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Can Older Workers Compete In A Youth-Obsessed Business World?

When it comes to humanity, the bulk of us dread the thought of getting older. It’s human nature–or so my older counterparts say. Western Culture nearly instills a dread about this on us, scaring us about the aging process, giving us reason after reason to encourage us to go out and find the fountain of youth. Take a look around, consumers. Your day is filled with a number of different anti-aging products, promising us we’ll look, feel, and masquerade as a younger version of ourselves. At the end of the day, though, aging is going to happen to all of us, and it’s something we can’t outrun. But will aging stop us? Should getting older really be considered a disadvantage? Or can we make it a point to learn about and appreciate the gifts and talents of each age, as well as the advantages of our youth? Most importantly, though, how will this aging process affect our careers/our livelihood? Can older workers compete in a youth-obsessed business world? I guess only time will tell…

The following is an incredibly interesting piece via Pacer Monitor that discusses just this. Age discrimination seems to be on full display in the technology industry, as evidenced by a class-action federal lawsuit recently filed by three former IBM employees. These long-time employees of the tech giant charge that the company discriminated against them based on their age when it fired them in June as part of its plan to build a Millennial Corps, an internal network of young employees cited in several legal complaints made against IBM.

IBM has eliminated more than 20,000 American employees ages 40 and over in the last six years. According to ProPublica, that is about 60% of its estimated total U.S. job cuts. In 2006, an IBM Business Consulting Services paper titled “The Maturing Workforce” referred to baby-boomer employees as “gray hairs” and “old heads,” labeling them as “uncollaborative, skeptical of leadership, technologically unsophisticated, less innovative and generally out of touch with IBM’s brand, customers and objectives.”

Unfortunately, lawsuits suggest a similar employment climate could extend well beyond technology:

  • Veteran Chicago lawyer Dale Kleber had been unemployed for three years when he came across an advertised position that sounded promising, except for one very specific requirement: “3 to 7 years (no more than 7 years) of relevant legal experience.” Although Kleber was 58 at the time and had decades of experience, he applied anyway, was never granted an interview, and the company hired a 29-year-old to fill the position. In 2017, Kleber filed a federal lawsuit against CareFusion, alleging that the seven-year experience cap was discriminatory.
  • The Communication Workers of America union filed an age discrimination lawsuit last year against hundreds of large employers, including T-Mobile, Amazon, and Cox Media Group, alleging that they used targeted job ads appearing only on the Facebook pages of people within a certain age range. According to the lawsuit, which ironically was filed just days after the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), people outside the designated demographic never saw the ads.
  • Last month, a former Mississippi basketball coach in his mid-70s filed a federal lawsuit after being replaced by a 28-year-old. The lawsuit alleges that the district’s former athletic director told the man that he was “looking for someone younger.”

Ageism in business – prejudice or discrimination on the basis of a person’s age – is nothing new. Robert Butler first coined the term in 1969. However, it is gaining new attention 50 years later because:

  • People are living longer.
  • Birth rates are decreasing.
  • People are working longer since mandatory retirement at 65 is no longer so mandatory.
  • Perspectives and policies regarding the role of age in the workplace are changing.

But a significant amount of data suggests that there is a place for older workers in today’s economy. A recent study by global recruitment specialist Randstad Workmonitor found age-diverse, multigenerational teams to be innovative, resourceful and more preferable to work in. And Spherion research concluded that as baby boomers leave the workforce and millennials take their place, the skills gap continues to widen. Even more concerning, the skills younger workers lack are the same ones considered essential to workforce success.

So what’s the best way to get the business community, recruiters, and hiring managers to consider hiring these “seasoned” workers?

Marci Alboher, vice president of Encore.org and author of The Encore Career Handbook, offered some advice in the September 28 LinkedIn Daily Rundown: “Older workers (and workers fighting any type of “ism”) make their best case when they make the business case. Try this: The more age diverse teams are, the better they perform and the better they connect with audiences and customers. Experienced workers should make sure to show a willingness to learn and mentor, and should open the door for others whenever employers show they value diversity of all kinds. Yes, ageism is alive and well, but thankfully ideas about the need for more age-diverse workplaces are beginning to gain traction.”

What do you think? Can older workers compete in a youth-obsessed business world? Comment below and let us know what you think. Want to keep your throughts private? Shoot us an email to Outreach@ConsiderTheConsumer.com, or find us on Twitter, FacebookInstagramLinkedIn, or connect with us directly on our website! We look forward to hearing from all of you.

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