When anti-discrimination policies discriminate | The bar

For some, age is just a number. For many, however, it is a curse.

Breaking into the legal industry has never been easy. Top grades and employee malleability are considered sacrosanct, but for mature entrants, this attitude is often career-ending.

Search by The Royal Society for Public Health in 2018 discovered ageism be the most common form of prejudice and discrimination, both in the UK and in Europe.

Yet age is the only characteristic protected by the Equality Act 2010 which gives businesses a full defense against discrimination in certain circumstances.

Older workers can bring with them an abundance of maturity and experience that new graduates have typically not been able to acquire by the time they enter the market.

For some companies, the combination of older and younger workers can be the yin and yang of business success.

Yet three hidden “ageism enablers” lurk in the shadows: namely, AI candidate screening, blind recruitment, and grade inflation.

Selection of IA candidates

Like it or not, algorithms permeate our lives, but AI Screening in Recruitment takes this to another level.

Machines designed to sort and reject applicants based on predefined criteria are becoming the norm.

Devoid of any human emotion, this method can mean you’re fired before you’ve even started. And what if the AI ​​designer had a bias – conscious or unconscious? How do you control this?

Many now fear that these unregulated and untested systems are breaking the law, with seemingly no “person” responsible. Yet their impact can be devastating for members of minority groups, such as older workers.

In my case, I was told by UCAS that even my college grades were too old to convert to UCAS points (the format required for many applications).

Again, by trying to treat everyone the same, the system manages to discriminate.

Blind recruitment

Let’s just say you’re lucky enough to have a human consider your resume.

Blind recruiting sees submitted resumes stripped of all obvious references to age, race, disability, etc. Thus, the recruiter only sees your skills and attributes, excluding any negative bias that may be associated with this personal information. A perfect solution to prevent ageism, isn’t it? Bad.

For mature applicants like me, concealing age, even by suppressing details, is nearly impossible.

There is the polytechnic university that I attended which was about to convert in the early 90s; the number of years of professional experience; even the types of hobbies enjoyed. Age involuntarily oozes from the page.

A research paper by David Neumarkeconomist at the University of California, found that the discrimination began as soon as recruiters learned of a candidate’s age. With many job applications now starting online, this realization could come sooner than you think.

And once a candidate’s age was discovered, the research paper found that the job offer rate for older candidates was 68% lower than for younger ones.

Note bloat

And then there’s grade inflation. This distortion is even more detrimental in the legal sector, where positions are often only open to firsts or 2:1s.

The higher education regulator in England, the Office for Students (OfS), found that four out of five graduates now get firsts or 2:1s.

Over the past eight years, the number of people graduating with a first has increased by more than 90%, leading the OfS to add that such inflation ‘threatens to erode public confidence’ in the system educative.

What if, like me, your college grade predates the start of grade inflation in the mid-90s?

Many older workers achieved the equivalent of firsts and 2:1s in modern times when they got a 2:1 or a 2:2 many years ago. The phrase “comparing apples to oranges” comes to mind.

It’s time for a change

What makes individual workers great is that they are, in fact, individuals. But to ensure equality for all no matter what, recruitment has become “too equal”.

In the twelve years since the birth of the Equality Act, it has become clear that what is needed is a change of mindset, not legislation.

If companies instead chose to see the added value and knowledge that older workers can bring, anti-ageism policies would be less necessary.

Fortunately, the change has already begun.

When the then Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland QC MP announced that he was increase to 75 of the compulsory retirement age for the judiciaryhe said the change would mean that “the industry can retain its invaluable experience, while ensuring that court roles are open to a wider pool of talent”.

If it’s good enough for the judges, it’s definitely good enough for others in the industry. It is therefore high time for the rest of the sector to follow suit.

For those who choose to ignore this problem, it will not go away. Ageism will target all of us, from all sectors. If not today, then tomorrow.

Because one thing in life is guaranteed: we are all going to age.

The opinions expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society.