Age discrimination is rampant in hiring and promotion today. That’s why I’m taking matters into my own hands.
After a heated dinner conversation about age discrimination in the workplace, I concluded that I should remove my undergrad college graduation year from my résumé.
The reason? It seems to me that hiring and promotion managers often make decisions about our abilities based on our age, rather than our skills and experience — despite federal age-discrimination protections. In some cases, you may be considered too old for the organization’s culture even if you have the right experience — especially at more millennial-dominated companies like tech startups. In other cases, you might be refused for being too young or deemed inexperienced, even if you had the right skills for the job at hand.
To be consistent, I also removed my graduation dates from my LinkedIn profile.
I was surprised to learn how many of my peers disagreed with my decision. Many countered with the warning that I may be viewed as untrustworthy for having something to hide. While I can see the concern with being perceived as disingenuous, I’ve now studied bias for a number of years. Even when we believe we’re immune from it, science has shown time and again that we all fall prey to preferences on gender, race, appearance and indeed, age. I’d rather hedge my bets.
Another friend responded: “Wouldn’t you rather work for someone whose view of your competence isn’t influenced by your age?” Absolutely, but I’d also like to work for an employer that has 50/50 gender parity in senior leadership … but then, there’s bias.
So instead, if I’m asked about the missing dates during an interview, my strategy is to have a candid conversation about how that person may view my age as a factor when making hiring decisions. When we make people aware about biases during point-in-time situations, they’re more likely to identify and correct them, going forward.
As a millennial, I can imagine that I get passed over for more senior opportunities due to being considered too young. But a more insidious trend has emerged where older workers, especially women over 40, are being denied entry into high-tech companies. The median age of a Facebook employee is 29; it’s 30 for an Amazon employee. Considering companies like these offer highly lucrative pay packages, it’s concerning to know that an entire demographic of American workers isn’t able to get jobs at them.
According to Bloomberg, Silicon Valley’s 150 largest companies have faced 226 age discrimination complaints between 2008 and 2016, a fair share more than complaints relating to racial and gender bias. HP may be facing a class action lawsuit from workers 40 and older who allege they were targeted for layoffs due to their age. Google may also reportedly have a suit on its hands regarding age discrimination in hiring.
I’ve also been reading increased reports of employees over 40 going to great lengths to look younger — including making significant changes in their wardrobe, social-media photos and even investing in cosmetic procedures. On the other hand, I’ve heard of multiple millennial friends actively try to look older in job interviews and at work — wearing glasses seems to be a common technique.
A few steps could solve this problem. Managers must have open, honest discussions on how ageism factors into employment decisions and commit to making a change — hire for skill and potential rather than age. Training managers to recognize and actively counter age bias is another step. Combine this with creating and promoting an inclusive office culture that isn’t built around activities like drinking and sports, which also often include women and people with young families.
But there is something you can do immediately while waiting for companies to see the light. Remove all age identifiers from your résumé (and social media).