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Reducing Age Bias

Systemic approaches to lessen the potential for discimination.

A group of business people sitting on chairs in front of a brick wall.

Although many older workers are highly qualified, conscious or unconscious bias sometimes affects how they fare in the workplace. Employers need to consider systemic approaches to mitigate the potential for bias and to maximize their ability to attract and retain older workers, just as they do other demographic groups.

Here are four steps employers may wish to consider:

1. Target your recruiting. Employers often supplement, not supplant, their general recruiting by including focused recruiting efforts to diversify their applicant pool. Start looking at publications, social media platforms and organizations that are geared toward older workers.

2.  Use blind screening. Research has shown that an individual's name may affect whether they are selected for an interview. For example, a person named Brittany or Bailey might be more likely to be get a callback for an interview than someone named Doris or Joyce. Consider omitting names when reviewing or circulating candidates' resumes.

3.  Ignore salary history. The primary motivator for state and local bans on asking about salary history has been to avoid perpetuating pay disparities based on gender. But knowing an applicant's salary also may hurt older workers, who tend to be paid more, and thus might be screened out. Will they want to work for less? Don't make assumptions, one way or the other. Consider posting the salary range for the position. You don't have to pay more based on experience beyond a certain level. Posting salaries may result in individuals who want more money weeding themselves out. It also mitigates the risk of unconscious bias against older workers.

4.  Offer training. Leadership training should focus not only on the general prohibition against age discrimination but also on the importance of not engaging in age bias based on stereotypes. One such stereotype is a fear that an older candidate is overqualified and may leave if something better turns up. But some studies show that older workers are less likely to leave than younger workers. Don't prejudge!

To read more about age bias, see How to Avoid Ageism from SHRM's All Things Work newsletter.

Jonathan A. Segal is a partner at Duane Morris in Philadelphia and New York City, and frequent contributor to Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_HR_Law.


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