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#WorkTrends: Ageism and Its Impact on the Modern Worker

Good news for employees, but kind of concerning for employers. In the coming months, the Supreme Court could make it easier for federal employees to prove that they were discriminated against on the basis of age. I saw some fascinating research in Forbes recently that shows ageism starts as early as the age of forty-two. Forty-two?

We deal with isms today in the workplace, but we don’t tend to focus enough on ageism. Not only that, I think a lot of us don’t even know exactly what it is. Here’s what it is, a brutal truth, as our guest, Vinay Singh, says in his new book, “Your Future in Pieces. The Brutal Truth: How Ageism and Inequality are Destroying America.”

I’m delighted to have Vinay as our guest today, he’s not only an expert on ageism, but he’s also experienced it firsthand, and alarmingly, says, “Today’s workers feel the brunt of it younger than ever.” So let’s get into the realities of ageism and how we can undo this vexing problem, remove the bias, and hopefully protect our employees. The shelf life of a robot is one thing, but the shelf life of a human is an entirely different topic.

Listen to the full conversation or read the recap below. And don’t forget to subscribe, so you never miss an episode. 

[00:32] America is at a crossroads.
[06:42] Do you think ageism is on the rise because there’s a divide between the tech-savvy and the tech-nervous?
[07:43] Everybody is constantly using technology.
[09:14] It’s a huge impact.

It’s illegal to discriminate against people based on their age.

Most of us understand that it’s against the law to discriminate against someone based on the number of years they’ve spent on this planet, but as my guest tells us, “Here’s the brutal truth: ageism exists and we’re all feeling its impact earlier than ever. Essentially it’s one of those isms we just aren’t talking about enough.”

Vinay Singh is a human capital and workforce development strategist and advocacy professional, and author of a new book, “Your Future in Pieces. The Brutal Truth: How Ageism and Inequality are Destroying America.” His passion comes from both his professional life and personal experience. And he’s got a lot to tell us.

America is at a crossroads today

“We’ve got four generations in the workforce and too many employers and executives who are buying into false beliefs and biases.” The data around age discrimination is alarming. Research published by Hiscox shows that 21% of US workers age forty and older have experienced discrimination in the workplace due to their age, and respondents stated they believe they’re most likely to experience it at age fifty-one. Moreover, workers over the age of forty are perceived by their younger counterparts to be resistant to change and learning new skills, difficult to manage, and don’t understand technology.

Is Ageism on the Rise Because Older People Have an Aversion to Tech?

Is there a real divide between the tech-savvy and tech-nervous? Not so, according to Singh.” “We’re all technical. We all know how to use smartphones. Grandparents know how to use technology just like young people do.”

The impact of age discrimination on the economy

The impact on the economy is vast. According to Hiscox, ageism is creating a range of hazards for employers, including discrimination lawsuits, demotivated employees, and the lost opportunity costs associated with devaluing older workers. All of this hurts the bottom line, which, in turn, hurts the economy.

A new career forged from personal experience

In my conversation with Singh, he dove into his own experience with age discrimination, which started when he was about forty-three and working in a recruiting agency. It continued when he was looking for a new position and was told repeatedly that he was overqualified. Suffice to say this is happening to thousands of others, according to Singh. The next step, naturally, was to write a book.

How to retool and reinvent yourself after age discrimination

It’s not like age discrimination is going to stop overnight. We clearly have a long way to go. So what does someone who has experienced ageism do? Singh emphasizes the value of focusing on your LinkedIn profile. “That’s the business social media. That’s where employers are going to first and foremost to hire you,” he says. “Maybe HR looks at the other things, the other social media later on, but they are looking at your LinkedIn profile.”

He also recommends using the right industry buzzwords, keywords that convey your skills, creating an obvious digital presence, a professional photo for your avatar, and a compelling image for your banner. Why the banner image? It helps draw attention to your profile and shows you’re paying attention. Singh also recommends creating a vanity URL that’s catchy and tells people what you do. His is Vinay People Strategist, by the way.

One more tip from this veteran: stay in school, get those certifications, be as multi-disciplined as possible, and try to stay cutting edge. “And always be thinking this way, “ he said. “because if you’re not, your competition is.”

Well worth a listen, no matter what your age.

Resources Mentioned in this Episode:
Vinay Singh on Linkedin and Twitter
Vinay Singh’s new book: “Your Future in Pieces. The Brutal Truth: How Ageism and Inequality are Destroying America.
How to reach Vinay Singh: Vinay12 at opt online dot net.

Photo by Rajshri Bharath KS on Unsplash

Let’s Be Honest About Diversity: Age Matters Too

The conversation about diversity is finally opening up. We have a long way to go, but gender and ethnic equality are firmly on the agenda. From the law to the notoriously homogeneous tech industry, leaders are taking notice and working to create change. But there’s a gaping oversight in the conversation that’s too often ignored: In the push to improve diversity, we have to recognize that age matters, too.

Nearly ten years ago, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg—then 23 years old—told a startup event: “Young people are just smarter… Young people lead simpler lives. We may not own a car. We may not have a family. Simplicity in life slows you to focus on what’s important.” Now a new father and in his 30s, at the helm of one of the world’s most valuable brands, one wonders whether he’s changed his mind.

One thing is clear, however: The opinion of the tech industry as a whole hasn’t shifted at all.

Tech’s Failure to Connect the Dots

When Twitter’s engineering manager, Leslie Miley, left Twitter last year, he refused a severance package so he could speak openly about his exit. In a post called “Why Diversity is Difficult,” he talked about Twitter’s efforts to be at its diverse best—only to turn around and oversimplify the situation or forget about it altogether in the course of getting things done.

“In attempting to achieve the appropriate level of blackness that makes me palatable to tech, had I unwittingly erased the importance of maintaining my blackness in a sea of white faces?” Miley asked.

Questioning that tightrope echoes the conflict that faces many tech workers as they “age out” of their twenties and approach middle age. For the first time, there are five generations in the workforce: Traditionalists (also called the Silent Generation, born before 1946), Baby Boomers, Gen-X’ers, Millennials, and the youngest, Generation Z. Such a range has the potential for significant diversity of thought and action. Instead, age discrimination in tech has rendered the three older generations barely visible—even Millennials are starting to feel the pressure.

Diverse Workplaces have Tangible Benefits

The median age in the workforce is 42 years old; the average age in the tech industry, according to a survey by Payscale, ranged from 28 to 31 at major tech companies, even younger at a few outliers.

It’s so conspicuous that a quarter-life-crisis drives many in their twenties to seek out Botox and other treatments to keep their youthful glow. “Years of experience, plenty of talent, completely obsolete,” summed up Noam Scheiber in an article for the New Republic.

Consider this: In 2014, there were more than 20,000 age-related discrimination charges filed against employers. One computer scientist, who brought a claim against Google when he was 54, had been told his ideas were “too old to matter.”

However, it has been proven that a broader scope of experience enables groups of coworkers to perform more effectively with greater collective knowledge. Study after study has shown that with diversity comes strength—whether we’re talking about age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, or even alma mater.

Over-reliance on any particular quality or measure risks groupthink, and it ignores the facts: Innovation knows no age. According to a report by the Kauffmann Foundation, less than a quarter of startups are founded by people under the age of 24; they’re just as likely, if not more so, to be launched by people aged 55 to 64.

Older workers have not only have the skills and experience but also a deep understanding of their area of expertise. This expertise complements the academic knowledge of more recent graduates. We just need to do a better job of encouraging and acknowledging both.

Embrace a Broader View of Diversity

As HR pros well know, diversity does have its challenges. In a study of workplace data, MIT economist Sara Ellison found that similar groups of people often enjoy stronger camaraderie; their ability to relate to each other can make it easier to establish “cooperation, trust, and enjoyment of the workplace.”

However, Ellison also observed that being in sync didn’t help groups perform better. “A baseball team entirely composed of catchers could have high esprit de corps…but it would not perform very well on the field,” she said.

Committing to a diverse workplace extends beyond race and gender; tech companies are missing out on innovations that might arise from including older points of view in their talent pools. While many companies embrace the idea of workplace diversity, too few recognize that commitment includes fighting ageism in tech, too.

A version of this post was first published on Huffington Post on 2/29/16

Photo Credit: GESTION DE ENFERMERIA via Compfight cc

Age Bias At Work: Bad Business #TChat Recap

“Discrimination due to age is one of the great tragedies of modern life. The desire to work and be useful is what makes life worth living, and to be told your efforts are not needed because you are the wrong age is a crime.” Johnny Ball

Who wouldn’t agree with that statement, in theory? But in fact, age discrimination persists. Why? And what should talent-minded professionals do about it? These were the core issues we tackled at this week’s #TChat Twitter forum.

To help us take a collective look at the impact of age discrimination on today’s workforce, two of the HR community’s sharpest thought leaders joined our moderator, Cyndy Trivella:

Steve Levy, a prominent workforce sourcing expert and popular recruiting blogger.

Heather Bussing, an employment law attorney who is also a founding editorial advisory board member and contributor at HR Examiner.

Here are some top takeaways, followed by resource links and the #TChat highlights slideshow:

Ageism “Sniff Test”

TChatTwitter_logo_020813Age discrimination is often not as overt as other forms of bias. When interviewing for a position, older candidates may be told that they’re not the right “fit” for an organization, or they’re “overqualified” for a job. Younger job seekers may be told to pursue unpaid internships to “gain more experience.” Either scenario may be appropriate — but when a pattern emerges, it’s most likely a systemic problem. Similarly, if employees “of a certain age” are consistently left out of communication loops, meetings and business decisions, discrimination is a likely culprit.

Ageism can be a factor at any stage in our lives — and tension seems to be mounting at both ends of today’s workforce, as the economic slowdown continues and more employees are retiring later in life.

What’s The Source?

Discrimination based on age (or other arbitrary criteria) stems from our need to categorize the abundance of information that surrounds us each day. Classifying information helps us process the world more efficiently — but not always effectively.

Fear seems to be a common factor in age discrimination. We tend to feel more comfortable with things that are familiar, and we fear things that we don’t know or understand. An older worker may fear that a younger counterpart is more energetic, or offers more creative ideas. While a younger worker may fear that an older employee contributes more depth of knowledge in a particular area, or resists fresh ideas. These feelings may not be rational, but the fear can be very real. Yet, ironically, no one likes to be stereotyped.

Keeping Age Discrimination Out Of The Office

To move past age discrimination, we need to embrace diversity, in all of its forms. A culture of  inclusion starts with leaders who leave age at the door. Smart leaders know that a diverse workforce contributes to innovation, and adds to a company’s value in the marketplace. It creates a “virtuous cycle” effect that encourages more collaboration among teams and employees. On the other hand, a one-dimensional workforce can breed “group think” that weakens a company’s competitive position.

How Can Leaders Foster Workplace Diversity?

Start with the hiring process. Hire the best candidate for the job. Use performance based hiring to avoid age discrimination. Consciously strive for a fair, inclusive, transparent recruitment process.

Create a cross-mentoring program. This makes sense for employers in the face of today’s talent shortage. It encourages knowledge sharing and helps support succession planning. It can also boost employee engagement.

What Can Each Of Us Do?

Consider listening and inquiry your personal weapons in the war against age discrimination. Never stop learning — no matter what your age. Embrace technology and use it as a tool to network with others and learn from them. Look for opportunities to grow personally and professionally, and share ideas with others at social forums, like #TChat Twitter — where diverse thinking is always welcome!

For more inspiration, see resource links and #TChat event highlights in the Storify slideshow below. If this post inspires you, be sure to add a comment below or jump into the #TChat stream any time. In our world of work, everyone is welcome, at any age!

#TChat Week-In-Review: Age Discrimination Perception + Reality

SUN 10/6:

SteveandTim

Watch the #TChat Preview video now

#TChat Preview: TalentCulture Community Manager Tim McDonald set the stage for this week’s event in a preview post that featured a fun G+ hangout video with guest Steve Levy. Check it out: “Old Dogs + New Tricks: Will HR Learn?”

TUE 10/8:

Related Post: This week’s other special guest, Heather Bussing, offered a very human perspective on discrimination in a post at HR Examiner. Read: “Why Age Discrimination Should Matter to You.”

WED 10/9:

Related Post: TalentCulture CEO, Meghan M. Biro outlined 5 steps that business leaders should take in overcoming workplace age stereotypes. Read: “How To Break The Age Bias Habit.”

#TChat Twitter: This week, we by-passed #TChat Radio. Instead the entire community set the #TChat Twitter hashtag on fire, as our guests joined moderator Cyndy Trivella in a lively discussion about 6 key age discrimination issues. The hour flew by, as thousands of ideas and opinions hit the stream. For highlights, see the Storify slideshow below:

#TChat Highlights: Age Discrimination Perception + Reality

[javascript src=”//storify.com/TalentCulture/tchat-insights-age-discrimination-in-the-workplac.js?template=slideshow”]

 

GRATITUDE: Thanks again to Steve Levy and Heather Bussing for shining a light on workplace age discrimination. We welcome your enthusiasm and perspectives anytime!

NOTE TO BLOGGERS: Did this week’s events prompt you to write about age in the workplace? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Post a link on Twitter (include #TChat or @TalentCulture), or insert a comment below, and we’ll pass it along.

WHAT’S AHEAD: Next week we focus on next-generation workplace leadership with our special guest, YouTern CEO, Mark Babbitt! Watch for more details in the coming days.

Meanwhile, the World of Work conversation continues! So join us on the #TChat Twitter stream, on our LinkedIn discussion group. or elsewhere on social media. The lights are always on here at TalentCulture, and your thoughts are always welcome.

See you on the stream!

Image Credit: Tim Tyrell-Smith at flickr

How To Break The Age Bias Habit

Want to know a deep, dark secret? OK then. Just between us — there’s some truth in all those stereotypes that swirl around about Baby Boomers, Millennials and other generations. That’s actually why they became stereotypes in the first place.

But wait. There’s another truth that no one in the workplace can afford to ignore. Discrimination is a career killer. Age bias may be as old as the hills, but that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable or even legal to let it poison your company culture. And in today’s transparent world of work, that kind of behavior is bound to be exposed, sooner or later. So let’s step back and re-frame this issue.

Smart Leaders Know Age Is Not A Factor

Today’s global economy is highly competitive. Successful organizations need all the creative, useful ideas they can get. It doesn’t matter if the source is old, young or in between. As French playwright Moliere said, “I take my good where I find it.”

Yet the labels persist. You’ve heard it before: Gen Yers are lazy, entitled, and preoccupied with digital connections. Gen Xers are cynical, alouf, and make lousy team players. Baby Boomers are stodgy, inflexible, and can’t relate to younger people. Can you find individuals who perfectly fit these descriptions? Sure you can. But can you find many other people who smash these cliches to pieces? I certainly hope so! I’m one of them.

Removing Age From The Workforce Equation

If you’re serious about your success — as well as your organization’s success — you’ll reach to the best and brightest no matter how old or young they are. But how can you avoid the trap of generational stereotypes? Here are 5 steps to consider:

1) Be aware and be vigilant. Take a quick personal inventory. Do you see some signals that shouldn’t be there? You’re not alone. All of us let age stereotypes creep into our thought patterns and behavior. It happens more than most of us want to admit. Come on. Own up. Face it by formalizing it. List the age-related assumptions you make about people. Become mindful. You can’t stop stereotyping until you’re willing to recognize how you do it.

2) Disprove the stereotype. Now that you have your list, find people who make a mockery of it. The Gen Xer who has worked 80 hours a week at the same company since college; the Gen Yer who created a cohesive, winning team; the Boomer who invented a wildly exciting new technology product.

3) Retrain your brain. Now that you know who and how you stereotype, and you know how false and limiting your “reality” is, train yourself to stop believing the lie. Be prepared to practice. Making snap judgments about people based on obvious attributes is deeply ingrained in us all. Unlearning this behavior takes time, but every step is a move in the right direction. When you meet someone, pay attention to your internal response — both intellectual and emotional. If you stereotype them, consciously tell yourself to look past it, and instead look at other characteristics that are more relevant.

4) Be open to “see” the person “in 3D.” There’s a word for someone who doesn’t measure individuals by their unique strengths and talents. That word is “fool.” You’re working to build a successful career, project, or enterprise. Why in the world would you limit yourself by refusing help from willing and able contributors? Embrace the talent that is available to you. Judge people by their past performance and potential to add value in the future. Age is irrelevant in that context. You need everyone to deliver their best effort. Stay open to possibilities and reach out.

5 ) Make it a habit. The goal is to build a network that transcends stereotyping. Make a conscious effort, at least once a week, to spend time with someone whom you would have stereotyped in the past. If you’re a Gen Yer, take a Boomer out to lunch. Listen to their story and soak up lessons from their experience. If you’re a Boomer, seek out a Gen Yer to mentor. Ask what’s on their mind and how you can help. Then listen closely to how they respond. No matter what age you are, be willing to discuss personal limitations and ask for input and feedback. Too often we assume it’s a sign of weakness if we admit our concerns and shortcomings. But actually it’s a strength. As Moliere suggested, take your good where you find it. I’m not sure how old he was when he penned that advice, but honestly, it doesn’t matter!

Bottom line: In the workplace and in every other aspect of life, stereotyping is self-destructive. It denies our basic humanity, and the ability we all have to transcend superficial categorization. Smash stereotypes, celebrate individuality, and you will learn, grow, and build stronger relationships. You’ll also be a business leader that others will want to follow.

(Editor’s Note: Join the TalentCulture community tonight, Oct 9 from 7-8pm ET, at #TChat Twitter,  where we’re discussing age-based discrimination in the workplace. Everyone is welcome! Learn more in the preview post…)

(Editor’s Note: Meghan M. Biro is an active contributor to Forbes.com. This article is adapted from her Forbes blog, with permission.)

Image Credit: Pixabay

Old Dogs + New Tricks: Will HR Learn? #TChat Preview

(Editor’s Note: Are you looking for complete highlights and resource links from this week’s events? Read the #TChat Recap: “Age Discrimination At Work: Bad Business”.)

This week, the TalentCulture community action is truly nonstop, with a trifecta of #TChat events! Let me help connect the dots between these three elements — old dogs, new tricks and HR lessons to live by:

1) HR Celebrates New Tools: Today Oct 6, TalentCulture’s intrepid founders Meghan M. Biro and Kevin W. Grossman hit the ground running at this week’s HR Tech Conference — which promises to be the biggest and most mind-blowing ever. Meghan explains what all the buzz is about at Forbes.com: “7 Hottest Trends In HR Technology.”

2) HR Learns New Tricks: Tomorrow Oct 7, LIVE from the conference, Meghan and Kevin host an Expert Roundtable Discussion on Employee Engagement. If you’re not at the conference, you can follow the action from a distance on the #TChat Twitter stream from 2:30-3:15pmPT (5:30-6:15pmET).

3) But Are “Old Dogs” Willing? Perhaps too often in today’s digitally driven workplace, it’s suggested that innovation is a young person’s game. But is that perception realistic? Is it fair? And is it even legal? Those questions inspired us to focus on age discrimination at our weekly #TChat Twitter chat, this Wednesday Oct 9.

Youth Code: Age In Today’s Workplace

If you’re familiar with TalentCulture, you know our community has no fear about taking on deeply human workplace issues. In the past year alone, we’ve explored the relationship between “thought diversity” and business innovation, we’ve considered the value of reverse mentoring, and we’ve discussed the need to remove age-related stereotypes as Millennials enter the workforce.

Now we invite you to fasten your seat belts as we take a realistic look at age discrimination, and its implications for an aging workforce. We’ll be guided by two respected HR community leaders:

Steve Levy, a prominent workforce sourcing expert and popular recruiting blogger.

Heather Bussing, an employment law attorney who is also a founding editorial advisory board member and contributor at HR Examiner.

I sat down briefly with Steve in a joint G+ Hangout to frame this topic. Watch now, and I’m sure you’ll won’t want to miss what should be a lively and helpful social learning opportunity this Wednesday on Twitter!

#TChat: Age Discrimination at Work: Perception and Reality

#TChat Twitter — Wednesday, Oct 9 7pmET / 4pmPT

This week, we’ll skip the #TChat Radio interview and jump right into the #TChat Twitter stream, with event moderator, Cyndy Trivella. Everyone with a Twitter account is invited to join us as we discuss these 5 questions:

Q1: Do you see age discrimination at work? Describe it.
Q2: If a company hires or fires with age in mind, what does that say about its culture?
Q3: Which is more prevalent / problematic: discrimination of young or old?
Q4: How can we improve the perception and reality of age at work? Laws? And…?
Q5: What role can technology play in empowering older workers?

Throughout the week, we’ll keep the discussion going on the #TChat Twitter feed and on our LinkedIn Discussion Group. So feel free to contribute your thoughts. Please join us and share your ideas, opinions, questions, and concerns!

We’ll see you on the stream!