Old timer

Finding and getting a job in internal communication that is right for you is already tough enough. We absolutely don’t need ageism to compound that further.

Those of us who work in communications and public relations probably have a greater appreciation of the power and influence of words than others. So, a couple of weeks ago, I was intrigued to read about one of the UK’s largest insurance companies which had banned the use of certain words in job adverts.

Why? Well, it seems that using certain words in job adverts and descriptions can deter the over 50s from applying and that some recruiters are actively including particular words to do exactly that. Now, if that’s not a tangible example of ageism in action I don’t know what is.

As I’m now well past the half century milestone I was slightly appalled by this, but intuitively knew that there was some truth in it.

A soap box

Those of you who are regular readers of my blog will know that one of my soap boxes is the inconsistency in internal communication recruitment. It is an absolute mess for anyone looking to forge a career in the profession and navigate through it. As a result, I read a lot of IC job ads, and as a ‘50 something’ have definitely been ‘put off’ by the use of certain words and phrases.

I recall that, when I was still working in-house and looking for a new role, I once saw an ad for an IC role in a legal firm that included the unfortunate phrase, “must have a bubbly personality”. I have never, and in the absence of a personality transplant am not ever likely to have such an attribute, so I consciously self-selected myself out of applying.

I was intrigued by all of this, so decided to conduct a small experiment.

I acknowledge that this is hardly conclusive, but it seems that there is definitely something going on here to support the hypothesis that certain words are associated with older and younger applicants.  

Academic proof

Now you might say that banning the use of certain words in job adverts is another example of political correctness in our increasingly woke world. Well, I’d have to point out that you were wrong, because there is some fascinating academic research into societal attitudes to ageing and older people that highlights how words and language can be detrimental to them.

Dr Hannah Swift of the University of Kent has published many research papers, and contributed to several reports on the subject.

Exploring representations of old age and ageing’ includes some interesting analysis of positive and negative stereotypes (Tables 3 and 4), including some which have an obvious relationship to communication and the words used in recruitment. Apparently, us older types are perceived to be better storytellers. A positive attribute for those of us working in internal communication, maybe?

Doddery but dear’ highlights the problematic nature of stereotyping older people and workers. This excerpt from the report sums this up.

“…..the problem is, that stereotypes ignore the variation between people of the same age, because of the tendency to see people of the same age as more similar to one another. They also over exaggerate differences between age groups. This means that wrong assumptions could be made about a person based on their age, despite them not being true of the individual.”

This is reason enough for not using certain stereotypical words in job adverts which put older workers off applying, but as Professor Dominic Abrams, (a colleague of Swift) points out “not only do companies need to make adverts more inclusive, it is also up to older job seekers to see beyond ageist stereotypes”.

A diversity issue

Why is this important for those of us working in internal communication? I think there are two reasons.

We already know that there is a diversity problem in public relations, and by definition, internal communication. This isn’t an issue relating to just gender, ethnicity and other diversity characterstics, it is also about age group. Research by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations in 2021, found that only 16% of us working in public relations are 55 and over, with the majority of us being under 45 (Source: PR in a pandemic 2020/21).

You might think that age as a diversity issue isn’t as important as gender and ethnicity etc. It certainly doesn’t seem to get the same amount of airtime in the diversity discourse. However, for those of us over 55 it absolutely is important if you want to remain in PR as a career beyond your 40s. It’s also a double or triple whammy if, for example, you are female and/or from an ethnic minority group. I would contend that the underrepresentation of older age groups in our profession is an issue contributed to by ageism in recruitment and talent development practices inside and outside organisations. And yes, that includes using particular words in job adverts.

Secondly, as I’ve pointed out earlier and in several other blogs, internal communication recruitment is an inconsistent mess. There is a persistent gap between what our professional bodies say we need to know, and what recruiters look for, compounded by inconsistencies in job titles and salaries.

We absolutely don’t need ageism to compound that further. Finding and getting a job in internal communication that is right for you is already tough enough.


Image by analogicus from Pixabay

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