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How to Improve Age Diversity in Hiring in Your Organization

Employee motivation increases with the presence and guidance of older workers

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En español | Building a diverse workforce is a multistakeholder effort that does not happen overnight. It's a conscious choice an organization makes to increase its agility, competitiveness and innovation. Studies show that diverse teams increase profitability by as much as 22 percent, comparable with similar organizations with a less diverse workforce.

While much progress has been made over the past 20 years to address gender and ethnic diversity, leaders must think beyond these aspects in order to generate the kinds of ideas needed to survive in the quickly evolving business landscape. Expanding diversity initiatives to include sexuality, age, ability, and diversity of thought is a tall order, but it can be done.

As we expand our definition of diversity, we cannot ignore age. The cross-pollination of experience with new approaches and skills is invaluable at every level of the organization. This guide covers age-inclusive recruiting practices you can leverage to support age-diversity goals and initiatives.

Getting the Basics Right

An age-inclusive recruiting strategy cannot be the responsibility of HR leaders alone. It takes several stakeholders within an organization to ensure a diverse recruiting process. Here are some things you can do to create a strong foundation.

  • Get supporters involved. Establishing a diversity and inclusion task force and securing an executive sponsor for these initiatives provides support for changes you want to make, but you need to ensure their visibility and involvement within the recruiting process. Include your D & I task force in the assessment of new candidates, not simply for the candidates’ technical or hard skills but also for their potential culture ‘adds’ rather than culture fits. What institutional knowledge, professional networks and soft skills might an older candidate contribute to a team? Which younger team members might be ready for additional responsibilities? Invite your executive sponsor to see firsthand how initiatives are progressing rather than simply providing updates.
  • Add age to your diversity and inclusion strategies. While it is illegal to make hiring decisions based specifically on age, noting it within the list of diversity attributes keeps it top of mind and initiates the hard work of addressing the underlying and often unconscious assumptions we make about candidates based on their age.
  • Build the business case internally for age diversity. There may be a disconnect between HR and people managers in understanding the benefits of an age-diverse team. To combat this, build a business case for age diversity, emphasizing the stability, soft skills, and work ethic of older workers. It may also help you secure or allocate funding for new sourcing strategies, vendor solutions or age-bias training needed to ramp up age-diversity work. For additional resources, contact AARP at employerpledge@aarp.org.

Diversifying Sourcing Strategies

While many organizations have a strong desire to retain their older workers (for good reason), less attention is paid to hiring them. Including age as a conscious element within your process for sourcing candidates is a key first step. Consider these internal and external sourcing strategies.

Internal sourcing strategies:

  • Increase awareness of open positions across all age groups and career stages. Some older workers may want to make lateral moves or learn new skills by taking on more junior roles, for example.
  • Host internal career fairs.
  • Leverage career development initiatives and connect them with internal job postings.
  • Think expansively about redeployment. If positions are being eliminated or some roles become too physically demanding, create pathways to adjacent or related jobs and provide on-the-job training to smooth the transitions.

External sourcing strategies:

  • Post open positions on diversity-focused job boards like the AARP Job Board.
  • Consider starting a return-to-work program — “returnship” — for mid-career professionals who've taken time off for raising children, caring for elders or other reasons.
  • Emphasize age (and other kinds of) diversity as a goal when ramping up referral activities or initiating referral campaigns.
  • Partner with the alumni programs at universities and community colleges.
  • Provide diversity goals to any sourcing agencies you work with. If you've added age to your D&I work, explain why it's important to your organization

De-Biasing Your Process

Part of attracting an age-diverse slate of candidates is signaling to them that your organization welcomes candidates of all ages and is a place they can see themselves. Take a look at the following areas of your process with an age-inclusive lens.

  • Focus on employer branding. Make sure your imagery, employee profiles and social media activity reflect an organization that welcomes older candidates as part of the mix.
  • Audit your AI bot. Many organizations find AI (artificial intelligence) solutions not only useful but efficient in selecting the best candidates among pools of applicants. But human bias carries over into AI algorithms, especially algorithms that are modeled from past criteria such as data about current or previous employees. If your organization is using personality tests in its hiring process, request bias monitoring practices from your AI vendor. Ask the vendor whether they have I/O psychologists on staff and what are the dates and frequency of their most recent audits.
  • Review your job descriptions. Are your job descriptions peppered with ageist phrases such as “recent college grad,” “young, dynamic team,” or “digital native"? Such language can subtly signal that older applicants need not apply, and can put you at risk of violating the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Use AARP's guide, “Say This, Not That,” to review and update job description language.

Upping Your Interview Game

Establishing a strong foundation and increasing the age diversity of your pipeline is good, but don't forget the final hurdle: the interview process. Remembering the business case you've worked on and training people managers on the value of age diversity are critical to overcoming the unconscious bias that might occur when an older candidate walks into the room. Here are some additional things to consider.

  • Establish a structured interview process. This best practices meet a variety of goals, including accurately assessing a candidate's fit for the role. Use interview panels, create uniform question sets and establish a scoring system for assessing behavioral and interpersonal skills. Do not leave the assessments solely up to the discretion of the hiring manager.
  • Select your interview panel carefully. Ask the stakeholders in your organization if your interview panel reflects your desired diversity goals.
  • Reframe qualifying factors. Shift assessments from a candidate's pedigree to their ability and skill. A degree from an accredited institution is a great accomplishment, but hiring managers should look beyond structured learning. Consider assessing for soft skills using a grit test and/or aptitude test.

The benefits of a multigenerational workforce far outweigh the perceived costs. Reduction in expensive mistakes and employee turnover save organizations millions a year in operating expenses and human capital costs. Additionally, employee motivation and engagement increase with the presence and guidance of workers 50-plus. An age-diverse workforce should not only factor into the diversity equation, but serve as a driving force in the long-term stability of your organization.

Use AARP’s worksheet for comparing your recruitment practices by career stage.

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