Often described as ‘the last acceptable prejudice’, ageism is increasingly rife inside the cultures of businesses that have spearheaded diversity and inclusion across minority groups. Despite the fact that discriminating by age is illegal across much of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, three in five workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace.
How is ageism impacting business growth, and how can business leaders drive age diversity across their tech teams?
The Benefits of Demographic Diversity
- Access Wider Talent Pools – One third of all workers are now aged over 50, and by 2030 this group will make up 40% of the total workforce. Rising pension ages, the gig economy and financial difficulties due to Covid-19 are increasingly closing the employment age gap and causing more older people to seek employment. Flexible work options and part-time jobs are driving delayed or semi-retirement, meaning a growing abundance of potential job applicants in older demographics. By neglecting to engage with any skilled and experienced group, employers are allowing competitors to snap up the best talent and depriving their organisations of much-needed expertise.
- Hire Skilled Contractors – IT professionals working in contract roles are by nature hired for their depth and breadth of expertise, which can only be acquired through years and usually decades of experience. Contractors are much more likely to belong to Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) or the Millennial generation (born between 1981 and 1996), with over half of contractors aged between 35 and 54 years old. Companies that focus solely on attracting younger freelance, temporary and interim workers will exclude a large proportion of available contractors from their workforce.
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- Create a Truly Diverse and Inclusive Culture – Genuinely diverse cultures are those that represent all groups in society across background, demographic and personal profile. Regular interaction with people who would normally be outside of one’s social group is the best way to eliminate stereotypes and reduce unconscious bias, helping to increase inclusivity for all minority groups.
- Appeal to Customers Across Demographics – In many nations, the over-50s are responsible for more than half of all consumer spending, and represent the most loyal customer bases. Hiring from older demographics ensures that the individuals and teams designing products, analysing customer data and solving customer problems truly understand the wants and needs of older customer groups – driving higher sales, better customer loyalty and greater business growth from a highly valuable customer demographic.
How Tech Teams Can Increase Age Diversity
Acknowledging & Tackling Discrimination in Tech Teams
Tech employers have seen significant accusations of ageism by potential and existing employees in recent times. Silicon Valley companies have faced mass allegations of ageist hiring and firing in the past few years, and in 2020 the number of US tech professionals seeking plastic surgery has skyrocketed as IT workers fear their age will impact their careers.
The websites, social media channels and advertising of many tech companies almost exclusively target younger demographics – even though the oldest Gen Z individuals are currently only 24, constituting a very small section of available talent pools. The average IT professional is 38 years old, compared to 43 years old for non-IT workers. The average manager in an IT position is 42 years old, compared to 47 years old for non-IT roles. This means that although tech talent pools are on average slightly younger than other industries, the majority of potential candidates have an average age of a Millennial and even Gen X rather than Gen Z. Delayed retirement, the long-term effects of Covid-19 and longstanding skills shortages across the tech industry will all contribute to an ageing IT workforce over the next decade.
The first step to tackling any problem is acknowledging its existence and committing to finding a solution. Hiring managers and business leaders who show public support for age diversity and proactively champion the success of older employees will lead from the top in reducing age bias organisation-wide.
Building an Inclusive Employer Brand
Although many companies across sectors are increasingly demonstrating support for diversity and inclusion initiatives, this often doesn’t extend to age. Tech companies in particular favour stock images of models in their 20s and 30s, and feature stories and images of younger people on their websites, PR and social media channels. Simply reviewing content and communications from a different point of view can quickly sense-check the targeting and bias of integral recruitment campaigns.
Organisations can efficiently update their employer brand by utilising the feedback and knowledge of their existing older employees. By asking existing employees from older demographics about their experiences of ageist assumptions or treatment at work, their motivations in their role, and why they chose their employer over a competitor will provide invaluable insights. First-person feedback is unmatched in the ability to help hiring managers understand how different demographics perceive the company, what they want from an employer and how to brand the company as an employer of choice to potential talent in the same demographic.
By adapting candidate attraction campaigns to the interests, challenges and needs of each demographic, employers can increase brand reach and applications from all talent pools.
Addressing Mistaken Beliefs
The rapid advancement of social media channels like TikTok and increasing dominance of YouTube over live television have contributed to a perception that social media is purely for teenagers and twentysomethings. However, whilst those in other age groups are well engaged by companies on LinkedIn, employers may be missing out on potential talent pools due to misperceptions about their popularity:
- Twitter – Twitter is the primary source of news and access to customer service for millions of people aged over 30. The largest age group of Twitter users around the world is aged between 30 and 49: almost half of users fall into this category.
- Facebook – 10% of Facebook’s audiences are in the 45-54 age range, and users aged over 55 constitute Facebook’s fastest-growing user group: the share of American Twitter users aged over 55 alone has more than doubled in the past eight years.
- Instagram – Whilst the highest use of Instagram is represented by people between the ages of 25 and 34, 1 in 3 Instagram users is aged over 35.
The perception that social media is only used by young people generates two negative impacts. Firstly, companies are missing out on audiences of millions, by excluding them from their advertising based on age. Secondly, company social media accounts will not be effectively targeted to appeal to all age groups, meaning that any potential talent who does come across the company’s social media channels will not be engaged – and may even but put off – by content aimed solely at younger audiences.
Understanding the Wants, Needs & Challenges of Different Demographics
Covid-19 has begun levelling the playing field in terms of what each demographic desires most in a new job. Whereas the workplaces of previous decades were more likely to emphasise career longevity than today’s abundance of social and fun-related benefits, younger people in 2021 are increasingly valuing job security and salaries/day rates when considering job offers.
Other similarities abound across age ranges: purpose and meaningful work are the highest contributors to job satisfaction amongst all age groups. Diversity and inclusion are also very important regardless of age: much like Gen Z and Millennials, older workers tend to seek out organisations whose vision, objectives and values align with their own. Although companies typically invest greater costs and resources into training more junior employees, both workers over 40 and workers over 50 exhibit the same enthusiasm for Learning & Development opportunities as their younger colleagues.
The differences in most valued employer attributes may seem smaller, but are equally pivotal to job satisfaction, employee productivity and retention. Workers over the age of 50 are overwhelmingly more likely to value autonomy over recognition, with 20% of professionals over 40 ranking autonomy as the second most important job satisfaction factor. Family life and caring responsibilities have a significant impact upon professional wants and needs, which correlate strongly with age and life stages. In April 2021 Microsoft found that 71% of UK workers would prefer high levels of flexible and home working as a standard following the end of the pandemic. However, flexible and remote working have long been preferred by older demographics: in 2019, 35% of those aged 30-45 wanted the ability to work remotely, compared with just 23% of employees under 30.
Tailoring Recruitment Strategies to Remove Unconscious Bias
The vast majority of biased decision making is unconscious: conducted by those who are not aiming to prejudge or discriminate, but whose pre-formed opinions and preferences count against someone in a disadvantaged or minority group. Creating a fair, equal and inclusive hiring process is not simply achieved by refraining from overt judgement – a full review of the recruitment and hiring process is required to ensure a positive candidate experience from start to finish.
Hiring managers should consider:
- Job Adverts – A job advert is often the first point of contact between a company and a potential candidate, and a positive first impression is paramount in converting a reader into a job applicant. HR departments can remove common ageist language by screening job ads for biased phrases such as ‘recent graduate’ and ‘maximum experience’, and assess for stereotypes and assumptions. HR Managers can conduct training on job advert writing, test and analyse multiple approaches to ad writing, and post adverts across LinkedIn, Facebook and online groups where target audiences are likely to visit.
- Interviewing – An interview panel consisting of three or four individuals of different ages and backgrounds will ensure fairer treatment at interview stage.
- Specialist Partnerships – Recruitment companies with experience hiring across demographics can help companies both attract potential candidates and promote the company’s employer brand in the most engaging way for each demographic. Templeton & Partners have 25 years’ experience recruiting tech talent, and our diverse recruitment team spans four generations.
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