Age discrimination exposed

Age discrimination is part of reality in most parts of the world and it has become a rapidly growing problem. Although we hardly speak about it, and read even less about it, there are very clear signals throughout our society. Especially in the field of employment, age discrimination has become the hidden challenge for everyone who joins the growing group of 50+ humans.

Let us start with summing up some facts about Western population and demographics:

- To bridge the gap between retirement funds reservations and the growing “gray generations”, governments in Western countries are gradually increasing the retirement age, moving towards 68–70.

- Improved healthcare and healthier lifestyles make that people live longer and will either work longer or depend on retirement payments longer.

- Demographic developments show that 43% of the working population is in the age group 50–69 years old.

Example Germany:

On the other side of the equation is the reality of employment and corporations.

- Corporations (large and small) prefer to hire young talent which in many cases are willing to work for lower pay and are seen as less risky when it comes to sickness, health, etc.

- At the same time, a growing number of corporations, especially the larger ones, are aiming to let go of the 50+ workforce through incentives and even flat out terminating contracts with employees which have reached the 50+ milestone.

So this leads to on the one hand an economical and demographic development which would require longer employment of the 50+ group to avoid increasing numbers of people depending on social benefits and retirement payments, and on the other hand companies and corporations being unwilling to hire or even maintain a 50+ workforce. Given the fact that the 50+ population is already almost the majority of the current workforce, and within only a few years will effectively become the majority of the workforce, that is a serious problem!

Having heard from many experts in my network looking for employment about their challenges to get a proper job once they joined the 50+ force, and with my own experience in corporate life where I have witnessed the age discrimination on several cases, I decided to run a test just to see what happens. To do this, I took my resume as it is, and applied with 10 corporations in Europe for positions which match my profile, experience and education. After 2 weeks, I took my resume again, changed my date of birth to make it show my age as 37 instead of 57, and entered my mother’s maiden name instead of mine to avoid the name-match would give away my testing purpose, and with that applied for the same positions at the same corporations.

Here are the shocking results:

There is an additional ball game for those who are applying for jobs, and that is the fast amount of agencies which posts positions on all kinds of job portals and social media. To be able to understand the difference in the way the 50+ workforce is treated, I also did the same test with positions offered through such agencies. Apply as the 57 experienced executive, and 2 weeks later apply as the 20 years younger and less experienced person, for the same position offered by these agencies.

In case you thought the results of this test at corporations was already shocking, have a look at the results when applying through agencies:

I want to make something crystal clear, which in addition to the active age discrimination, puts a lot of question marks around the quality of the selection and hiring processes by HR departments and the job posting agencies. In the resume I issued with the applications in which I pretended to be 37, I didn’t change a single thing in experience and education, not even the years in which these were done!

These shocking results, which confirm what for example Oleg Vishnepolsky advocates, and many in my network told me, show that it has become close to impossible to find employment once you have reached the growing ranks of 50+ highly experience and qualified workforce looking for proper employment. That is not just a problem of today. It was a problem 10 years ago when I had to argue with HR to hire the 53 year old experienced expert I needed to get the job done, and HR wanted to hire the 28 year old youngster, which unfortunately is not the only example age discrimination I experienced in 30 years in corporate leadership roles.

Over the years, I have heard many invalid reasons by which HR and Leadership attempted to rationalize their policy of age discrimination. Risks of illness is a very common reason, which is nothing but nonsense. Higher costs due to extended experience, where in my opinion the extended experience is an asset and will provide significant benefits. More nonsense like lack of motivation, energy, willingness to change are also very common. But my absolute lowlight in my 30 years of experience is a CEO of a large corporation blocking my request to hire a top talent of 52 years old, because it would damage the image of the company…

Age discrimination is real, just as real as the pay gap between men and women, and there is no real solution in sight. Corporations play the game of better matching candidates, which as this limited test shows, is utter nonsense and just a scheme to hide the active age discrimination. Governments continue to expect longer employment to avoid payouts of benefits and retirement payments which exceed the actual reservation, also (but not only) caused by the decreasing amount of pay in.

So what can we do about this in the short term? The gig economy isn’t the real answer because there is already a massive inflow of youngsters in that market, leading to an enormous competition. When we already are not willing to hire the 50+ experts, what are the odds that we will give them the gigs that would match? Retraining and learning new skills could be an answer although we have to be realistic and accept that these projects tend to take several years, and after completion of the training, the 50+ workforce will have learned the skills of a new field but lack the experience. And the new skills will not change that they are still 50+ years old and companies are not willing to hire them.

The real answer lays in the responsibility of Executives, Managers, and Governments. Change that mindset of not hiring those who offer fast experience and knowledge, and are highly motivated. Put incentives in place for those companies that have a workforce that matches the demographic situation of the country they work and pay taxes in. Put penalties in place for those companies which actively participate in the demonstrated age discrimination, either by not hiring or by terminating the 50+ workforce.

To all those who have not yet joined the 50+ elite and believe they are not impacted by this, please be aware that it is just a matter of time until you are! So better start working on a solution now before you too will realize that you are highly skilled, very experienced, and unwanted!



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Dr. ir Johannes Drooghaag

Dad, consultant, coach, speaker, author. Mainly Cyber Security, leadership, responsible tech and organizational change.