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Can AI put an end to ageism in recruitment?


Ageism is the systematic stereotyping of people because they are older and the discrimination against them, whether intentional or inadvertent. Older adults are categorized as experienced, polite, and thoughtful on the one hand, but also old-fashioned, rigid, and lacking in technical skills. However, according to BLS projections [1], the labor force is expected to reach approximately 164 million individuals by 2024. Within this number, around 41 million individuals will be aged 55 or older, with an estimated 13 million of them being aged 65 or older.


Despite the Age Discrimination in Employment Act [2] in place, the hiring trends for a long has reflected ageism. It makes it very tough for older applicants to get an interview even when their skill sets match.

That said, with the wide adoption of AI recruitment tool, DEI hiring is seeing a new wave. So, can AI help make a difference here and support more age-inclusive recruiting? Can it end ageism in hiring? This is what we will dive into in this article. We’ll also touch upon what are the signs of ageism in the workplace, how the HR team can deal with it, and answer some most commonly asked questions about ageism in hiring.

Suggested reading for DEI Hiring: Blueprint to drive DEI hiring in the workplace

What is ageism in the workplace?

Per Wikipedia, ageism is discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. By extending the same to ageism in the workplace, it refers to the discrimination of a candidate or employee by their recruiter, manager, or colleagues on the basis of their age. Typical examples of ageism in the workplace include job rejection, promotion declination, or being terminated for age being the primary reason.

Although both younger and older workers can experience ageism in hiring, it most commonly impacts those who are over 45 years of age.

Age discrimination in hiring

Age discrimination is not only illegal; it’s also bad business. Older workers make up a large and growing percentage of experienced job seekers. And no one wants to be biased, but it is something recruiters may do unknowingly when searching for the best candidates. When you hire through job boards and use phrases like ‘recent college graduate’ or ‘digital native,’ you may be turning away highly qualified candidates without knowing it. An older worker who sees phrases like those often sees this as a rejection letter before they even apply. So, by using these phrases, you’re unknowingly committing ageism in hiring. You’re also shrinking your talent pool and missing out on talent who could quickly move your business forward. You could miss the perfect candidate!

Laws related to ageism in the workplace

In 1967, there was the passage of the ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act)[2], with a clear objective towards the prevention of ageism from taking root in organizations. This law safeguards those who are 40 years of age or older, from any such workplace discrimination in terms of employment tenures, recruitment, tasks, benefits, salaries, promotions, termination, and demotions.

Despite clear guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), age-discriminatory terms still appear frequently in job postings, potentially exposing your company to legal action. Age-Biased Language Persists in Job Postings (aarp.org) [3]. Older workers say they’re discouraged from applying for jobs due to age factors and narrow job descriptions that mention “recent college graduates.” According to Dice Diversity and Inclusion Survey [4], around 42% of those who belong to Generation X feel ageism is affecting their ability to land a job and earn a living.

In spite of the law, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report of 2018 clearly stated how 6 out of 10 older employees have either seen or experienced ageism in hiring or at their organizations. 90% of these workers also termed ageism as a common affair.

This simply shows that a lot more needs to be done to combat ageism in the workplace and uphold DEI practices while sensitizing and training recruiting managers and company management to respect a few abiding principles.

It’s time to do away with that mindset and develop a richer, more inclusive talent pool. The first step would be to recognize ageism in an organization.

Workplace ageism indicators

At the workplace, ageism is not limited to hiring; it goes beyond as part of the work culture. There most common red flags for ageism in the workplace include:

  • Being ignored over several promotion cycles by younger colleagues with lower experience.
  • Being sidelined from decision-making and vital meetings.
  • Not being asked to help out with improvement initiatives.
  • Feeling left out in the organization.
  • Jokes and taunting comments regarding younger colleagues’ lack of technical expertise or age.
  • Being left out of team outings and social events.
  • Getting questioned by the leadership regarding retirement age.

These are only a few such indicators that older employees often notice at their workplaces. Unfortunately, due to companies’ lack of inclusive cultures, they clam up about it and do not reveal their experiences or feelings to anyone. That is something that should be avoided at all costs.


Steps to combat ageism in hiring and at workplace

Once you can see age-based discrimination at the workplace – both intentional and unintentional – you can start addressing it at different levels. Some practical suggestions include:

Maintain workplace diversity

Recruiting managers usually end up hiring those similar to their desired traits without understanding their biases. This often means that older candidates do not tally with the hiring team’s definition of the right fit for the organization.

Mindful job descriptions

Ensure that words like energetic, young, tech-savvy, and others are not used. Do not have any position identified with a particular worker type or demographic. Ask for only necessary information, and focus more on the job experience, knowledge, and skill sets, instead of asking for someone’s whole history.

Refrain from stereotyping older employees

Do not assume that older employees cannot keep pace with technological advancements or newer workplace challenges. You should train hiring managers to avoid such behavior. Companies should also have stringent anti-discrimination policies along with those combating harassment at any level.

Carefully craft communication

Managements, authorities, colleagues, and hiring managers should be doubly careful about their words. They should not end up making prehistoric references, emphasizing the past and nostalgia, making playful jokes about someone’s age, or even continually asking someone about retirement and future plans.

At the same time, being pushy about upcoming retirement means that the company may be pushing an employee to retire on his/her own forcefully. This should be avoided at all costs. With changing global scenarios, the definition of retirement is changing and many people prefer working as long as they have something to contribute to the organization.

These are only a few tips companies can take to correct these situations where older employees feel left out and discriminated against. But it all starts with hiring without age bias in the first place. As we mentioned earlier, humans can be biased and not capable of blind hiring, so do machines have a shot at ending ageism in recruitment?

Inclusive hiring with AI recruiting tools

Machines don’t inherently have bias built into them. AI can enable a more inclusive pipeline of candidates, helping companies consider older employees who might have gone unnoticed in manual searches.

However, the whole idea of AI is to model the behavior of humans, and if humans continue to discriminate based on age, AI may continue to reflect that. So the first step is to be more aware of how we discriminate and model more inclusive behaviors. AI tools also get smarter as people engage them, and when we include older candidates in our pipeline, the data system will learn and remember the pattern to reduce bias.

At Leoforce, we built the Arya AI platform to support objective and diverse recruiting, free of subjective biases with limited individual achievement. Our data scientists and engineers built an AI that doesn’t allow searching based on age as its users adopt more inclusive patterns; it becomes even better at supporting your diversity goals.

We believe everyone should enjoy equal opportunities, and what you bring to the table should be irrespective of age or any other biases. Isn’t that wonderful!

Interested to see how Arya helps eliminate ageism in hiring? Or how it can accelerate your entire recruitment drive? Book a demo today.



What is the root cause of ageism?

On a cultural level, two elements are seen as the origin of ageism — a lack of resources and the large proportion of elderly individuals who are (unfairly) thought of as less or non-contributing members.

What are the kinds of ageism?

Ageism – discrimination based on age — can be broadly classified into three kinds: interpersonal ageism (social communication), internalized ageism (when individuals apply internalized views and beliefs to themselves), and institutional ageism (when a company ends up creating a non-inclusive environment through its workplace culture and policies).

At what age does ageism generally begin?

According to AARP, two out of three workers between ages 45 and 74 have seen or experienced ageism in the workplace. It’s a misconception that ageism is most prevalent for employees above 50 years of age; it can start even earlier.

What does ageism look like in the workplace?

There are several indicators of ageism in the workplace like management’s assuming that older workers will not be able to take up newer technologies, promoting younger and less experienced employees, even when they are not fully suitable for various job positions, and so on.



[1] https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2017/article/older-workers.htm
[2] https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/discrimination/agedisc
[3] https://www.aarp.org/work/working-at-50-plus/info-2019/age-bias-job-listings.html
[4] https://insights.dice.com/2018/06/12/ageism-tech-major-problem-survey/



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