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Is ageism depriving your company of top talent?

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By Alexandra Lopez-Pacheco

Has your company reviewed its HR policies and practices for age prejudice? Has it committed to a multi-generational workforce as part of its diversity initiatives? Has it looked not just at how to combat ageism–in both directions–but also how to leverage age diversity for a better culture, increased innovation, improved connection with customers and ultimately, greater business success?

As a hiring manager, have you asked yourself if ageism could be affecting your hiring choices?

Once an invisible prejudice, ageism toward Canadians 45 and older is now starting to draw attention in Canada. Just as with prejudices against women, people of different skin colours and ethnic or religious backgrounds or sexual orientation, ageism is based on false, generalized assumptions that are accepted as fact, denying individuals their individuality and equality as full members of the human race.

When hiring managers are either unaware of their own underlying prejudices or are so prejudiced they think these are legitimate, the result is an ageist filter that is potentially depriving the organization of excellent candidates and thus placing it at a competitive diconfident senior businesswomansadvantage because there are companies that are already leading the age-diversity wave.

“At RBC our focus is around diversity of thoughts and views and opinions and the only way to have that is if you’re bringing people into the organization of all different age backgrounds,” says Kelly Glass, Vice President, Global Recruitment for RBC.  “It’s a wide-open field. The talent market out there is there are a ton of baby boomers with a breadth of experience.

Some are coming to retirement age and they are not ready to stop working and our ability to attract those individuals into the organization who can bring that depth of experience is invaluable to us. We go after capabilities first and I think most large companies that get it and understand the talent market realize everyone has something to bring, depending what you need for that specific role in terms of capabilities. In many cases, we look for very experienced people. In others, we look for very entry level.”

One way for hiring managers to begin the journey toward age diversity is to think about the common assumptions and generalizations based on a person’s age.

Here are some common ones about people 45 plus:
• They expect high salaries.  Some do. Some don’t. It depends on the individual and their circumstances.
• Conversely: they’re happy with below market salaries or part-time work because they have a pension and are just looking for something to do after retirement. Again, some do. Some don’t.
• They lack the energy and drive of younger workers. At any age, energy, vitality, health and drive depend on many factors and there people in their 60s or even 70s and 80s, let alone 40s or 50s who have more energy and drive than some younger people. And if we recognize discrimination against the disabled or those struggling with health issues is wrong for young people, why does it suddenly become OK to discriminate on this basis when a person reaches a certain age?
• They are not tech savvy and are social media shy while everyone under 30 is a wiz at social media.  Some 61% of Facebook users are middle aged or older. The average age of a LinkedIn user is 44. That means there are as many over the age of 44 using LinkedIn as there are younger people, not all of whom are into social media.
• They have difficulty learning new things.  Neuroplasticity has disproven this, but so does real life observation. People learn throughout their lives and careers. Consider this: the number of mature students at universities and colleges, particularly people in their 40s to 60s, has been on the rise over the last decade, as has the number of people in that age group starting new careers or businesses.
• They’re mostly interested in mentoring rather than tackling the next big challenge. As well as being as diverse as the number of people on this earth, all human life is a continuum. Many people, regardless of their age, journey through their entire lives looking for the next big challenge and learning opportunity. Others don’t have the opportunity to do so until later in life.
• They won’t be a good fit with a young team or corporate culture.  This rationale has been used in the past as a barrier for women, people with different coloured skin, sexual orientation or ethnic background. The answer is not exclusion but injecting diversity and confronting prejudice. As well, it really depends on the individual and personality because some people are “old” with closed minds in their 20s and some are “young” and open minded to their last day.  That’s not to say that all people 45 plus are not prejudiced against younger people. The problem is prejudice, not age.
• They are inflexible and stuck in their ways.  According to Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey, there are almost eight million people 45 and older currently working, with some three million of these 55 or older.  To suggest all these workers are managing their day-to-day responsibilities without any flexibility simply because they’ve hit their mid-40s is nonsensical. Worse: it’s discriminatory.

Alexandra Lopez-Pacheco is an associate and journalist at  ThirdQuarter, a national non-profit, recruitment services organization for people aged 45 plus, and a division of Skills Connect Inc. Visit www.thirdquarter.ca   for more information.

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