When checking for hiring bias, we need to look for ageism


Terry Graham (terrygraham415@gmail.com), M.A., is a boomer and long-time North Bay resident who served as a marketing and public relations management consultant to professional service firms and columnist for the Daily Journal Corporation.

While North Bay employers insist they cannot fill jobs, many reject or create hiring obstacles to well qualified, highly experienced and eager job candidates who just happen to be older.

Nearly 30% of Marin County’s and 21% of Sonoma County’s population are age 60 or more, less minors. So North Bay employers cannot afford to overlook this huge pool of workers.

Fully 65 percent of baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, want to work past age 65. Spiraling housing, food, transportation and healthcare costs mean many must work to meet basic living expenses.

But ask any older job candidate if they face discrimination when job hunting, and the answer is likely to be a resounding “Yes!”

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects workers over 40 years of age, but fails to provide meaningful protection to those old enough to be their parents.

HR directors point to long-time employees as proof they employ older workers, but the reality is almost none hire new (not former employee) older workers to fill new employment opportunities. Truly, these candidates face nearly impossible odds of landing suitable employment.

Singapore – with just 15 of its population over age 65 – met this problem head-on in 2020, creating a two-year federal program that provides employment credits for up to 8% wage offsets and grants paid to employers who hire older workers, with “Early Adopter Grants” for quick-acting employers.

It’s time for a change: North Bay employers must explicitly commit to hiring older workers as part of achieving a truly diverse workforce. HR and hiring committees should be trained to recognize, address and overcome their own age-related biases, monitoring internal recruiting / hiring goals and outcomes.

Why should North Bay employers hire older workers?

Ample evidence proves that mixed-age workplaces are more productive as older workers bring decades of business knowledge, networks, and skills that benefit employers and less experienced employees, whom they can train and mentor.

Statistics show that Boomers have a strong work ethic, don’t “ghost”, stay in jobs longer, and have better attendance records than younger employees.

So why aren’t we hired?

What do older workers want?

A Purdue University study describes Baby Boomer workers as optimists motivated by company loyalty, teamwork, and a sense of duty.

We thrive when employers give us specific goals and deadlines, place us in mentor roles, and use “coaching-style” feedback.

Like all workers, we want to be fairly compensated as we seek the satisfaction that comes from having our skills and experience recognized, appreciated and applied in the workplace.

Our employment goals vary. Some seek full-time, career track positions. Some want low key jobs related to their backgrounds, perhaps to support a department they once headed. Others simply want to apply their transferable skills in a pleasant work environment.

Whatever our job preferences, older workers generally steer clear of office politics, competing with younger workers for more responsibility, and added stress. Think work-life balance!

Tweak jobs to attract older workers

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines “reasonable accommodation” as a change to the job application or hiring process, the job, the way the job is done, or work environment that allows a person with a disability who is qualified for the job to perform the essential functions of that job and enjoy equal employment opportunities.

While aging is not a disability, older workers can experience a decrease in physical strength or stamina and other conditions that employers can easily address.

For example, eliminate the nearly universal requirement to be able to lift 25 lbs., shifting this and similar physical “requirements” to a few, select workers. (An estimated 80% of adults suffer a back injury in their lives, the #1 cause of job-related disability. Employers will avoid liability by reducing jobs with this requirement.)

Go Beyond the Resumes: HR consultants advise older workers to include only the past 10 years on our resumes to avoid age discrimination, obscuring years of valuable experience. A skillful interviewer can extract relevant background from a candidate to accurately assess the depth and breadth of their work experience, especially if the employer’s commitment to hiring older workers is clear.

IT skills: Many older job candidates have superior, transferable computer skills and decades of experience compared to younger colleagues. Be flexible when setting technical job requirements, perhaps adding training within a probationary period and linking successful mastery of new software to a raise.

Part-time jobs: Many older workers do not want full-time employment for a variety of reasons. Offer fixed or flexible part-time work schedules, with start- and end-times that avoid high commute hours.

Job sharing: Split a full-time job in two with an hour of overlap for both workers to confer. Consider mixed-age job sharing, assigning duties based upon skills and physical limitations.

Start-ups: Older workers are great candidates for senior roles in start-ups.

Health care benefits: Offer older workers a pre-tax allowance (say, $300-$500) to cover Medicare, medi-gap, and other insurance premiums with an option to join employee group policies – even if they must pay the premium (preferably with pre-tax dollars). These benefits are worth far more to older workers – and cost far less for employers, who should build them into the compensation package for part-time jobs.

Safe Work Environments: Given COVID-19 realities, employers should provide older workers with safe work environments, including remote options. Train first-time remote employees on how to stay focused and productive.

Green Benefits: Pay public transit fares – a cheap perk given senior fare discounts -- or bonuses for commuting by bus, train, walking or biking. Hiring North Bay workers with shorter commutes and no housing issues is a far greener choice than recruiting workers with similar skills from outside our area.

Wellness Programs: Offer wellness programs, including gym memberships and classes that older workers will appreciate and which will support their continuing physical well-being.

Take action

North Bay public and private employers should ramp up their efforts to hire local, qualified, and available older workers. It’s the right thing to do for so many reasons.


Terry Graham (terrygraham415@gmail.com), M.A., is a boomer and long-time North Bay resident who served as a marketing and public relations management consultant to professional service firms and columnist for the Daily Journal Corporation.

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