Fighting age discrimination with AI

Sunil Dial explains how older workers are being let down in the hiring process and asks whether AI is the answer

Grappling with the triple whammy of fear, change and uncertainty has certainly drained the UK workforce, and has created the conditions for a burnout crisis. This is especially true for Gen Z, for whom the pandemic caused a deep shift in workplace norms.

What this crisis does highlight however, is the requirement and impact that more senior employees can have on business continuity. Their valuable ‘scars’ of experience can help dividends when dealing with various challenges within the business roadmap. These older staff can also offer guidance and support to younger employees within the workplace. The value of this guidance and support goes beyond a financial benefit, and it promotes harmony in the culture of a workplace.

But there is a blind spot when it comes to attracting older workers to jobs. New research from the Chartered Management Institute suggests that firms are less open to hiring older workers than they are to bringing in younger people. 74% of managers were open to a large extent to hiring younger workers between the ages of 18 and 34, but less than 20% of managers said they were open to a large extent to hiring people over the age of 65.

Hiring managers do not want to hire older people, and it is hurting companies, jobseekers, and the wider economy. This is an area of employment discrimination that is often overlooked, but it has a huge impact on both applicants and workplaces.

Data from the CIPD also shows that there are more than 10.4 million workers in the UK over the age of 50, and this figure will only keep growing in the coming years. As people continue to live and work for longer, more people every year are being subject to age discrimination when they seek new jobs. The result is an estimated one million 50–64 year-olds who want to be in employment, but aren’t – almost 2% of the adult population.

This is despite the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, urging people who have retired early to return to work this year. In setting out a plan to help lift the UK’s economic growth last month, the Chancellor stated that there were almost 300,000 fewer people in employment than before the pandemic, and warned that firms would find it difficult to grow if they couldn’t find enough staff. This is especially concerning given that the UK is the only G7 country expected to see its economy shrink this year.

All this data tells us that older people want to work, and that they are needed in the workforce. On the face of it, that seems like there should be an easy solution.

But it’s clear that age discrimination is clearly doing the UK economic harm, and it can be absolutely devastating for jobseekers who want nothing more than to be employed. This failure to consider older candidates hurts businesses as well. Not just because we need to boost employment numbers, but also because older employees bring useful and unique skills and perspectives, that would otherwise be lost.

Many businesses working with new technologies believe that they need a younger workforce, but this neglects the value of experience when dealing with challenges in the business roadmap. Most of the time, the perception of older jobseekers as ‘out of touch’ is simply untrue. They have often been working in a sector for significant periods of time, and have seen and been part of its evolution.

Older members of staff come with existing networks, they tend to stay with an employer, and they bring valuable experience of their industry and working culture more broadly. Many who are responsible for reviewing CVs are themselves younger employees, particularly in early screening stages. This in itself can compound the problem, as they do not understand and value the experience of candidates in older age brackets, so may overlook them.

Older people want to be employed, they are valuable to the economy, and they are valuable to businesses. Age discrimination presents a problem which is hurting everyone, so how do we fix it?

There is a ‘lost value’ to UK businesses in flawed recruitment processes which are prolific with bias and bad practice, and this threatens to undermine the entire hiring and candidate experience. This is true for all kinds of discrimination and bias, whether that be a result of age, race, sexuality, gender, or disability status.

When it comes to job applications, talent should always come first, but unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

As a job seeker, I was struggling to receive responses from employers when applying for roles that I knew I was qualified for, and as a result, I changed my name to ‘Simon’ on my CV. ‘Simon’ received a much better response, and resulted in me being invited to interviews far more often than Sunil did, despite my qualifications remaining the same.

Older workers no doubt have encountered a similar experience. If recruiters were to judge them only on their experience, and were not aware of their age at early stages of application, they would see much more success, benefitting everyone.

There are a few steps that companies can take to prevent the ‘lost value’ of underestimating marginalised candidates. They can make sure that CVs and applications are anonymised before they reach hiring managers, removing identifying features like name, age, photographs, and dates of birth. This way, when making early decisions, unconscious biases and discriminatory practices are prevented, and candidates are able to let their talent and experience speak first.

Companies can also make sure that job advertisements use inclusive language, that they advertise widely, and they use accessible job platforms. They can also make sure that their hiring managers are fully trained in preventing unconscious bias, and the value of underrepresented talent. Employers can also take the bold step to publish data on how they are hiring now. This transparency will highlight any bias towards specific groups and would allow for changes to be made where needed.

My own experience of discrimination when applying for jobs encouraged me to look into Artificial Intelligence and data-based solutions to this problem. The good news is that organisations are now in a position where emerging technologies can make a real difference to their application systems.

AI powered application systems and access to big data analytics are streamlining inclusivity measures, and allowing companies to see where they can advance their DE&I. AI can be used to automatically remove identifying features and ensure accessibility, which saves huge amounts of time, particularly in large organisations.

Also, when candidates know their data is being anonymised, they can be confident in knowing that their talent is doing the talking, making jobs more appealing to skilled applicants from all walks of life. AI powered application systems have the power to analyse invaluable hiring data. By exploring the trends in anonymised data, organisations can gain vital insights into the candidates they attract, enabling them to constantly improve their hiring practices.

Older workers, and all kinds of other marginalised groups, are being let down by bad hiring practices, and businesses and the wider economy are losing out as a result. Anonymous applications and access to data are providing a way forward, but businesses must get on board, and tackle their own hiring biases upfront. 

As published by Business Reporter