top of page
  • Kellie Dodds

Navigating Age Diversity: The Unintended Impact of Executive Job Descriptions

Age Diversity: The Unintended Impact of Executive Job Descriptions

Fostering diversity has become a key focus for organisations worldwide. While strides have been made in addressing gender and racial imbalances, age diversity often remains overlooked. One crucial but often underestimated factor influencing age diversity is the language used in executive job descriptions. I have looked into the unintended impact of these descriptions on both younger and older candidates, shedding light on how seemingly innocuous wording can deter potentially qualified individuals from applying.

The Influence of Language on Perceptions:

Executive job descriptions serve as the initial point of contact between a potential candidate and an organisation. The language used in these descriptions can inadvertently create barriers for candidates of different age groups. For instance, terms like "dynamic," "energetic," or "innovative" might convey an unspoken bias towards younger candidates, inadvertently dissuading older professionals from applying. On the flip side, phrases such as "experienced," "seasoned," or "vast industry knowledge" may unintentionally discourage younger talent from pursuing these opportunities.

Subtle Ageism in Requirements:

Analysing the specific requirements listed in executive job descriptions often reveals subtle ageism that can dissuade candidates at different points in their careers. For example, insisting on a certain number of years of experience may deter younger individuals who are highly qualified but lack the specified duration. On the other hand, the emphasis on adaptability and willingness to learn new technologies might discourage older candidates who bring a wealth of experience but may not explicitly highlight their comfort with the latest tools.

The Impact on Younger Candidates:

  1. Emphasis on Experience Over Potential: Younger professionals often bring fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and a willingness to embrace change. However, executive job descriptions that overly prioritise extensive experience may inadvertently exclude these promising individuals, deterring them from applying for fear of being overlooked in favour of candidates with a greater number of years of experience.

  2. Subtle biases embedded in qualifications and experience requirements can inadvertently create barriers for younger candidates, perpetuating indirect age discrimination in the recruitment process. One example is the insistence on a defined minimum number of years of experience, which disproportionately affects younger applicants. This criterion assumes a level of professional maturity that may not align with the diverse skills and fresh perspectives that younger individuals can bring to the table.

  3. Technology-Centric Requirements: Rapid technological advancements have become a hallmark of the modern workplace. Job descriptions that emphasise tech-savviness may intimidate younger candidates who may lack extensive professional experience but possess a strong aptitude for quickly adapting to new technologies.

Here are some words and phrases that have been reported to inadvertently deter younger candidates:

"Seasoned Professional" or "Industry Veteran": While these terms may be meant to convey experience, they can unintentionally imply a preference for older candidates. Consider using more neutral terms like "experienced professional" to avoid age-related connotations.

"Mature" or "Established": These words may be perceived as signalling a preference for individuals with more years in the workforce, potentially discouraging younger applicants. Instead, focus on qualifications and skills without emphasising age-related attributes.

"Extensive Experience" or "Extensive Track Record": While experience is valuable, overemphasising extensive experience might discourage younger candidates who may bring fresh perspectives and innovative ideas. Consider using terms like "relevant experience" to be more inclusive.

"Digital Immigrant" or "Not a Digital Native": Phrases that suggest a lack of familiarity with technology may deter younger candidates who are typically perceived as tech-savvy. Instead, emphasise the need for digital skills without making assumptions about age.

"Established Network" or "Long-standing Relationships": While networking is valuable, terms like these might imply a preference for candidates with a longer professional history, potentially discouraging younger individuals. Consider using more neutral language like "strong professional network."

"Executive Presence" or "Commanding Presence": These terms can be subjective and may unintentionally favour older candidates. Focus on specific skills and competencies relevant to the role rather than subjective attributes tied to age.

"Industry Stalwart": Phrases that emphasise long-standing contributions to the industry may suggest a preference for candidates with an extensive history, potentially excluding younger professionals. Opt for terms that highlight achievements and expertise without tying them explicitly to age.

The Impact on Older Candidates:

  1. Energetic and Dynamic Language: Executive job descriptions that use language suggestive of high energy and dynamism may create a perception that the organisation values youthfulness. This can discourage older candidates who may possess a different set of qualities, such as wisdom, stability, and a wealth of experience.

  2. Overemphasis on Adaptability: While adaptability is a crucial trait in any executive role, job descriptions that overly emphasise this quality may inadvertently suggest a bias against older candidates. It may imply an assumption that they are resistant to change, ignoring the wealth of experience and adaptability they bring to the table.

Here are some words and phrases that have been reported to inadvertently deter older candidates:

"Recent Graduate" or "Entry-Level": Explicitly targeting recent graduates can unintentionally exclude older candidates who may be seeking a career change or possess relevant experience despite not being recent graduates.

"Digital Native" or "Tech-Savvy": Phrases suggesting a preference for individuals comfortable with the latest technology may alienate older candidates who may be equally adept or willing to learn but might not identify with terms associated with younger generations.

"Up-and-Coming" or "Rising Star": These terms can imply a preference for younger professionals on a fast track in their careers, potentially discouraging older candidates who may bring years of valuable experience.

"Energetic" or "Dynamic": While seeking energetic and dynamic individuals is common, overemphasising these qualities may inadvertently convey a preference for younger candidates, perpetuating stereotypes about energy levels associated with age.

"High-Potential" or "Future Leader": These terms may be interpreted as targeting younger individuals on a trajectory for leadership roles, potentially discouraging older candidates who have already proven their leadership capabilities.

"Graduate Scheme" or "Early-Career Program": Explicitly focusing on programs designed for early-career individuals can signal that the organisation is not considering older candidates who may be seeking new opportunities or career transitions.

"Recent Education" or "Up-to-Date Knowledge": Phrases that emphasise recent education or up-to-date knowledge may indirectly discourage older candidates who might have gained equivalent knowledge through years of experience.

"Fast-Paced Environment" or "High-Energy Culture": Terms suggesting a fast-paced or high-energy workplace may unintentionally deter older candidates.

"Digital Natives Preferred" Explicitly stating preferences for specific generational characteristics can perpetuate age stereotypes. Avoid specifying preferred generations and focus on the skills and qualifications necessary for the role.

"Social Media Guru" or "Millennial Mindset": Phrases that associate certain skills or mindsets with specific age groups can exclude older candidates who may possess the same skills or are adaptable to emerging trends.

"Degree Requirement" Without Consideration for Experience: Requiring degrees for positions where experience is equally valuable may unintentionally exclude older applicants who may have gained extensive experience in place of, or in addition to, formal education.

Addressing age diversity in executive roles requires a nuanced examination of the language used in job descriptions. Organisations aiming to attract a diverse pool of talent should critically evaluate their language choices to ensure inclusivity. By adopting neutral and inclusive language, businesses can create an environment that welcomes candidates of all ages, fostering a culture of innovation, collaboration, and success. After all, true diversity goes beyond demographics—it encompasses a rich blend of experiences, perspectives, and talents from individuals across the age spectrum.


bottom of page