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Ageism Rearing Its Ugly Head

June 8, 2022

By Anthony Kaylin, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

For the past 20 years or so, many HR consultants and thinkers have called employees “assets” or “capital assets” of the employer.  The problem with these terms is manyfold. 

First, assets depreciate over time; thereby, that term assumes the older worker will lose their ability to do the job as they age.  Second, assets are generally bought and sold, bringing up images of the antebellum years, considered some of the worst years of our history.  Finally, the capital aspect of the terms leads to a type of thinking that when costs are out of control, the first thing to cut are people, without regard of the root cause of the financial issues.  In other words, the terms are dehumanizing.

CareerBuilder surveyed 800 hiring managers in the U.S. to understand ageism in the hiring process.  Surprisingly, the survey found that it impacts all ages of applicants and employees.  The survey found that 38% of hiring managers have caught themselves reviewing a resume with age bias; 45% of hiring managers say they know of colleagues who are biased against applicants of a certain age; only less than half (44%) say that age does not affect their hiring decisions when it comes to senior vs entry-level positions; and 41% say including a graduation year on the resume makes age bias more likely.

IBM has been alleged to have perpetuated ageism throughout its culture.  In a lawsuit filed against the company, it was alleged that top IBM executives discussed plans to force out older employees — referring to them as “dinobabies” who should be made an “extinct species” at the company.  Included in the lawsuit was an email chain from one executive who specifically used the word “dinobabies.”  Another executive in an email chain stated that IBM’s “dated maternal workforce” was something that “must change” at the company. “They really don’t understand social or engagement. Not digital natives. A real threat for us,” the executive said, according to the filing.

IBM’s HR responded with demographic facts.  The median age of an IBM employee was 48 in 2020, the same as in 2010, and it appears six older than the median age of the overall U.S. workforce. Further, HR stated that 37% of IBM’s U.S. hires over the 2010 – 2020 time period were workers older than 40.

However, ProPublica conducted an investigation in 2018 and found that IBM had fired more than 20,000 U.S. employees aged 40 or older during a five-year period as the company pursued a restructuring. Older employees purportedly accounted for about 60% of job cuts during that period.  A jury will determine the truth.

As for younger employees, they are not immune, especially today.  Hiring managers see youth as possible job hoppers who often lack the necessary experience to do the job well.

The issue of experience on the resume is strongly debated with 26% of respondents stating all experience, even if 25 years or more, should be on the resume.  The applicant cannot win in this scenario.

According to the survey, hiring managers (41%) said that the best thing applicants can do to avoid falling prey to age-based bias is to not include a photo with their resume, which makes age bias more likely to occur.   Yet, how many recruiters use LinkedIn or Facebook, or even Slack today to scour for applicants?  Facebook has already been hit with multiple lawsuits for perpetuating age discrimination in applicant profiling.

The government is slow on the uptake, and for all these years have not viewed the issues poised by LinkedIn or Facebook.  Right now, the government views a person sent an invitation to apply on LinkedIn not an applicant until they apply.  However, no one asks the question, how did a recruiter get to the specific person to ask them to apply?  It’s a big mess waiting to happen.

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