the pandemic upended all of our lives, causing major disruptions at work and at home. When COVID-19 first made landfall, many businesses were forced to rapidly transition to remote work. Others had to lay off workers, which contributed to a massive surge in unemployment numbers.

Unfortunately, the older segment of the population was hit hardest by this trend. In fact, older workers were 17% more likely to lose their jobs than younger ones. Because of this, older workers faced higher unemployment rates than their younger peers for the first time in nearly a half-century, according to PBS.

The good news is that — while the deck may be stacked against older workers to some extent — all hope is not lost. With the right approach, older professionals can overcome the bias of ageism in the job search, ending up with meaningful employment on the other side.

With all this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the tactics you can employ to navigate your job search in your later years.

How you can combat ageism and be confident in your job search

First things first: Update your resume so that it fits on one page and is reframed in a way that reflects your current goals. After you’ve done that, it’s time to start looking for work.

As you begin your job search, here are five tips to keep in mind that can help you overcome the challenges associated with ageism — and move forward to the next chapter of your career with a positive mindset.

1. Demonstrate your energy

At the end of the day, companies are looking to hire energetic, passionate individuals. You might have worked for 25 years in corporate America and have all the requisite skills and experience, but if you come across as low-energy or like you’re just going through the motions, hiring managers may not be convinced enough to gamble on your candidacy. 

Instead of talking about all your experience, lead with your energy and convey your passion and excitement for the company and role.

2. Develop new skills

Let’s face it: Some level of technical skills are a must in almost every job today and if you don’t have at least basic computer skills, it’s going to be a lot harder for you to land a new job in your later years.

Luckily, there’s an easy fix to this: Commit yourself to continuous learning and always try to develop new skills and learn new things. One easy way to do this is to complete certifications through popular business platforms like General Assembly, Exponent, Educative, and AWS. 

3. Be curious and teachable

Succeeding in today’s ultra-collaborative business landscape requires being a team player and willing to be flexible. By demonstrating your curiosity and teachability throughout the interview process, you can prove that you have the right mindset to become a critical contributor to the team.

Two ways to show your willingness to learn and ability to quickly acquire new skills is by taking up interesting hobbies (e.g., learning how to write code) and taking on volunteer jobs (e.g., mentoring at-risk youth).

4. Lead your interviews

Acing an interview isn’t just about giving good answers to each question. It’s about forming a personal relationship and connection with the person on the other side of the table (or the Zoom call).

By connecting with your interviewer on a deeper level and bringing a positive, pleasant attitude to the session, you can make a great first impression which can carry you to the finish line and lead to a job offer.

5. Arm yourself with data

When you’re older in your years, you need to be cognizant of the fact that your interviewer is likely thinking about how your age might be a disadvantage. So, you need to be prepared to defuse those objections right out of the gate.

One way to do that is by bringing data to the table. For example, research suggests that workers continue racking up knowledge and expertise well into their 80s — and that those two traits correlate with job performance. What’s more, data suggests that the average successful startup founder is 45-years-old. 

It’s also important to make sure you have a good understanding of what a fair salary would be for your experience and role. Our latest report showed that older professionals were offered lower salaries than younger professionals for the same role, so make sure you leverage tools like the Hired Salary Calculator to understand your value before the interview.

The more nuggets of information like this you have floating around your head, the more confident you will be when you finally sit down at the table.

Ready to land your next job?

With the right mindset and a determination to land a new job, it’s possible to overcome the challenges associated with ageism and start the next phase of your career. By keeping these tips in mind as you begin your next job search, the task might be a little easier and less daunting. Tools like Hired that provide transparency in the hiring process can also help to reduce uncertainty and increase the likelihood that you will find the right job at the right terms for you. Good luck!