We analysed job listings in the UK to find out which ageist terms and phrases appear in job advertisements the most.
With the help of Steph Lowrey-Willson, we identified 17 common age-discriminatory words and phrases in the UK, being used across 13 major industries.
From our analysis we found that “innovative” comes top of the rankings, appearing in over 110,000 job advertisements. “Fast-paced” is second, being included in more than 82,000 unique job ads. That’s the equivalent of 24 job postings out of every 1,000.
As to why these phrases are considered ageist, ex-HP chief marketing officer Phil McKinney has previously said that many companies, especially tech firms believe older candidates are “less able” to be innovative and creative.
Similarly, HR Dive (2017) reported that employers may be overlooking older workers because of a presumption that they cannot keep up in a “fast-paced” environment.
The industries that use ageist jargon the most in the UK
We analysed job listings via LinkedIn to find out which industries have the highest use of age-discriminating language in their recruitment.
The UK’s tourism sector is a large part of the country’s economy, responsible for generating 9% of its yearly GDP. But this key industry also appears to be most likely to exclude older workforce members, with job listings containing ageist terms at a rate of 56%.Interestingly the advertising and media sector appears lower on the list. The industry is known to have issues with ageism, but takes seventh place, with “only” 23% of job advertisements containing ageist language.
Q&A with Steph Lowrey-Willson, Executive Director of Age On
Stephanie founded Age On after working with older adults for over a decade and hearing so many say “I just want to be heard”. She works with ageism and intersectionality, training the community as well as designing custom curriculum and interventions for organizations to help with their diversity, equity, and inclusion training regarding older adults and ageism.
What are the benefits of having a more diverse workforce?
“From what I’ve researched, when companies attract more candidates from diverse backgrounds, they also enjoy greater creativity, problem-solving, and innovation within their teams because they have brought together a wide variety of people with different experiences, skills, and perspectives.
Essentially, this can also lead to smarter decision-making because you have all of these people with different backgrounds who are able to lean on that for more critical thinking tasks.
Diverse workforces also improve a business’s reputation; when a workplace is both perceived as and is actually being more socially responsible, a greater number of people tend to be attracted to working for that company.”
What impact can inclusive language choices within the workplace have on its employees and culture?
“I think inclusive language signals to people who come from communities that have historically been marginalized that they’re safe to be themselves at work and also that they belong.
Using inclusive language can help under-represented people flourish in their careers. When people feel like their authentic selves, they perform better and are more likely to share ideas without fear of certain types of criticism.
A more diverse and inclusive work culture has been shown to reduce employee turnover for businesses too.”
How can employees be made aware of the importance of using inclusive language?
“You have to put the culture in place for people to stay there. Companies can look good up-front to a new hire and use inclusive language during the hiring process. But, once someone is employed, how do companies retain that inclusive feeling and commitment to diversity?
Overall, it’s very much a 3-step process. Firstly, reviewing the hiring process and making sure there aren’t any biases. Then, having that training within the company so everyone has the same understanding. And finally, trying to understand the gaps that exist in the company so that everybody feels like they’re a part of it.
Not every existing employee will have taken the same educational path on diversity and equality during their career. You have to educate your employees and employers on awareness, advocacy, collaboration, and of course, the intersexuality approach. Cultural complexity is also very important.And a company would need to understand the gap in their work environment on an organizational level, management level, and then on a team level. That helps create an ‘inclusive’ culture, of which language is an essential part.”
Has there been any greater awareness in recent years of ageism in the workplace and a desire to tackle the issue?
“Yeah, absolutely. Although, if you would have talked to me pre-COVID, I would have said no.
There are activists and agencies who have been working very hard for that equity within the workplace, and I am seeing so much more of that now.
People reach out to me on LinkedIn now to ask how they can create opportunities for older adults to apply for roles and what that ‘inclusive language’ would look like. I’m really seeing an incline in that, which is wonderful.
Five years ago it was not something that people thought about but now they are talking about it.
Everybody ages, and it’s so important that we thrive at any age and any section in our life, you know life is hard enough, let’s not make it harder just because of something that we can’t control.“
We analysed over 3 million job listings in the UK via LinkedIn to find the extent to which companies were using age-discriminating language in their recruitment.We analysed three categories of data:Which locations used the most ageist language?How often do ageist terms and phrases appear in job advertisements?Which industries use ageist language in their job ads the most often?Along with Steph Lowrey-Willson, we identified 17 common age-discriminatory words and phrases in the UK being used across 13 major industriesAll data is correct as of November 2022.
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