Why is ageism still 'socially condoned' in the workplace?

Age discrimination doesn't just harm elderly candidates

If your coworkers seem to get younger every year, that may not be a positive trend. Age discrimination is on the rise, and some older people are struggling to secure gainful employment. 

"Older" is subjective here; some job-seekers in the mid-thirties complain that they've already become targets of ageism. Age discrimination is deeply embedded in workplace culture. In fact, reports of ageism have increased 44% from 1999 to 2014.

"Ageism is the most socially condoned form of derogating someone based on social category," says Michael North, an assistant professor at New York University's Stern School of Business. "It's less socially acceptable to denigrate someone for gender, race or orientation—current political climate aside."

Proving ageism can be tricky, but there are some telltale practices that continue to hinder older people's employment opportunities. Some companies use coded phrases when hiring, such as "We wanted to bring in some new blood," or claiming that a candidate wasn't the right "cultural fit," according to North. 

A better way to interview: Ask candidates to "show you" what they can do

Another problem is that older employees are often more experienced. While that would seem like boon for prospective candidates, companies may simply opt for someone younger who can be paid less.

The tech industry in particular can be unkind to older job-seekers, as companies are constantly searching for younger talent. It's a demanding field, and employers often falsely believe that an older person with a family won't be able to keep up with the latest trends.

North predicts that workplace ageism will only worsen as the workforce gets older, with growing tension between older and younger generations of workers.

"We're at this zeitgeist of an aging workforce and more generations bumping up against each other in the office," North says (McDermott, MEL Magazine, 12/6; Bolden-Barrett, HR Dive, 12/15). 

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