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

Mothers, older workers and disabled people hold the key to getting Britain back to work

Government efforts to boost Britain’s workforce should focus on supporting more mothers into work, and helping older workers and those with a disability stay in work, rather than persuading the large Covid cohort of older workers to ‘unretire’, according to new Resolution Foundation research published.

The issue of workforce participation has come to a head following a sharp rise in economic inactivity over the course of the pandemic – up by 830,000 between 2019 and 2022, with three quarters of the rise concentrated among those aged 50 and over.

This has prompted calls to action, with the Government’s response likely to form a major part of the upcoming Budget. The authors say that attention on this issue is welcome but warn that a policy focus on trying to persuade this recent ‘Covid cohort’ of lost workers back into the labour market is unlikely to work.

The report finds that increased labour market exits during the pandemic were disproportionately from higher-than-normal retirements among higher-paid professionals, with flows from employment into retirement from many low-paying occupations actually falling. It will be hard to persuade these people, two-thirds of whom own their own home outright and therefore have low living costs, to ‘unretire’ says the authors.

The Foundation adds that someone who took early retirement during the summer of 2020 has now been economically inactive for two-and-a-half years. Historically, just 1-in-50 people in this situation return to work every three months.

Using the benefit system – to target more support, or increase the pressure to work – is unlikely to work either, as just one-in-ten of the economically inactive 55-59 year olds who have left employment since the start of the pandemic are relying on benefit support in the first place.

Policy makers should instead look ahead and focus on three groups – older workers, mothers and those with ill-health or a disability – where the UK’s past experience tells us progress can be made.

In the decade running up to the pandemic, the UK saw employment rates rise by 13 percentage points for women aged 55-64 (and four percentage points for men) and by five percentage points for coupled mothers, while the employment gap between those with or without a disability fell by five percentage points between 2013 and 2022.

First, demographic changes mean that there will be many more older age workers in Britain in the 2020s – the number of people aged 65 and over will rise by 2.5 million between 2020 and 2030.

The Foundation warns against a narrow focus on simply raising the State Pension Age, which disproportionately impacts those on lower incomes and poor places with lower life expectancies. If the Government wants to discourage early retirement – having previously encouraged it for richer people with ‘pension freedoms’ – it could accelerate the rise in the minimum age at which people can draw their private pension, which is currently due to rise from 55 to 57 but to remain 10 years lower than the state pension age.

Second, the UK must address its maternal employment gap, where participation rates among low-income women aged 25-54 were just 50 per cent in 2017-2019, compared to 94 per cent among high-income women of the same age.

The Foundation warns that policy makers need to be clear what their objectives are when it comes to new childcare policies. Popular proposals to extend the number of ‘free’ childcare hours will largely boost the incomes of already-working parents in middle-and-high income households, rather than boost employment among lower income households. To achieve the latter, the government should reform childcare support and work incentives for second earners in Universal Credit.

Third, the report notes that a growing share of the population lives with a disability or ill-health. As well as a wider policy agenda to tackle the underlying causes of this trend, including rising mental ill-health, policy makers can do far more to help those affected stay in employment.

The Government should build on the success of statutory maternity leave in boosting maternal employment, and create a new ‘right-to-return’ so that workers who need take some time off work for ill-health remain attached to their employer and job. The Foundation also warns that proposals from both main parties to reform disability benefits to ease the path back into work are well intentioned, but either relatively minor or fraught with implementation challenges.

Without further progress on these three areas, the authors warn that the economic inactivity rate for 15-75 year olds is set to rise from 29.5 per cent up to 30.8 per cent by 2030, the highest rate since the turn of the century (2001).

Louise Murphy, Economist at the Resolution Foundation, said:

“Britain did a great job of getting more people into work in the 2010s. But some of that progress has been undone by the pandemic, with economic inactivity rising by 830,000 over the past three years.

“We need to reboot progress on getting people into work, but we’re not going to achieve it by persuading the recent Covid cohort of older workers to ‘unretire’.

“Instead, we need to do more to encourage mothers in low-income families into work, and help people who need to take periods of time-off for ill-health stay attached to their jobs.

“Taking the right approach to workforce participation would boost individuals’ living standards, and improve the wider health of our economy.”

Read article here ->

'We don't want a team of bald-headed 50-year-old men'

A former sales director will get more than $86k after his boss allegedly said he didn't want a team of 'bald-headed 50-year-old men' who were a 'mirror image' of himself.

Mark Jones was a sales director at UK-based cell phone company Tango Networks. He began working at the company in January 2019, when he was 59 years old, according to a ruling late last month from the employment tribunal that made the decision in the case. In the UK, an employment tribunal is a judicial body that often handles disputes between employers and workers.

In 2020, the company sought to hire a new salesperson. Jones claims that during that interview process, his boss, Phillip Hesketh, told him, "A lot of the candidates we were interviewing were a mirror image of me, white middle-aged men" and that "it was a shame that we did not attract more diversity into the application process."

"I don't want a team of bald-headed 50-year-old men — I want to change the dynamics," Hesketh allegedly said.

As for Jones' departure from the company, he was put on a performance improvement plan, which he calls a "sham," a few years after joining. Hesketh claimed he was "underwhelmed" by his employee and that Jones "needed handholding," but the tribunal said it was "unable to find that the claimant was actually not performing adequately." 

Jones resigned in March 2021 and subsequently alleged wrongful dismissal and age discrimination. The tribunal ultimately ruled that Tango Networks had unfairly dismissed Jones and breached its contract with him.

"In our view, everything that we have set out as the basis of the claimant's dismissal is tainted by age discrimination," the group said in its ruling. "Whether consciously or unconsciously, Mr Hesketh perceived the claimant as undynamic and he associated more dynamic people with the characteristics of younger people."

Jones will receive £71,441.36, or more than $86,000, in damages. Tango Networks told Insider that Hesketh no longer works at the company.

In a separate ruling from a different case last year, a UK employment tribunal decided that calling a man "bald" constitutes workplace sexual harassment. In the US last year, a white man who said he was fired from his marketing job because of his sex and race was awarded $10 million in damages by a North Carolina jury.

Read article here ->

Make job adverts transparent and inclusive, say young people

It's no longer employers assessing candidates; candidates are now assessing employers.

Young people want employers to do better when it comes to diversity and inclusion, starting with making job adverts transparent and inclusive.

In a new Employment Accessibility Report by Access Generation CIC, young people laid bare their perceptions and expectations of applying for jobs online.

The research, which looked at over 570 employers’ websites and job application processes, found that only 7% of employers positively address diversity and inclusion.

The research, carried out by young people aged 18-30, assessed whether employers demonstrated race and culture, religious beliefs, age, disability and LGBTQ+.

Sophie Lau, who is one of the young people that carried out the research, said: “I was surprised at the sheer number of employers that did not consider diversity and inclusion. Most employers had a statement about how they are inclusive to give the illusion that their recruitment was inclusive. However, this was rarely backed up with evidence.”

One out of three employers provide entry-level roles, and only 1% stated when feedback is available.

Young people are often caught in the catch-22, with no experience but need the experience to get into work. 

Jemma Redden, Director of Access Generation, said: “Young people don’t know what they don’t know. It’s important for employers to make the recruitment process clear. There are lots of jobs out there right now, and it’s no longer the employer assessing the candidates, the candidates are now assessing the employer. Does your organisation meet their expectations?”

Ellie Duncan, one of the young researchers, said: “I found that the majority of employers failed to provide clarity of the application process and stages, with many requiring an account to be set up before seeing what the steps involved. I found this frequent ambiguity to be off-putting compared to the few who did provide a detailed outline of what to expect throughout the process.”

The report provides employers with insights and top tips based on the research that looks at the candidate journey, recruitment content, employer branding and equality, diversity and inclusion. 

Access Generation is urging employers to take on the advice and guidance from young people inside the report to make recruitment accessible, supportive and inclusive.

Read article here ->

Over-50s at work: 'You feel your usefulness has passed'

Michael O'Reilly from Bexhill wants a job, but says he can't find one because companies don't want people his age.

"It's horrible," he says. "You feel your usefulness has passed."

His experience is not unusual. New research from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) suggests firms are much less open to hiring older workers than they are to bringing in younger people.

Yet at the same time the chancellor is urging people who retired early to return to work.

In a speech on Friday, Jeremy Hunt said there were almost 300,000 fewer people in employment than before the pandemic, and warned firms would find it difficult to grow if they could not find enough staff.

"So, to those who retired early after the pandemic, or haven't found the right role after furlough, I say: Britain needs you," Mr Hunt said.

But the CMI, a professional body focusing on management and leadership, warns that to bring more older workers back into the workforce, employers will also need to "shift their attitudes" towards hiring.

The CMI surveyed more than 1,000 managers working in UK businesses and public services. It found that just four out of 10 (42%) were open "to a large extent" to hiring people aged between 50 and 64.

The survey, carried out at the end of October 2022, found that most employers were more open to hiring workers in younger age groups.

Almost three quarters, 74%, of managers were open to a large extent to hiring younger workers between the ages of 18 and 34.

Slightly fewer, that is 64%, were very open to hiring those aged between 34 and 49.

The number dropped furthest for applicants in the over-65 aged group. Just 18% of managers said they were open to a large extent to hiring people in that category.

The findings are despite the benefits older workers can offer. Mr O'Reilly has decades of experience working in the banking sector, starting as a programmer and moving up to global IT management positions. He is over 50, although he avoids giving his exact age to potential employers.

"What tends to happen is, over the phone the initial conversation is fine, but when you do video calls or face-to-face interviews the dynamics change. You can tell by their manner and their body language, they're not really paying attention to you," he told the BBC.

Leadership failings

Ann Francke, chief executive of the CMI, said it was employers, as much as older workers, who needed to hear the chancellor's message about encouraging them back to the labour market.

Employers were complaining of severe labour shortages, she said, while also admitting that they are hesitant to bring in older workers.

"[That] points to both cultural and leadership failings in businesses of all sizes, and that needs to change," she said.

Ms Franke said that older workers could be lured back, if they were offered training and flexible working options.

"But unless those doing the hiring revisit their attitudes, older workers will continue to be excluded, just when the labour market needs them the most," she said.

Wasted talent

Many sectors across the economy are suffering from acute staff shortages. But at the same time around a quarter of people of working age - about 10 million people - don't have jobs. Some are looking for jobs, others are students or carers, or are unable to work due to ill-health.

Middle-aged man working at laptop
Getty Images

In his speech on Friday, Mr Hunt said if students were excluded from the figure, there were 6.6 million people who were "economically inactive", describing it as "an enormous and shocking waste of talent and potential".

A significant number of those, more than one million, are people between the age of 50 and 64, who have retired early.

Some firms are welcoming the move to encourage retirees back to work. Emma Harvey, a human resources executive from the insurance company, Axa UK, said bringing more over-50s back into work would help provide the "talent and the skills" that Axa needed, as well as ensuring the firm's workforce properly reflected its customer base.

"Given that we've got such a shortage of workers, it's absolutely a space where every business should be looking, and it's certainly one that's a critical one for Axa," she said.


Shevaun Haviland, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said firms repeatedly told her they could not hire the staff they needed.

While improving childcare and other strategies could also help bring younger workers back into the workforce, luring back the over-50s was also "part of the answer" to filling those labour shortages, she told Sky News on Sunday.

Advising companies how they can embrace a multi-generational workforce could also help shift attitudes, Mr O'Reilly believes.

So, while he is still looking for employment, he has also set up the Age Diversity Network, an organisation which works with employers highlighting the benefits of hiring older workers.

"I, and many other older workers, still have a lot to offer," he says.

"I still want to learn, and am more than happy to work at a lower level and give something back based on my experience and to help others gain from that experience."

Read article here ->

Britain’s forty-something's are in the sweet spot of working adults

As young workers struggle with low pay and high rent, and over-50s jump out of the workforce en masse, those in the sweet spot of work in the UK seem to be those in their forties.

Last week, the government started considering plans to give tax breaks to people over the age of 50 who want to come back to work. Predictably, it started a Twitter war with under-35s lamenting their sky-high student debt, extortionate rent and lower salaries – with no one offering them any tax relief. Besides the usual stereotype fight between “avocado-eating” young workers and “stuck in their ways” over-50s, both age groups are clearly not happy with what they’re getting from the labour market.  

If you ask what’s the best age to work in the UK, the most likely answer you’ll get is “not the age I am currently”. Young and older workers are facing new and old problems. The one group that seems to be in the sweet spot is the squeezed middle: those in their forties.

Think of young people first. Those entering the workforce now are not having it easy. True, vacancy levels are very high, meaning a multitude of jobs out there. But this doesn’t mean that Gen Z has the right skills for these jobs: the labour market is plagued by a mismatch between what we learn at school and the skills we need in many of the jobs available.

Young people’s salaries tend to be lower but expenses tend to be high. According to data released last summer, four in ten people under 30 are spending more than 30 per cent of their pay on rent. London, of course, sees the highest prices in the country. Putting money on the side to buy property feels impossible for “generation rent”.

For the older bracket of this age group, there’s one additional concern: the cost of childcare vis-a-vis their salary. It’s the highest in Europe, three times higher than what couples spend in Germany. This has deep socio-cultural implications: if previously people were making life decisions – like when to have a baby – based on age, now they’re making them based on salary. Fifty-eight per cent of Gen Z and 57 per cent of millennials say they are keen to achieve a particular income level before making those decisions, according to research by wealth manager Evelyn Partners.

Things don’t look much brighter for older workers. In the year from April 2021 to March 2022, almost 16 per cent of people aged 50 to 54 years were economically inactive and 24 per cent of those aged 55 to 59 years were, according to ONS data. The reasons for this drop-out are various: long-term illnesses, disabilities which make it harder to find a job, caring responsibilities.

Millions of people have left the labour market since the pandemic: at the end of last year, there were around 88,000 more inactive Londoners aged between 50 and 64 years than in early 2020. Because of the lack of flexible opportunities, many of those are unable to re-access this market. “When they’ve been out of work, they can often only return to jobs which are beneath the level they were at previously”, says Dr Adrian Wright of the University of Central Lancashire. This productivity problem explains why the government is looking at incentives for this age group.

Now look at those in their forties. Last year, men aged between 40 and 49 were the highest full-time earners in the UK. The median weekly pay for employees in their forties was the highest at £727, compared to £678 for those between 30 and 39 and £681 for those between 50 and 59. This group is more likely to own a house already, having been able to buy one before the housing crisis reached its current peak. And it’s more likely to be in lucrative senior positions. A recent EY report found that there were no board members under 40 in any of the UK’s top financial services firms. Being over the age of 40 didn’t automatically mean you would land a top job – the average age for a board member was still 58 – but if you were younger, you’re almost guaranteed not to be appointed. While millennials have a lower income in their 30s than previous generations did, those in their forties are more likely to be saving up money for a nice, early retirement.

This picture is problematic in so many ways. More and more younger workers risk finding themselves in debt and struggling to get to the end of the month. Those in their thirties might be giving up on much-desired life opportunities because they don’t earn enough – accelerating the rise of the ageing society. And those in their fifties who have jumped out of work to take care of their health or their relatives’ will feel more and more forgotten. Things might be great for those in their forties, but until employment is better for everyone else, the UK is unlikely to solve most of its social and economic woes.

Read article here ->