Ageism is any form of discrimination and stereotyping made against an individual or groups based on their age. There can be many forms of ageism in society. Having preconceived notions, negative attitudes, and discriminatory actions and practices are all classified as ageism.
Although people from various age groups can suffer from ageism, it is most commonly attributed to older individuals. Ageism is not confined to a specific ethnic or social group. Older people can be stereotyped and discriminated against in many sectors of society. From shopping at a store or during medical appointments, people can be subject to ageism, especially in the workplace.
The term “ageism” was coined by Robert Neil Butler in 1969. While the term was only conceived that year, age discrimination has long been experienced by individuals, especially those who are older.
What are some examples of ageism in society?
Oftentimes, ageism is viewed as only a workplace concern. However, it can be seen and experienced in many day-to-day situations by older people. Some examples of how older people may be discriminated against are:
Being refused travel insurance or car insurance;
Being rejected membership to any association or club;
Being on the receiving end of insulting statements such as “old people are slow” or “older people do not get technology”;
Receiving lower quality customer service in establishments compared with younger customers;
What are some signs of ageism at work?
Ageism in the workplace is based on misconceptions, myths, and negative attitudes, and assumptions about older employees
According to an investigation by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), there are three main areas where discrimination against older workers has been found:
Recruitment and hiring: a pattern of hiring younger employees only even if there are qualified candidates who are older;
Being overlooked or not being considered for a promotion because of age
Receiving fewer training opportunities
Not being given challenging work assignments and tasks as a form of “lightening the load”
A pattern of letting go of only older employees
Encouraging early retirement
Is ageism in the workplace illegal?
Yes, it is against federal law to discriminate against an employee based on age. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) is in place to protect applicants and workers aged 40 years and older from discrimination based on age. This encompasses any form of discrimination in hiring, compensation, promotion, termination, benefits, or any term or condition in the life cycle of employment. ADEA is enforced by the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Although ADEA does not cover employees under 40 years old, some states have laws in place to protect younger employees.
Is Ageism in the workplace a common occurrence?
Unfortunately, age discrimination in the workplace is fairly common. Because it is common, a lot of people have accepted it as something that “just happens”. It is difficult to pinpoint an exact prevalence rate for ageism at work because most age discrimination goes by unreported and, therefore, uninvestigated.
For example, older candidates for job vacancies lose the opportunity to be interviewed because of the applicant screening algorithms of some companies. It can also involve insulting or offensive age-based jokes, comments, and statements.
Age discrimination is not just a concern for those who are in their 50s or 60s. A survey conducted by the AARP showed that two out of three workers who are 45 years old and older have seen or experienced first-hand age discrimination at work. Further research shows that 50% of workers over 45 years of age will be pushed out of longtime jobs.
How can organizations prevent ageism?
Like all forms of discrimination, treating an individual unjustly based on age has no benefit. As an employer, businesses have a responsibility to prevent, reduce, and even eradicate ageism in the workplace. The following strategies help prevent ageism:
Check your organization’s culture, policies, and practices. Evaluate how your leaders and employees view ageism in the workplace and identify such cases.
Review your recruitment and interview processes. This involves a step-by-step audit of job descriptions, job announcements, interview questions, and recruitment practices. Are workers of all ages encouraged to apply? Are recruiters aware of certain questions that should be avoided during interviews? Examples are asking a candidate’s age, asking about future marriage plans, and other age-related questions. Check your marketing materials and website images, too. Do your recruitment materials include older workers?
Revisit existing policies and other procedures for any potential age biases or signs.
Develop a policy that defines age discrimination and establish procedures on how leaders should address any ageism concerns. All employees must be aware of this policy.
Offer diversity and inclusion programs that are open to all ages such as learning and training opportunities.
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