Open Discrimination: Diversity Conversations aren't Working

Diversity is quite possibly the most widespread agenda across workplaces, news outlets, job interviews, university campuses, political spheres, sports teams and many other big staples of life. In today’s world, it feels that, wherever you look, the D word is following you; floating, proudly yet timidly, between everyone’s other favourite buzzwords of the moment – think disruption and resetting. It’s a difficult topic to brooch in any sort of casual sense though because of its entrenchment in more hardcore topics of economics and philosophy, but it seems that we are starting more and more, as a global society, to have these sometimes difficult conversations; which would be wonderful if it didn’t feel like we were missing the point in one very key area. It seems at times that, in order to help better unpick the nuances of all of the diversity arguments, a good number of well meaning individuals adopt a faddish focus on one portion of the issue alone which leaves the wider scale of modern inequity ignored. An example of this would be how the fight against age discrimination seems to have fallen by the wayside in terms of public acknowledgement; and not because the issue has been solved.

This is not to say that I believe there isn’t any dialogue on the age matter still going on; in fact, I believe the opposite. My issue is that a lot of modern chatter on inclusivity tends to swerve around the age debate. Big corporates are now starting to look at the benefits of greater diversification in the work place, David Rock and Heidi Grant (Harvard Business Review, 2016) suggesting that having teams of ‘People from diverse backgrounds’[1] leads to ‘Improved and more accurate group thinking’[2]; yet this sort of illustration of ‘Workplace diversity’[3] seems more to imply an emphasis on ensuring a heterogeneous team by eliminating gender, nationality and ethnicity obstacles without as much consideration given to having a varied age pool. In fact, PricewaterhouseCooper’s 2015 Annual Global CEO Survey shows that ‘Of the 64% of CEOs whose companies have a formal diversity and inclusiveness strategy’[4], only 8% ‘Specifically address[ed]’[5] age compared to 33% for gender and 24.5% for ethnicity, nationality and race. Who is affected by this issue then? How can we realign our perspectives for the mutual benefit of these groups and ourselves?

The first group, most obvious in the age question, comprises those considered too old for purpose: especially in the 50+ category. Despite usually having a wealth of experience and knowledge, over 50s can be saddled with labels of being out of touch or, worse, be branded with stereotypes such as ‘Talk[ing] at another person— particularly a younger person—without really listening to what they ask or say in response’[6]. It’s an odd misconception that the clock strikes 50 and successful entrepreneurs lose all value though: after all, 44 of the top 50 richest people in the world (according to Forbes, 2019) are over 50 and still going strong in their business pursuits. Furthermore, one intriguing research paper by Pierre Azoulay et al. suggests that ‘Across the 2.7 million founders in the U.S. between 2007-2014 who started companies…the mean age for the entrepreneurs at founding is 41.9’[7] with 50 year-old founders being ‘1.8 times more likely to achieve upper-tail growth than a 30 year-old founder’[8] (American Economic Research, 2019). To this end, one has to wonder why these excellent individuals are actively overlooked considering that, as Kerry Hannon (Forbes, 2018) neatly puts it, ‘Youth is not the magic elixir’[9].

On the other end of the spectrum, one has to wonder why companies are also ignoring the potential of younger candidates, ‘Discrimination on the grounds of being “too young”’[10] being ‘At least as common as discrimination on the grounds of being “too old”’[11] according to Ed Snape and Tom Redman (Human Resource Management Journal, 2006). Lots of young professionals are, like their older counterparts, subjected to negative stereotypes such as being ‘Lazy or entitled’[12], but it is difficult to comprehend why employers are so taken in by such empty ideas and are thus ‘Reluctant to hire people under 30’[13] (Forbes, 2016) considering that research from the Journal of Business and Psychology (Levenson, 2010) concludes that ‘There is insufficient evidence that the Millennial generation is fundamentally different than its predecessors’[14] and that such stereotypes may ‘Prove to be yet another passing fad among the talking head classes’[15].

Breaking the stigma on misinformed age ideas is no easy task though and it will ultimately take more than one article like this to overthrow lazy and harmful hiring practices. Whilst I’m pleased to say there seems to be good evidence for a shift in grassroot conscience on gender and race obstacles in the workplace, I feel it is time that we all started picking up the ball on age discrimination discussions; after all, there’s benefit to be had not only through creating a fairer society, but huge potential business value to be won through simply having an open mind on hiring policy.


[1] David Rock and Heidi Grant, Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter,, (Boston: Harvard Business Publishing 2016). [2]Ibid. [3]Ibid. [4] No author, 18th Annual Global CEO Survey, (London: PricewaterhouseCooper 2015), 28. [5]Ibid, 31. [6]Sally Blount, Three Ways Aging Biases Your Post-50 Brain,, (New York: Forbes Media, 2019). [7]Pierre Azoulay et al., Age and High-Growth Entrepreneurship, (Pittsburgh: American Economic Research, 2019), 4. [8]Ibid, 5. [9]Kerry Hannon, Proof That The Most Successful Entrepreneurs Are Older Ones,, (New York: Forbes Media, 2018). [10]Ed Snape and Tom Redman, Too Old or Too Young? The Impact of Perceived Age Discrimination, Human Resource Management Journal, vol. 13 no. 1, (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2006), 1. [11]Ibid. [12]Kevin H Johnson, Enough With The Millennial Bashing,, (New York: Forbes Media, 2018). [13]Caroline Beaton, Too Young To Lead? When Youth Works Against You,, (New York: Forbes Media, 2016). [14]Alec Levenson, Millennials and the World of Work: An Economist’s Perspective, Journal of Business and Psychology, vol. 25, no. 2, (Berlin: Springer Science+Business Media, 2010), 263. [15]Ibid, 264.