Rachael Saunders, Business in the Community Age at Work Director calls for unconscious bias training to help improve workforce diversity.
''We know that older workers looking for a new job can experience prejudice due to misconceptions about their ability or willingness to learn new skills, the presumption that they will soon retire and are therefore not worth investing in, or concerns about the risk of managing long-term health conditions''.
This week a survey of 1,200 people found that almost one in four UK professionals had experienced discrimination in an interview – and for the majority this was because of their age. 39% of those who had experienced discrimination said it was due to their age, compared to 10% for ethnicity and 9% for gender, and 55-64 year olds were the most likely to feel discriminated against.
We know that older workers looking for a new job can experience prejudice due to misconceptions about their ability or willingness to learn new skills, the presumption that they will soon retire and are therefore not worth investing in, or concerns about the risk of managing long-term health conditions. Yet these assumptions can have a serious impact on employers by limiting the talent pool they are able to access. With one million over-50s who have been forced to leave their jobs early saying they want to return to work, these stereotypes can have significant consequences for individuals and businesses as a whole.
So what can employers do to address this issue? One of the key actions is providing unconscious bias training for interviewers, which can help to improve workforce diversity in areas other than age, such as gender and race. Creating different models of interview for people without recent recruitment experience, having diverse interview panels where possible and monitoring the number of applicants at each stage will also help to identify and address barriers to older workers. And there are steps businesses can take to open up opportunities to older workers even before they reach the interview stage, such as removing age restrictions from apprenticeship programmes (like our Responsible Business Awards winner Barclays) or advertising roles where they will reach older people.
The UK has an ageing population and, with the announcement of further rises in the state pension age announced last week, employers simply cannot afford to ignore the fact that people will need to work for longer. By getting recruitment practice right, including tackling interview discrimination, employers will have access to the greatest possible pool of candidates and make the most of the talent available to them – creating fair workplaces that work for everyone.