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Age discrimination in the workforce comes to the fore in IBM lawsuit

Posted by Neha De

March 9, 2022    |     5-minute read (820 words)

Despite a tight labor market, 38% of hiring managers have caught themselves reviewing a resume with age bias, research by Resume Builder has found. In addition, 45% of hiring managers have admitted to knowing other hiring managers who are biased against job applicants of a particular age. This is despite the fact that in the U.S., it is illegal to discriminate against a potential candidate based on their race, gender, religion or age.

According to the 800 hiring managers being surveyed, the top three reasons for resisting hiring older candidates were: lack of experience with technology, likelihood of retiring within a short period of time and may be resistant to change. 

The IBM case illustrates how age bias can play out

Tech company IBM is being sued by hundreds of employees for age discrimination. According to Bloomberg, IBM executives discussed in emails how to force out older workers and also ridiculed them by referring to them as “Dinobabies” who should be made an “Extinct species.” 

The emails show “highly incriminating animus” against older workers by officials who at the time were in the company’s “highest ranks,” according to a court filing in the age discrimination case against the company. 

Company officials also whined about its “dated maternal workforce” that “must change,” and showcased frustration that IBM had a “much lower share of millennials in its workforce than a competitor, but said its share would increase following layoffs,” according to the filing. 

This is not the only time the tech major has found itself in this situation. In 2018, IBM fired more than 20,000 American employees ages 40 and over, which was about 60% of its estimated total U.S. job cuts during those years, revealed ProPublica’s findings

In doing so, IBM flouted several U.S. laws and regulations that are meant to protect later-career employees from age discrimination. ProPublica found that IBM: 

• Denied older workers the information they needed to decide if they have been victims of age bias, and also required them to sign away their rights to seek redress in court or by joining together with others. 

• Employed techniques that targeted older workers for layoffs and firings, even when they were rated high performers by the company. Money saved from departing employees was sometimes used to hire young replacements. 

• Converted job cuts into retirements, and increased resignations and firings. As a result of these actions, fewer employees were counted as laid off, where high numbers can trigger public disclosure requirements.

• Encouraged employees targeted for layoff to apply for other positions at IBM, while privately advising hiring managers not to hire them and requiring many of the workers to train their replacements.

• Told some older employees being laid off that their skills were out of date, but rehired them for contract positions, often for lower wages and fewer benefits.

What older applicants can do when applying for a job

Resume Builder asked the hiring managers for recommendations for older applicants “to avoid falling prey to age-based bias.” Some of the suggestions were not including a photo or a graduation year with the resume, as these make age bias more likely to occur. 

Additionally, they suggested always including all relevant work experience, even if it spans more than 25 years.

Career consultant Stacie Haller said, “The good news is there are many ways to diminish the bias of ageism including the way your resume and LinkedIn profile are written and knowing how to overcome these unspoken objections.”  

She added that while dates for education should be excluded, especially on older applicants’ resumes, “experience over 20 years ago is also not applicable and not why the applicant would be considered for hire today.” 

Haller explained, “Many times, as in IT, for example, the workplace over 20 years ago does not resemble today’s world. There are ways to include this info without specific dates if it adds to their experience and value as a candidate. Other tips like not using an AOL email address, taking off the words ‘cell’ and ‘email’ are a few examples of other ways to eliminate ageism on a resume.” 

Haller also said, “Knowing what the bias may be, with preparing properly for the interview process and having collateral that removes the possibility of ageism bias.”  During the interview process, applicants can express how they individually do not fit the stereotype of their cohorts, and how and why they are the perfect candidate for the position. 

Author, attorney and HR consultant Lori Rassas shared, “Everything you do in the job-search process — from selecting which opportunities to pursue, to drafting your cover letter and resume, to what you wear and how you behave in an interview — is geared toward eliminating any preconceived notions a prospective employer has about your age... The more you do to dispel these preconceived notions, the more level the playing field becomes — and the less your age becomes a factor.”

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