So, many of us have heard the term “fat-shaming” which basically means people (mostly women) are made to feel bad about their weight.  It often happens online where trollers say horrible things while hiding behind their computer screens.  Thankfully, over the last few years, this practice has encouraged consumers and businesses to take a stand and start advocating that women should be proud of their bodies regardless of their size.  This is progress.

But what about “age-shaming”?  Making people feel “less than” because they are older (especially women) is the one form of discrimination that no one seems to talk about.   Let’s look at careers for example.  Why aren’t businesses actively trying to recruit older women and men?  Many organizations are now struggling to find employees and are even taking extreme measures to encourage professionals to come work for them.  And yet they are often ignoring an untapped and available resource.  Most people in their 50s are still working or have gone on to a second career and are highly educated, active professionals who have a lot to offer companies.

And yet, the Harvard Business Review in their research for Deloitte, asked around 10,000 companies, “Is age a competitive advantage or competitive disadvantage in your organization?”. Over two-thirds of the companies considered older age a competitive disadvantage. This is consistent with data from the AARP that shows two-thirds of individuals age 45 to 74 have experienced age-related discrimination.  In other words, if you are older, you are not considered as desirable by companies.

Meanwhile, many individuals in their 60s and 70s are still actively engaged in their careers and aren’t even thinking about retirement.  They have years of experience and subject matter knowledge that can’t be faked.  If you asked someone to find an expert on investing, it would be almost impossible to find someone with as much expertise as Warren Buffett has at 89 years young.  If you were looking for a successful career in media, who would not look at Oprah Winfrey, age 67, for inspiration?  And let’s not forget the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos is almost 60.  Finally, look at one of the most important jobs of all which is the President of the United States.  Only two Presidents ended their tenure under the age of 50 (and one of them was JFK). The other 43 were 50 or older, including 22 who were aged 60 or older.  So, are companies being incredibly ignorant in not realizing that age often brings wisdom?  In fact, older people are more successful entrepreneurs with studies showing that those who are over 40 are three times more likely to create successful companies.

The bottom line is that our society is aging and by 2025, 25% of workers in the U.S. will be over the age of 55.  So, the fact is that if companies don’t start to actively recruit people over 50, they are going to have an increasingly difficult time finding qualified employees.  Experts recommend specific steps that organizations can take including:

  • Bringing age diversity into DEI programs
  • Recruiting older workers by inviting them back to work from retirement.  Walgreens, GM, and others use specific recruiting programs tailored to this target audience.
  • Coaching and teaching recruiters not to discriminate by age.  Put the terms “longevity” and “age” into DEI and recruiting strategies.
  • Helping workers feel valued.  Provide benefits that would appeal to older workers and make sure they feel valued once they join your organization.  Train other employees on the value of having older workers.
  • Setting up a reciprocal mentoring program.  Consider offering younger workers the opportunity to work directly with older workers so they both see the value of their different experiences.

In a recent webinar on how to effectively brand DEI, it was highlighted that one of the biggest misnomers is that discrimination is primarily about race and gender.  It’s not.  It’s about embracing the American culture as it stands today which means treating everyone equitably regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, and age.   The fact is that successful companies will need to learn how to reach people over 50 in both their recruiting and marketing efforts.  If they don’t figure this out, they will be left behind.  The most important thing they can do is to start treating aging and the experience that comes along with it as a gift rather than a curse.

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