A July 23rd post of ours, “New Study On Subtle Age Bias Affecting Older Workers,” drew a lot of reader responses.  We wrote that “The New York Times just reported on a new study to be published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin which demonstrates the existence of “subtle bias older men and women may face in the workforce. …  There is little doubt that such discrimination exists. When an older man or woman is laid off, it typically takes two to six months longer to find a new job than it takes younger workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the new job is likely to pay considerably less. During the recent recession, many unemployed older people told a similar story. They sent in their résumé and got called for an interview, but when they walked in, potential employers saw their white hair and that was it.”

The comments were from all over the world, and some representative samples are printed below (edited only for the sake of brevity).

Marc Brenman, a consultant and author in the diversity, social justice, and equal employment opportunity field in the Seattle area, noted:  “The bias is often not subtle. Employers have to especially be cautious during reductions in force. Interestingly enough, I’ve seen the bias coming from young people in managerial positions, even in progressive nonprofit organizations, talking disparagingly about older employees needing naps and time to play with the grandchildren. Employers often shoot themselves in the foot by getting rid of older employees, because institutional memory is lost. A very interesting point in the article is the idea that older employees who act in too assertive a way get treated badly. This is the same thing that happened to African-American employees who ‘acted uppity.’”

Mike Longhurst, a business development training consultant in Tadworth, Surrey, UK, wrote that  “In service sectors, the problem is likely to persist even longer, until the profile of people in the ‘client’ roles changes enough for them to demand more mature, knowledgeable people to interface with them. This is not unlike the way race and gender discrimination issues are slowly being alleviated, by a process of attrition.  …  The retirement in recent years of large numbers of Baby Boomers has already left skill and experience gaps and everywhere the old wheels are starting to be re-invented by people who simply have not met the issues before.  But the pressure is on the older workforce to deliver and not allow their performance to decline; to master technology and everything digital and be willing to accept change. Every older person employed today must be an ambassador for their generation, to actively disprove the stereotypes and to rely on their performance, not the law, to keep them in place.”

John Lai, an HR leader in the LA area:  “I don’t think it’s so subtle, but it may not be intentional either. Talent leaders in progressive organizations (if they know what they’re doing), are not looking for candidates to fill the current open position only. They are thinking about the career paths of their new hires over the next several years, maybe the next three positions. They often will not hire someone in what they regard as a ‘feeder” position if they perceive that person as having only five or ten working years left because they are taking a long-term view of talent development and deployment. Unfortunately, this can have an adverse impact on older workers. Ironically, this long-term view can end up being shortsighted because it can result in missing some great talent. I’ve seen highly productive 70 year-olds who could run circles around their Gen Y peers.”

Michael Maggiotto, an HR generalist in Indianapolis, commented:  “And what is most amazing about this fact is that there are such a large number of positions going 12 weeks or more unfilled … Think of the costs to the businesses that such a delay in filling the position is costing. It really says something when qualified people are not looked at for open positions simply because of their age. If anything, they bring more maturity and a sense of ‘I need to prove I still got it! so the focused effort and the result will be far more than what many would otherwise expect. … Keep in mind the best interest of the business you serve and hire the best person for the position — regardless of the age of the individual.  Do not let ‘Cultural Fit’ become code for ‘Discrimination’ [or ] blind you into hiring ‘Clones’ that prevent new ideas and innovation from propelling your company forward to new heights and success.”

Diane Arthur, an HR development and management specialist in NYC, said:  “The fact that age discrimination claims are on the rise is not surprising: as the article states, ‘anything that involves baby boomers assumes greater significance just because of the sheer numbers.’ What I found disturbing was the statement that plaintiffs’ attorneys are more hesitant to take on age discrimination cases because of the Gross decision. Don’t older workers now need more, not less, representation? Of course if employers considered the numerous advantages and benefits to hiring older workers, some of which were cited by Michael, this entire issue would be moot.”

Angel Moraza, a business development officer in Puerto Rico, wrote that “This is true, most of the time younger hiring managers have pre-conceived opinions on older applicants that seem eager to come and demonstrate how to do it and to share a wealth of experience in most cases. It is clearly a discriminatory situation. How we can counter attack this problem?  Any suggestions?”

Finally, Kelly Igou, an IT project manager in the Atlanta area, said “Very serious and complex problem for senior applicants. Some seekers are wishing to step back a notch or two and find themselves interviewing with people multiple decades younger and with far less experience and savvy -which often is seen as a threat to the interviewers position. In order to even get an interview, often the resume has to get “dumbed down” and experience excluded in order to not appear overqualified. …   LinkedIn profiles have to be “dumbed down” as well …  There seem to be only a few ways to overcome these issues – have senior level personal contacts in the target companies that can subtly oversee the hiring process to insure fairness (and make personal recommendations), or to dumb-down, dye your hair and have Botox and surgery to make yourself look 20 years younger. I’m being facetious with the last solution; often the most advantageous way to overcome this is to emphasize a lack of ambition, and over-emphasize mentoring skills.  Any other ideas?”