Ageist practices should be replaced with inclusive policies that value experience

Discrimination still common in the modern workplace, says recruitment expert

Employers are being encouraged to value track record and experience over a professional’s age and appearance, to prevent discriminatory practices and ageist mindsets.

Michael Page Hong Kong's managing director, Sharmini Wainwright, said that unfortunately, in Hong Kong, hiring managers regularly request ‘young’, ‘female’, ‘male’ or at times ‘pretty’ candidates during the job briefing process.

“We push back fairly assertively in these situations. Firstly to understand why that criteria has been set, and then to state that we will shortlist the most suitable candidates for the role in terms of skills and experience, rather than adhering to the search terms,” she said.

A recent study by Hong Kong's Equal Opportunities Commission found that 70 per cent of those in employment were supportive of legislating against age discrimination. Results also showed that over one-third of respondents admitted they had experienced such discrimination in the past five years.

Global Shapers Kuala Lumpur (GSKL) project lead Dr Renard Siew said workplace bullying sometimes takes place if there is a perception that an elderly person has a tendency to respond slightly slower than their younger colleague. GSKL is part of the World Economic Forum, whose Malaysian chapter is focusing on engagement of older workers.

Wainwright said strategies that could be employed to prevent ageist practices included leaving out date of birth information from application forms, job sites and resumes.

“When recommending candidates to clients, we often include a more mature candidate on our shortlist to demonstrate the value of a more experienced set of hands for a role,” said Sharmini.

“A number of clients are often most impressed with the track record of these individuals and feel more secure in hiring an experienced individual for the role, despite their initial plan to hire a younger person”.

Singapore's Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has said that it works with employers and unions through the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices to promote the employability of older workers.

The MOM also finds some organisations argue that too much government intervention in this area could be bad for business. “But such an assertion does not seem to hold true, given the global competitiveness of places with anti-discrimination laws, such as the United States, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, Finland and Sweden,” said the MOM.

Last year, Singapore amended its Retirement and Re-employment Bill 2016 to raise the re-employment age to 67, along with the removal of the option of employers cutting employees’ wages at age 60.

Part of Dr Siew’s work with GSKL is creating a safe and conducive environment for senior workers, which is essential to encourage elderly engagement.

“So I lobby for a transportation system with better accessibility, better lighting for safety and security purposes and the development of a supportive social network for the elderly within their surrounding communities,” he said.

Dr Siew added that some organisations have begun introducing wellness policies that catered to the needs of more senior workers: “Best practices can be seen in packages which cover basic healthcare screening, dental care, hospitalisation and rehabilitation among many others,”

Wainwright said Michael Page had noticed a number of progressive practices by employers to ensure shortlists and employment quota systems include a certain proportion of employees are older than 50.

“There are also accelerated technology training courses held for senior hires to ensure they stay up-to-date on the technology front among the growing millennial workforce,” she said.

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