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Spot the Bias

 Jan 27, 2020 2:00 PM
by Helen Spence

There is considerable irony in job ads that proudly pronounce the employer is an Equal Opportunity Employer (EOE/AA) but the words in the ad reflect anything but! Recently, I came across one that epitomized this scenario. See if you can spot the bias. For the sake of anonymity, I have changed references but the essence remains.

“Young, enthusiastic person with good marketing skills and technical acumen.

  • 8-10 years of work experience
  • Manufacturing expertise is preferred
  • ETC.”

Yup, you got it. The very first word was discriminatory and yet this was an ad from an EOE/AA certified business.

Imagine starting an ad with “white” rather than “young”? Would that have alerted anyone more quickly to the fact that there was bias? It would have been considered shocking in today’s world. However, when references are made to age, no one seems to notice.

Unfortunately, this kind of discrimination is pervasive. Ageism continues to be widely accepted and is so well-tolerated that we often don’t recognize our own internal bias.

Many organizations and businesses are allegedly inclusive. No doubt they are as long as you are indigenous, LBGTQ2S, a woman, disabled, an immigrant or refugee, and ethnically diverse. But, if you are over a certain age and looking for work or you want to stay in your job, you can be sure that your age will come into play.

Age discrimination in both retention and recruitment is a serious obstacle. An American study involving 40,000 fictitious CVs sent in response to advertised vacancies for low-skilled jobs found that applicants between 49 and 51 had 19% fewer callbacks than those aged 29 to 31 with otherwise identical CVs. For the 64-66 age group, the difference was 35%. Source: Age Discrimination and Hiring of Older Workers, Research from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco 2017

What is most troubling is the lack of awareness about age diversity and inclusion. Routinely age is not part of the conversation, nor will it ever be if we don’t start to make a fuss and take ageism out of the closet.

Here are a few tips that will help you make a difference:

  • Observe the types of diversity being advertised. If age is missing, bring it to the attention of the advertiser.
  • Write to your local MPP or MP to raise their awareness of this gap in diversity and inclusion.
  • If you are currently employed, check out your employer’s diversity policies. Is age included?

With the shift to an older demographic, ageism is more topical than ever before. We all have a role to play in its elimination.

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How Old Do You Feel?

 Jan 2, 2020 11:00 PM
by Helen Spence

Do you know the distinctions among “chronological age”, “biological age”, and “subjective age”? 

Simply put: “chronological age” refers to the number of birthdays we’ve celebrated; “biological age” is determined by measuring age-related biomarkers which include grip strength, blood pressure, the elasticity of the skin, etc.; and “subjective age” is the age we feel.

Increasingly, I hear contemporaries exclaim that they can’t believe that they are already _____(fill in the blank) years old! Many still feel infinitely younger than their chronological age. Granted, this only applies to those who are fortunate enough to enjoy good health, but the reality is that this generation of older adults (Boomers) is healthier, better educated and more tech-savvy than any previous generation. They do feel younger and their “biological” age is more youthful.

Top Sixty Over Sixty (T60 Strategies) conducted a research study in 2018. We were trying to ascertain how our program, ReSet, impacted feelings of internalized ageism on an entrepreneurial mindset. Our findings were closely aligned with those of other researchers. We concluded that most older adults weren’t aware of their own bias against ageing. They didn’t realize that this internalized feeling was self-limiting. It also impacted health and attitude.

Although not part of our study, we have systematically been collecting data on “subjective age”, finding that most people over 40 consider themselves to be 20 years younger than they are. They also consider old age to be 20 years beyond their actual age. Apparently, these feelings are indicative of our “subjective age” which are quite accurate predictors of our well-being and ageing prognosis. Our gut intuitively signals how cognitively aware we are, how physically able we are and how emotionally stable we are. Feeling more youthful means that we tend to be more optimistic and positive. Having a positive outlook has been proven to make a great difference when it comes to ageing.

Aside from genetic predispositions, we all have the ability to improve our chances of ageing well and actively.  If we embrace healthy habits, eating well, exercising and seeing the cup as half full rather than half empty, we can control some of the variables that will affect us later in life. The first challenge is to recognize our own bias and then to understand how to change it.

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