Breaking the Age Barrier

How to combat ageism in the workplace

By Tara Buchan and Dani Carbary October 30, 2023

Tara Buchan and Dani Carbary

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2023 issue of Seattle magazine.

The current workforce consists of five different generations for the first time in history, but less than 10% of employers include age diversity in their equity and inclusion strategy. Historically, managing a multigenerational workforce has been seen as a challenge, but age inclusion can allow for increased learning, and two-way mentorship opportunities.

Here are some frequently asked questions we often hear from employers.

How can we encourage age diversity into our conscious hiring practices?

“Use data to identify where your organization can enhance candidate pools by age demographic, and ensure hiring managers have the education and resources to institute an ‘age-blind’ hiring process,” says Sara Rahmani, vice president of people experience and DEI at Seattle software company Chronus.

Remove biased language in job postings using bias decoders accessible online. This technology can scan postings for words found to hinder an age-diverse applicant pool. Don’t neglect to look internally at current employees to ensure they have access to grow in their careers regardless of age.

Finally, when you make the hiring decision, pay fairly. Establish pay bands for your open positions and make your offers based on what the position is worth, nothing less.

Our DEI efforts have been largely focused on race and gender. How can we also infuse age diversity into our plans?

With programming already in place, you are starting with the tools you need to infuse age inclusion. Encourage older and younger team members to participate in employee resource groups and formal mentoring programs.

“This not only engages employees, but offers valuable learning opportunities for both parties,” Rahmani says. “In addition, older employees still want to learn and grow. Don’t count them out on training sessions, learning workshops, and job shadowing opportunities.”

Continually ensure that you are considering age diversity along with all aspects of identity like race, national origin, gender, physical ability, and sexual orientation.

What are the best practices to consider for combating ageism using mentorship?

Establish a mentorship program, and actively recruit all ages to participate. Consider a relationship structure where there is neither a mentor nor mentee, but both at the same time.

“Wisdom doesn’t exclusively flow from older to younger employees,” says Ambika Singh, CEO and founder at Armoire, a clothing subscription service. “Because the range of roles at our company is so vast, there is always something to learn.”

Additionally, train mentoring partners to productively interact with each other by including flexible communication options. “Varying generations may prefer to interact in different ways within a mentoring relationship,” Rahmani notes. “A program that enables in-person meetings, phone calls, videoconferencing, or direct messages can make it easier for individuals of different ages.”

How can we combat both unconscious and conscious biases?

Consider offering unconscious bias training, and require that age bias is included in the learning. Increasing interpersonal connection can break down stereotypes. For most, it’s difficult to hold biases against a coworker you know and respect.

“Give employees from different generations the chance to get to know each other as real people through employee resource groups, mentoring relationships, or job shadowing,” Rahmani says. “Conversations between people allow us to learn from one another and find common ground with someone who might appear quite different from us at first glance.”

Eliminating age biases provides greater opportunities to connect with consumers, and that’s just good for business.

Tara Buchan and Dani Carbary founded TADA Partners and lead Collabor8 Employer Collective, a cohort of employer organization of varying industries and sizes focused on infusing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging into all eight stages of an employee’s life cycle by sharing both success stories and valuable learning lessons.

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