When you think of a typical tech worker, what mental image comes into your head? If the image was of a man in his late 20s, wearing designer clothes, trainers, and maybe goofing about playing ping-pong or snooker on his lunch break — then you might have just experienced a subconscious nod to ageism.
At the same time, you can be forgiven. Because this mental picture is also largely correct. Most tech workers really are that young. In fact, they are even younger. Apart from Google’s average working force at the ripe old age of 30. Other tech giants have demographics with median ages as young as 27, 28 and 29 years of age (that is AOL, Facebook and LinkedIn respectively).
So, why do tech companies only seem to favour the very young?
The tech companies have long been suspected of ageism. But the truth is this discrimination isn’t so much of a suspicion as it is an overt mentality. As the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg put it so succinctly back in 2007: “young people are just smarter”.
The overarching philosophy among tech companies appears to be that millennials are the cultural epicentre for Big Tech. Ageist discrimination is, according to Gareth Jones, the CEO of the UK-based tech company Headstart, even worse when it comes to the computer coding side of things. For some reason, ageism flies under the discrimination radar. The reason the sort of ageing culture described here is allowed to persist is, is because it just doesn’t seem as sensitive of an issue next to other discriminations — such as those to do with gender and race.
The apparent ubiquitous nature of ageism in our tech culture — and our wider working culture at large — has even prompted the director of operations at Age Diversity Forum, Paul Owen, to refer to it as “the biggest area of bias [today] receiving the lowest level of attention”.
Ageism might be pervasive, but it cannot last forever. It is an unsustainable discrimination. The reason being is that our society is ageing. In order to remain functional, Big Tech will not only have to open its doors to older employees, it will also have to fight to retain them.
The UK government’s own figures predict that by 2025 a third of the workforce will be 50 years or older. By the end of the decade, they will actually be the largest demographic. In some areas, we can already see the ageing demographic creeping up. For example, the average age for workers in mining and quarrying is a few decimal points shy of 45 years old. While the median age for a UK engineer, in general, is 42.
Fortunately, some businesses are starting to get wise of the impending tsunami of older workers. They are reconsidering age-old preconceptions about what it means to be young and old in a place of work. In a sobering series of surveys, the company Aviva discovered that about half of its 60-years-and-older employees did not want to retire. They only considered retiring because they felt pressured to do so, due to their age. On top of that, nearly 40 per cent reported ageism to be a real barrier to progress.
But there was some good news. In fact, the most interesting statistic the Aviva surveys picked up was this one: that people in their 60s generally appear more motivated at work than their 40 and 50-year-old counterparts.
New studies, like the Aviva surveys with their surprising conclusions, are helping to open new doors on how we look at the bigger picture. Of how society, age, and work all interact with one another. An important cultural shift occurred in 2017 with the government’s “Fuller Working Lives” report from the Department for Work and Pensions.
In the report, it was recognised that nearly a million unemployed over-50-year-olds would be keen on returning to work if the right support mechanisms were in place. That is, a standing army of a million people ready to fill skills shortages and bring invaluable corporate memory with them back into the economy. “Corporate Memory” being a buzzword for the lifetime of knowledge that older workers no doubt have.
This “missing million” might even be a necessary lifeline for some sectors. For example, the UK engineering sector has been haemorrhaging employees for over four years and is facing a steep recruitment crisis.
The recruitment crisis might explain why some engineering companies are already one step ahead of the game. They have actively changed their working hours and recruitment policies to attract veteran employees.
One example is Tideway, the company currently building a ‘Super Sewer’ under the Thames River in London. Tideway established a so-called ‘Returner’ programme back in 2015, that allows over-55s to transition slowly back into work. Another example can be found with the company Landmarc, which sources a quarter of all its labour from over-55s. It mostly recruits former military workers who already have a good knowledge of engineering. Both Landmarc and Tideway utilise flexible hours and transition phases to draw in the older crowds.
Another, more universal option, might be to bring in what’s known as a “Midlife MOT”. This phrase has its origins as a seemingly unremarkable comment — with barely a paragraph of its own — in the government’s Independent Review Of The State Pension Age report of 2017. A Midlife MOT basically gives over-45s a mixture of face-to-face consultations, lectures, access to e-learning tools, and even financial advice to prepare them for the next career-phase of life.
When Aviva introduced the Midlife MOT to its own staff, it was an enormous success with a 94 per cent enrolment rate. The enthusiasm here speaks volumes. It suggests that ageing workers really are looking for support to help orientate themselves for better working prospects.
Other strategies involve further challenging our preconceptions. At the beginning of this article, you were asked to think of a typical tech worker. Now think of a typical apprentice. The chances are, you thought of someone barely out of school. But actually, most apprentices tend to be a fair bit older. Over 40 per cent of them are 25 years or older, for example. It is now becoming more common for apprentices to be in their 50s or 60s. In fact, learning as an apprentice can be a great opportunity for an older worker as they start to ease their transition out of full-time work. Allowing them to learn new skills in other or similar job roles.
Finally, we should learn to avoid certain buzzwords that are ageist in nature. Sometimes without us even realising it. Terms such as “recent graduate” or “digital native” in job descriptions, for example. They are essentially a way of saying if you are old don’t bother, we haven’t even thought about you.
Like all societal struggles for change, confining ageism to the history books will not be easy. It also won’t disappear overnight. But by educating ourselves to the challenge, spreading the message to others, and showing our support and encouraging strategies like those listed above, ageism will be undone quicker than we might realise.
This article was written by Neil Wright, a writer and researcher for RJ Lifts, an lift engineering and maintenance company located in Stoke-on-Trent, UK.
Between 12,000 and 20,000 veterans leave the armed services each year and venture into the civilian workforce. Yet a large percentage of them are struggling to find their perfect job role. Thanks to 31% of recruiters being reluctant to hire ex-military personnel, according to reports by SSAFA. The number one reason? Many of them worry about being adequately prepared to provide the right support for veterans. However, employing ex-military personnel can benefit your organisation in so many ways, like adding all-important diversity to your workplace, a great work ethic and providing your business with highly skilled employees.
One of the barriers stopping the recruitment of ex-armed forces employees is the recruitment process. They don’t always take into account the unique skill set that ex-military candidates may possess. Many of them do apply for jobs and end up never getting past the first stage of selection. Simply because their CV does not look like that of a standard traditionally trained professional. Yet, the skills they can bring to the job can be easily transferable and extremely useful. To combat this, focus on training your recruitment team to identify and understand the transferable skills that an armed forces CV can offer.
Research by SAAS showed that some of the positive skills possessed by service leavers include being a strong team player, resilience and being good problem solvers. However, there remains a gap between recognising these qualities and employment practices, according to Jessica Rose at Business in the Community. You can also run regular workshops in your business covering topics such as CV preparation and assessment of employability skills.
Offering personalised benefits can attract the right talent, including military personnel. To do this, you must first understand the needs of your workforce. If you are going to be adding ex-military personnel to your workforce, it may be a good idea to do research on the key benefits that matter to them. For example, recent research has shown that levels of PTSD are on the increase for veterans. This indicates the need to prioritise mental health benefits, including psychotherapy, hypnotherapy and family therapy.
In addition to prioritising mental health benefits, you will want to focus on other benefits, such as disability and health insurance. A large percentage of the military population retire or leave the armed forces with an injury or disability that may affect their job performance. Securing cover means they feel better having a safety net, and your business is also covered for the possibility.
Most online compensation calculators offer disability and veteran considerations to help you accurately estimate veteran impairment ratings and compensation categories. Another suggestion is to offer direct links to organisations focused on supporting veterans with PTSD and their families. The more uniques support you can provide, the better you will look in their eyes.
The United Kingdom is littered with employers all doing their best to support ex-armed forces. They do this by either offering veteran recruitment programs, retraining or other recruitment initiatives. The one thing they all seem to have in common? They publicise their efforts and willingness to employ military personnel.
Whether it is creating a dedicated careers section for military applicants, offering a veterans employment program, or announcing your vacancies on the social networks of military support organisations, this can ensure your business is noticed by the right people – the veterans.
As a business and employer, this is a responsibility to secure the best talent you can for your organisation. This usually means striking the right mix and balance of differently skilled employees and should include service leavers.
However, you must be prepared to adequately support ex-military personnel, just as you would for any other class of employees. Whether you are just launching your veteran recruitment program or are already an employer of service leavers, it is certainly worthwhile taking the time to design your HR function with them in mind.
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In 2019, 19% of Americans 65 and older were in the workforce — a 7% increase from 1996. By 2026, that number is predicted to grow to 22%, according to estimates from the U.S Bureau Of Labour Statistics. Interestingly, this wasn’t always the case. In fact, a 2019 research by Deloitte showed that 67% of companies still consider older age to be a competitive disadvantage. However, as a business and workforce, you stand to gain a lot from attracting senior employees to your organisation. With the right jobs and the right support from their employers, older workers can add a wealth of experience, innovation, and add needed diversity to your business.
Older workers are known to be more loyal which means your employee turnover rate is diminished. In the Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends project, 54% of workers aged 65 and older are employed because they want to be and not because of need or money. Their desire to be employed means they are driven by passion and career fulfilment and are less likely to be constantly on the hunt for a better paying job.
Older workers also come with years of experience in the workforce and a pre-built professional network. With such experience behind them, your business can utilise their acquired skills and past experiences to launch new, reinforced strategies. They also tend to be better in customer-facing and high pressured roles thanks to improved communication and leadership skills, giving you just another reason to consider older workers for jobs. Once you realise the immense benefits of including older workers in their workforce, you must then focus on how to attract such talent. As an employer, the message, method, and channels you use in recruitment will determine the quality and demographics of your potential candidates.
Many companies across America now offer innovative programs aimed at mature workers in the market including fellowships and return schemes. To use this as inspiration, employers must be prepared to amend the terms of employment to suit older candidates such as offering reduced work hours, emphasized medical and wellness benefits and paid training opportunities for older workers looking to switch professional paths at a later stage. This way companies can still access the merits of hiring an older worker, while senior workers can achieve a work-life balance in retirement.
Another way to attract workers from a mature age pool would be to work in conjunction with local and national organizations — such as community volunteer organizations— to become a point of recruitment. One glance at community programs and volunteer effort shows that a majority of people running these groups are often retired and looking to occupy their time.
Employers must also focus on the employment packages offered to their current workers as well. Many older job seekers that are close to retirement age or those not wanting to commit to a full-time job after 65 feel discouraged to even apply to open vacancies since they only have a few years left or seek amended terms. Offering a phased retirement can address this and encourage more seniors to apply for an opening in your business. It can include a gradual reduction in hours and responsibilities or the option of switching to part-time employment or moving into a consulting role.
You can also work with recruitment agencies and online talent platforms that cater just for mater workers like Operation A.B.L.E that works with those aged 55 and older. Above all, rethink your strategy to recruitment and the benefits lesser employed groups such as mature workers can add to your business and beyond. Doing so will not benefit your bottom line and brand, but impact the economy, the wellbeing and the lives of the workforce at large.
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Are you looking to recruit a ‘dynamic leader’ or a ‘committed people person’? Chances are you’re just looking for the best person for the job. But the choice of language used in the job description could be alienating and dissuading the best – and most diverse – candidates from even applying.
Recent research from Adzuna revealed that 60% of businesses showed significant male bias in the wording of their job adverts. This research was based on a study by academics Gaucher, Friesen and Kay, which found that job descriptions with more masculine wording were less likely to appeal to female applicants. It wasn’t for the most part that female candidates assumed they weren’t up to the job, the research found. Rather they – consciously or unconsciously – were less likely to feel they’d belong at such an employer and didn’t want to work for a company whose first impression was one of being biased in favour of men.
And so the debate on the issue is hotting up. The UK government recently announced a trial of gender-neutral language to define science, technology, engineering and maths apprenticeships to encourage more women to apply. A pilot will apply gender-neutral language to 12 apprenticeship standards.
But while most HR leaders are aware that biased language exists in job descriptions, many don’t know how to fix this. Part of the problem is an inability to identify biased language because of its subtlety. Words that seem innocuous are often rooted in societal conditioning.
A 2017 analysis of 77,000 UK job adverts by Totaljobs revealed ‘lead’ to be the most common male-gendered word used in job specs, while ‘support’ was the most used female-gendered word. According to Gaucher, Friesen and Kay, popular recruiting adjectives such as ‘ambitious, assertive, decisive, determined and self-reliant’ are male-gendered. While words like ‘committed, connect, interpersonal, responsible and yield’ are considered female-gendered. For instance, in a male-gendered job description, a company might be described as ‘a dominant engineering firm that boasts many clients’. Whereas the female-gendered version could read ‘we are a community of engineers who have effective relationships with many satisfied clients’.
So how can HR de-bias a job description to make the language gender neutral? According to Andrea Singh, HR director of BAM, the first step is to focus on gender-coded words. Job titles should be neutral and descriptive language should give equal weighting to male- and female-coded descriptors, she explains. However, Singh also points out that de-biasing a job description goes beyond replacing adjectives. Employers need to make sure that the requirements listed are actually necessary, because “women will typically only put themselves forward for a job when they meet 100% of the criteria”.
But with unconscious bias ever present there are questions around whether it’s possible for humans to conduct this de-biasing. Singh believes that with the right training it is. But she admits the best results come when software and learning are combined. “Technology brings information and suggestions to the fingertips but job specs need to feel authentic. The people writing and editing specs need to be trained to spot the bias too,” she says.
However, Richard Marr, co-founder and chief technology officer of Applied, doubts whether training a person to remove biased language can be as effective as relying on dedicated software. “The evidence is pretty weak that training is effective,” states Marr. “Processes trump training and tools trump processes. With training, you’re just expecting people to do the right thing.”
That said, the trouble with using software is that neither Applied nor its competitors AdPro and Textio currently extend their job description analysis beyond gender to include other demographics such as ethnicity, LGBTQ+, disabled or economically-disadvantaged candidates. Applied is working with Google to expand its analysis tool to incorporate ethnicity (and other dimensions). But until such tech is available removing gendered language from job descriptions can still have a positive impact on other diverse groups, Singh believes.
“I think language can be looked at in the same way. Masculine phrasing might also be off-putting for candidates from particular ethnic backgrounds where their culture doesn’t typically fit with this type of approach,” she says.
It’s a view shared by Marr. He explains that a job analysis tool will also assess the readability and density of a job description, scoring it for how many syllables, words and sentences it contains. His thinking is that the more readable the job spec, the more inclusive it is likely to be.
“There are heavy socio-economic correlations,” notes Marr. “If you look at people who have low incomes they will have less access to desktop computers and are more likely to rely on their phones and to live in a distracting environment. Each of those things adds a cumulative layer that results in something quite substantial.”
So there are certainly steps that can be taken. But, in an age in which many urge the need to move away from binary definitions of men and women, is so-called male and female language really meaningful anymore? Or is it just another theory to get bogged down by?
Adrian Love, recruitment director for the UK and Ireland at Accenture, certainly feels male and female language is still a ‘thing’. He points to Accenture figures showing an increase in female job applicants from 34% to 50% since 2014, thanks in part to the de-biasing of job specs.
“The impact has been very positive. But there are no silver bullets here. It has to be part of a wider inclusion and diversity programme,” he says.
It’s a similar story from Applied, with Marr reporting that the tool has helped trigger an estimated 10% to 15% swing towards female candidates. Singh also reports a significant increase in female applicants since implementing de-biasing.
“This shows that [using] gender-neutral language is affecting the talent we can attract,” she says, adding that de-biasing could now be taken further. “We now need to delve into the data in more detail… and analyse the next stages in the process to see if we have more women being shortlisted, interviewed and ultimately selected.”
After all, a gender-neutral job description can only go so far if, when a candidate is successful or unsuccessful in their application, the language in the feedback or job offer sees a return to bias.
Both Singh and Love concede that their job description writing tools are unable to analyse interview feedback. But this is where training comes into play, they say.
“Software raises awareness and can point out bias that people may miss,” says Singh, but it’s also important teams are trained to spot it elsewhere in recruitment materials.
Love agrees: “[It’s] not just about one action, it’s about looking at every element throughout the recruitment process. There are opportunities to drive inclusivity end to end, but job descriptions are important because they’re a gateway for candidates.”
Later this year Bank of England governor Mark Carney will stand down. He’s the 120th white man out of 120 individuals to have ever filled the role, and so the institution has been heavily criticised for embodying a ‘stale, male and pale’ image of finance. By its own admission, it will fail to meet any of its diversity targets this year. So with calls to appoint a female to the position for the first time is the language in the role’s job description gender-biased?
Not according to Applied’s job description analysis tool. Following the appointment of diversity specialists to head up the search for Carney’s replacement, HR magazine analysed the job description to see if the bank’s commitment to diversity extends to its recruitment materials. It scored a respectable 84% for inclusivity and contained an equal amount of male-gendered and female-gendered words.
Marr says that language falls into two categories: agentic and communal. Agentic language is considered male coded. In this advert, agentic traits found were words like ‘confidence, decision, lead and determination’. The communal traits were female-coded words such as ‘responsibility, commit, communicate, and understanding’.
Marr argues that performance evaluation and leadership development should also be defined in a way that balances both sets of traits. “Companies often define success for leaders along agentic lines and measure performance and promotion that way, even though communal traits are just as valuable in leaders,” he says.
Written by Sarah Ronan for HR Magazine.
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You’re Probably Addressing Workplace Diversity All Wrong. Here’s What You Should Be Doing Instead by Brad Wayland
These days, it seems as though inclusiveness is the golden goose for human resources, particularly those operating in technology. The problem is that most businesses go about it in entirely the wrong way, falling into toxic traps like hiring quotas and tokenism. This needs to change.
How does that phrase make you feel? If you’re anything like me, not great. For one, it’s dehumanizing, reducing a new employee down to a single label, ignoring everything else about their accomplishments and who they are as a person.
You’re hiring them because of a quality over which they have no control rather than because of what they can do.
You’re no longer hiring Kristin the Data Scientist, who graduated with top marks from Stanford. She’s Kristin the woman. You aren’t hiring Greg the Marketing Director, with over ten years of experience and a master’s in Marketing Science from Columbia. You’re hiring Greg the black man. You’re not hiring Lucas because he graduated from New York University and worked on Wall Street. You’re doing it because he’s gay, and you have a quota to fill.
You get the idea.
“I’m a dream hire for most technology companies,” writes Jori Ford, Senior Director of Content and SEO at peer-to-peer G2 Crowd. “In an industry dominated by white, straight males, a lesbian with both black and Korean heritage checks a lot of boxes. And that’s the problem. In response to the demand for more diverse hiring practices, technology firms have resorted to quotas that ultimately miss the point.”
But isn’t it admirable to seek out men and women who are traditionally underrepresented in your industry?
Yes, but you need to be doing it for the right reasons. Not to fulfil some bogus corporate initiative or make your business look better in the eyes of investors and customers. And not with a focus that begins and ends at hiring and retention.
You should hire someone underrepresented because they might bring a unique perspective to your workplace. You should hire them because discrimination is harmful to everyone, at every level of a business. But most importantly, you should do it if you genuinely believe they’re the best candidate for the job.
There’s another angle to this whole conversation, as well. Simply bringing in a diversity hire will not make your workplace more diverse. Diversity requires that your organization rethink its values and mission. Here’s how:
• Work within your organization to find out what preconceptions your people hold about others, and why. Negative stereotypes do not develop in a vacuum, and challenging them is the first step to fostering greater inclusiveness.
• Look at your employees as people rather than resources, and ensure your colleagues do the same. Empathic leadership, as noted by tech publication CIO, is at the core of inclusiveness.
• Make diversity an ongoing effort rather than a single initiative, and focus on retention as well as hiring. Culture is not something that can be changed overnight, nor can inclusiveness be assured by handing out a few pamphlets.
• For the hiring process, consider implementing a blind evaluation phase. Your hiring department will look exclusively at each candidate’s credentials, without knowing anything else about their identity.
When you hire someone to fulfil a quota or simply for the sake of having a more diverse workplace, you’re putting the cart before the horse. Diversity and inclusiveness aren’t something that can be automated, nor can they be dealt with through spreadsheets. Understanding that is the only way you’ll make your workplace genuinely inclusive.
Brad Wayland is the Chief Strategy Officer at BlueCotton, a site with high-quality, easy-to-design custom t-shirts.
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Hiring neurodiverse employees can help improve a company’s productivity and assist in its growth. Today, more and more firms are employing a diverse pool of talents including those with neurological limitations such as Autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome, Dyspraxia and Dyslexia, among others. The growing interest by companies and employers for neurodiversity is driven by the need to look for a pool of highly talented individuals that can fill skilled positions.
There is an immense capacity for individuals with neuro disabilities to perform a variety of functions. Studies suggest that these people think, perceive and process their thoughts differently. Each person is exceptionally gifted paying attention to detail and can concentrate intensely on the job at hand. A highly functioning individual with ASD, the broad term used to describe those with neuro disabilities excel or outperform those who are neuro able individuals. Research by the University of Montreal indicates that people with autism are 40% better at problem-solving compared to those who do not fall in the neurodiversity category. And prospective employers know this and are eager to use the talents of neurodiverse individuals.
Although the trend is growing in the US and to some extent the UK to employ neurodiverse individuals, there is a largely untapped labour market that could fill gaps in skilled jobs. According to the UK National Autistic Society, a mere 16% of individuals with autism are in a full-time job compared to 57% of non-disabled people. In the US, individuals on the autism spectrum have above average IQs yet there are many who are unemployed.
Big names such as Microsoft, Google, SAP, Ford and Hewlett Packard Enterprises have modified their hiring processes to accommodate neurodiversity. To attract neurodiversity, they must change the way they hire people including the creation of job descriptions, providing soft skills training and trial jobs.
Although most available data is anecdotal, it suggests that neurodiverse employees increase the productivity of a company by nearly as much as 50%. This was said by Siemens who hired Auticon IT specialists for product testing efficiency.
Employers say that people with ASD are highly skilled in special competencies. And when put in a specific job category where they perform the best, it contributes to company output and productivity. They do their jobs well and are likely to develop loyalty to the company contributing to a high retention..
Parents of neurodiverse children often adjust their situation such as designing a home for a child with ADHD. The principle works the same with employers. Some minor adjustments might be required such as modification of work hours, provision of headphones or quiet office spaces.
Remember, people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) function differently, process thoughts and reactions in a different manner and so on. Adjustments to accommodate their diversity is a small sacrifice, if you can call it that way, in exchange for the benefits they bring to the company. And it works both ways, companies get their talents while neurodiverse individuals are employed and feel a sense of belonging to society.
The practice of ‘neurodiversity is a competitive advantage’ for a business or company (Austin and Pisano, 2017). It would be a disservice to overlook this group of people who can contribute to a company’s growth and output. And if a business or organisation can help these talents get recognised, then it is a win-win situation for both sides.
About The Author
Lucy Wyndham is a freelance writer and editor.
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