More than 40 years after the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 made age discrimination in employment illegal, age discrimination in job postings is still an unfortunate reality.
“Everyone is looking to some degree for that idealized, young, energetic person who will take the company to the next level, whatever that means,” says Toby Haberkorn, author and Senior Recruiter at Ayecer Group. “Maybe we can go beyond that stereotype or that idealized candidate. For older workers, it’s hard.”
How Job Postings Can Discriminate
Employment ads are often the first introduction a job seeker will have to a potential employer. Companies that engage in age discrimination in job postings risk excluding workers. Ageist phrases like “digital native” are among those that are very common.
Advertisements that indicate a company is looking for young and energetic workers or use the words “rockstars” or “ninjas” can also be problematic. Visual content in job postings like photos and videos can entice job seekers to want to learn more about the company, but it could have the opposite effect.
“If the video isn’t inclusive or representative in terms of encompassing a number of generations and it’s just young people in the video, then that is going to show age bias that may run over into the hiring process,” says Dr. Simone Phipps, Professor of Management at Middle Georgia State University, Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School’s Centre for Social Innovation and member of the PhD Project.
A buzzword that has become common in the hiring process is “culture fit.” Often ageism goes much deeper than a job posting — it can be embedded in the company’s culture and in full view on its website.
“If that word culture fit is accompanied by a picture or video in which you only see young people then an older person may feel they are not going to be welcome,” says Phipps.
Is Age Discrimination Illegal?
Job postings that provide a range and cap the amount of experience needed could potentially tilt the candidate pool away from older workers in favor of younger applicants. Some job ads specifically target current college students or recent college graduates. But is the practice illegal?
“It’s not a black and white issue, but it could imply ageism since a large number of people who graduate college recently are probably on the younger side,” says Florence Mao, associate attorney at Ogletree Deakins, a labor and employment law firm. She says bias in job postings, which are called failure to hire claims, are usually harder to prove.
“The employer is going to have all of the documents,” Mao says. “The job postings will be public, but they’re going to have the interview notes, communications about the interviews and debriefing. Then you also have to find out who they ended up hiring. That can come out in the litigation, but it is much more kind of shooting in the dark unless you know who was hired for the position.”
To ensure job ads are not discriminatory, companies should have a team of people crafting the job posting. Companies can also make sure they are reaching the greatest range of applicants by expanding the job boards and social media platforms where they advertise openings.
“People are living longer,” says Haberkorn. “They’re taking better care of themselves. Today’s generation of older workers continues to have significant skills and purpose that make them a real asset to the workforce.”