New STEM Challenge: Ageism

Ageism will likely be the latest diversity hurdle for companies in 2018, and may impact STEM industries the hardest.
By: | December 29, 2017 • 3 min read
ageism in STEM

With 2018 just around the corner, HR and talent decision makers remain stymied by the diversity challenge.

As the new year dawns, getting diversity data in better shape is on the minds of many employers, and nowhere is that issue more acute than within the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mat (STEM) professional field.

For example, a 2017 survey from Indeed, the job site, found that 43 percent of 1,011 employees polled worry about losing their job due to their age.  Even worse, Indeed found that nearly 18 percent say they worry about it “all the time.” Also, 36 reported experiencing at least one instance during which they weren’t taken seriously by colleagues and managers due to age.

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Another recent survey, 2017 STEM Workplace Trends, commissioned by Modis, a provider of information technology and engineering staffing, found that as the STEM workforce matures, age is an ongoing issue for HR to ponder when it comes to diversity talent challenges.

That survey found that a decent percentage — 39 percent — of STEM professionals say that age disparity is the greatest conflict their field struggles to fix.

In all, Modis surveyed 1,500 U.S. adults who work as decision makers in STEM) fields. Not surprisingly, it found that 58 percent of respondents over the age of 55 view age disparity as the greatest challenge to overcome, while those under the age of 25 view gender as the greatest challenge to STEM diversity. Clearly, gender disparity is an issue for younger STEM workers, but ageism is on the minds of older Baby Boomers.

“With more than half of STEM professionals ranking age and gender as the largest diversity struggle in their fields, employers need to be aware of these concerns and aim to make purposeful changes if they want to attract and retain top talent,” said John Marshall III, CEO, Modis, in a company statement.

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“In today’s candidate-driven market, it’s inherently important for employers to stand out from their competitors and to shine a light on how they are working to increase their diversity and inclusion efforts.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times recently reported on Facebook’s controversial age-specific job advertising  and the possible age-discrimination consequences for employers that utilize it:

Although Facebook is a relatively new entrant into the recruiting arena, it is rapidly gaining popularity with employers. Earlier this year, the social network launched a section of its site devoted to job ads. Facebook allows advertisers to select their audience, and then Facebook finds the chosen users with the extensive data it collects about its members.

The Times piece also notes  that the practice has begun to attract legal challenges: “On Wed  a class-action complaint alleging age discrimination was filed in federal court in San Francisco on behalf of the Communications Workers of America and its members — as well as all Facebook users 40 or older who may have been denied the chance to learn about job openings. The plaintiffs’ lawyers said the complaint was based on ads for dozens of companies that they had discovered on Facebook.

From the Times: “Some companies, including Target, State Farm and UPS, defended their targeting as a part of a broader recruitment strategy that reached candidates of all ages. The group of companies making this case included Facebook itself, which ran career ads on its own platform, many aimed at people 25 to 60. “We completely reject the allegation that these advertisements are discriminatory,” said Mr. Goldman of Facebook.”

Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia, Pa., who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at [email protected]

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