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National Ageism Report Suggests Improvements needed in Recruitment and Staffing Industry

There is room for improvement in the recruitment and staffing industry after a recent report highlighted the current state of ageism in Australia.

We sat down with Australian Human Rights Commission’s Age Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Kay Patterson, who reflected on the report and what it means for the industry. Dr Patterson provided valuable advice for recruitment professionals around identifying and preventing negative age stereotypes.

Released in early September 2021, the report What’s age got to do with it?’ aimed to provide a snapshot of ageism across the Australian lifespan, identifying stereotypes, attitudes, and beliefs about age that exist.

One of the more industry-relevant, age-based stereotypes identified in the report relate to a belief that older people can’t learn new technology and that younger people can’t be managers.

“We saw evidence in the ‘What’s age got to do with it?’ report of age-based stereotypes about older people that they are inflexible and are not good at learning new technology,” Dr Patterson said.

“Alongside this, younger people are often not seen as managers or are likely to receive promotions. We now know such attitudes can impact recruitment.

“Also supported by the Australian Human Rights Commission report, Willing to Work’, there is clear evidence of age discrimination at every stage of employment, from hiring and working on the job, to promotions and departures.”

What’s age got to do with it’ revealed:

  • 90% of Australians believe ageism exists

  • 83% believe that ageism is a problem

  • 63% said they had experienced ageism in the last 5 years

(Source: Australian Human Rights Commission)

Drawing on another survey by the Australian Human Rights Commission and Australian HR Institute, Employing and Retaining Older Workers’, Dr Patterson revealed an additional insight into the potential ageism occurring within the industry.

“The ‘Employing and Retaining Older Workers’ report found that the perception of what constitutes an older worker has shifted to a younger age, with an increase in those selecting the age group 51 – 55 as being older workers and a decrease in those selecting the age group 61 – 65,” she said. “As Age Discrimination Commissioner, this is of concern.”

Dr Patterson considers it is this statistic that emphasises the potential for improvement in the recruitment and staffing industry when it comes to identifying age bias and implementing strategies to address this.

Dr Patterson believes identifying and preventing negative stereotypes and expectations towards age starts with raising awareness and skill training.

“It starts by busting myths around negative age stereotypes,” she said.

“A crucial step in the right direction is offering unconscious age bias training to recruiters and line managers.

“With five generations in the workplace for the first time in history, it is important to promote understanding of the benefits of a multigenerational workforce. This is not only positive for individuals, but also benefits organisations, for example, in knowledge retention, reduced absenteeism, and turnover.”

Dr Patterson believes these approaches to dispelling ageism in the recruitment industry are supported by research. When survey respondents for the ‘What’s age got to do with it’ report were asked to choose their top three out of 12 possible strategies to counter ageism, a large portion chose education and awareness.

Through the survey respondents identified education strategies including:

  • If ageing itself was seen as a more positive experience (42%).

  • If there was more education/awareness of the positive aspects of each age group (31%).

  • If younger and older people had more opportunities to mix socially (30%).

(Source: Australian Human Rights Commission)

“These numbers reinforce what we know from other research, including a study by Cornell University which found that education combined with programs that foster intergenerational connection and relationships are the best way to counter ageism,” she said.

With her extensive experience and passion for ending ageism, Dr Patterson believes there are several benefits to come out of the report.

“The report highlights the effect that ageism has across the adult lifespan in Australia. By sparking conversations about ageism, we can start to tackle why it is so prevalent, yet seen as the most accepted form of discrimination,” she said.

“I think that this points to an issue of education – having conversations on what ageism is, what it looks like and how it affects people, including people you know.

“Age is not the problem, ageism is.”

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