Clip #7: Age discrimination cuts work lives short.
There’s plenty of buzz about diversity in the workplace, and that’s a good thing. Research shows that being around people who are different from us makes us more diligent and harder-working, not to mention more open-minded. Diverse teams make better decisions because they draw on more data and more points of view.
So why does the blindingly obvious point that age should be a criterion for diversity—alongside race, gender, ability, and sexual orientation—take people by surprise?
Because it simply hasn’t occurred to them. Most people acknowledge that discrimination makes life harder for women and minorities, which is why sexism and racism and homophobia no longer get a pass. But most people also have yet to think about how culture also shapes the experience of growing older. And this culture’s obsession with youth makes aging in America a whole lot harder than it has to be.
This plays out punishingly in the workplace. Not one of the negative stereotypes that older workers confront—that they’re less motivated, less productive, less dependable, less teachable or less creative, to name only a few—holds up under scrutiny. In many jobs, in fact, performance improves with age. Yet age discrimination is steeply on the rise.
How are older Americans supposed to remain self-sufficient if they’re forced out of the job market? Many took a hit during the Great Recession, and only around 50 percent have saved enough to meet basic retirement needs into their eighties and nineties. Once they’re laid off, many never regain their former standard of living, and they also forego the many ways in which meaningful employment contributes to physical and mental well-being.
How about adapting the Rooney Rule, which dates back to 2003, when Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney mandated that every team with a head coach opening had to interview at least one minority candidate for the job. How about insisting that every job search include not just women and minority candidates, but people over 50?
Age discrimination isn’t legal: workers over age 40 are entitled to fair treatment in hiring and employment practices. It’s not ethical either: the right to work as long as we are able is a human right. Ending age discrimination is part of making the workforce more equitable for everyone—not just because every one of us is aging.
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