Story at a glance
- Some older workers are passed over in hiring, or they’re pushed out of work before they’re ready to leave.
- Age-diverse companies are more profitable and better at creative, problem-solving work.
Discrimination based on age, or ageism, isn’t talked about nearly as often as sexism or racism. But a survey conducted by AARP in 2018 found that two thirds of workers older than 45 had seen, or been the victim of, ageism at work. Sometimes, young workers are not hired because employers assume they’ll be difficult or inexperienced. And older workers might be passed over or even fired because of stereotypes related to their age.
Marketplace reports that folks over 65 are the fastest-growing sector of the workforce because of both longer life expectancies and the difficulty of saving enough for retirement. But diversity training rarely covers how to be mindful of a range of ages and experiences in the workplace.
“When it comes to ageism, that’s sort of the last one on the bus” after more well-known issues like harassment targeting race and gender, Gerda Govine Ituarte, a diversity training consultant, told Marketplace. “Even when there’s training, a very small portion of the time is provided to deal with that specific topic because I think it’s one that most people don’t consider to be very important.”
But people can tell when they’re being singled out because of their age. AARP reports that when Lars Sanstrom applied for a job with the Maui Police Department in 2009, when he was 45, he was questioned about whether “someone your age can handle the training,” and if “someone your age could take orders from younger officers.” Sandstrom told AARP that after the interview, he had the “most incredibly uncomfortable feeling of my life.” Sanstrom brought a case against the police department, which was settled for $24,000.
The diversity of life experiences that comes from having workers of all ages can benefit a company’s creativity and productivity, AARP’s Lori Trawinksi told Marketplace. Her research shows that age-diverse companies are more profitable, especially when working on problem-solving tasks that require creativity or soft skills.
“You often end up with better ideas and better products,” she said.