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  • Solange Charas, PhD and Stela Lupushor

Let’s talk about age(ism) in the age of generative AI

Ageism is not merely a social issue; it's a significant workplace problem that notably affects women. Scientific research substantiates the adverse impacts of ageism on both individuals and, as reported in Harvard Business Review, organizational productivity. For business leaders, understanding and addressing ageism is not just a matter of ethics, but it can also be a strategic approach to improve business outcomes.

It’s no mystery that the US population is aging. The Baby Boomers are still the largest demographic, and they’re not getting younger - but they are living longer! . By 2034, it is projected that the number of Americans aged 65 and over, and according to the US census will outnumber those under 18. Given this demographic shift, companies can ill afford to overlook older workers as a valuable and critical talent resource, especially for roles that rely on experience and institutional knowledge.

In their research, Beņkovskis and Tkačevs delve into the complex relationship between workers' age and firm productivity. Their findings reveal that while younger workers may be more productive in physically demanding roles, older workers excel in roles that require a high level of expertise and experience. This suggests that businesses can derive optimal value by strategically leveraging an age-diverse workforce.

Double discrimination.

Age bias now occurs across the career life cycle, and is most pronounced for women. According to the AARP, women are more likely than men to encounter ageist attitudes. Women face a compounded form of discrimination due to age AND gender that impacts their access to employment and pensions and to key goods and services in the health and insurance sectors. Women in leadership positions even face ageism at every age.

Women over 40 feel the sting of ageism, especially when it comes to getting hired. Research shows that women are the primary victims of age discrimination in hiring, which means that women are driven out of the workplace earlier than men and have more difficulty finding a way back. Women over 50 are sidelined. At the intersection of sexism and ageism, women are likely to have greater concerns about growing older and hold more negative views of aging than their male counterparts. Women view aging more unfavorably than men, and the effects of endorsing negative attitudes towards their own aging are more pronounced on women’s mental health.

Retaining and valuing older women is not just an ethical requirement but also a smart business move, as their unique skill sets can drive innovation and profitability, as indicated by research including "Women as a Business Imperative.

Enter Generative AI with its potential to influence gendered ageism at work

Generative AI is here and it can serve as a force-multiplier for experienced staff, especially in knowledge-intensive sectors like healthcare, consulting, and legal services. These AI tools enable seasoned professionals to leverage their domain expertise in novel ways, thereby contributing to business modernization without sacrificing human expertise.

Generative AI can also help create more inclusive job descriptions that use more inclusive terms and remove gendered language. It can also help identify a broader pool of qualified candidates by analyzing patterns in candidate data and suggesting changes to the recruitment strategy to encourage more diverse applicants. Additionally, generative AI can be used to analyze existing job descriptions and suggest changes that can make them more inclusive.

Generative AI can also be used to create customized conversations that are culturally adaptive and relevant to diverse audiences, which can help reduce isolation and loneliness.

However, it is important to note that Generative AI can also perpetuate biases if not designed and trained properly. It is crucial to develop best practices to integrate new AI technology into existing workplace procedures and have a Generative AI policy in place to protect the organization and staff from potential mishaps.

Age is good business

Businesses have a lot to gain from an age-diverse workforce! And you can think about age-diversity as another aspect of DE&I.

More productive teams: Older workers often possess skills honed over decades. They complement the dynamism and fresh perspectives of younger colleagues. Age-diverse teams are generally more productive and can lead to an increase in overall productivity by up to 12%.

Better decisions: Age-diverse teams make better decisions 73% of the time, compared to their homogeneous counterparts. For business leaders and HR professionals, these statistics make a compelling case for integrating age diversity into talent management strategies, and a part of the DE&I strategy..

Higher retention: According to the BLS, the average tenure for workers 45-54 is 7.5 years, while it's 2.8 years for those aged 25-34. Longer tenures generally translate into reduced hiring and training costs, increased organizational stability. There is an array of incentives that organizations can use to retain older employees including flexible scheduling, job redesign, training, wellness programs (including menopause benefits), and financial incentives.

Age-diverse workforces are beneficial for business, as highlighted in “Never Too Old to Work: Managing an Age-diverse Workforce”.. Coupled with Generative AI, the experience and wisdom of older employees, particularly women, can be leveraged more effectively to drive better business outcomes. Organizations that choose to fight ageism and embrace an age-diverse workforce position themselves for long-term success and competitive advantage.

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