Another Advantage of Remote Work—Less Opportunity for Age Discrimination?

Another Advantage of Remote Work—Less Opportunity for Age Discrimination?

SeniorLiving.org just released its 2020 report on age discrimination in the workplace. The study, which surveyed 1,110 Americans over age 40, showed that about 1 in 5 workers over 40 experience age-related discrimination at work. While men and women experienced similar rates of discrimination, people over age 60 were the most likely to experience this, with around a quarter of this age group reporting that they had faced it.

One of the unique aspects of remote and virtual work is that you often never meet your coworkers or supervisors face-to-face. And, in some cases, companies are willing to hire you based on the strength of your work instead of your resume.

So, does remote work help reduce age discrimination? Can it make age discrimination worse? What about flexible work like part-time or freelance jobs?

Who Experiences Age Discrimination?

Older workers face discrimination that includes jokes and harassment about their age. Workers aged 40-60 were more likely to report experiencing these two types of discrimination compared to workers over age 60. Other key findings of the SeniorLiving.org report include:

  • Sixteen percent of people who reported age-based treatment are in the education field (about 21% of female victims and 11% of male victims). 
  • About 11% of male victims have a job in the media industry, while only 2% of female victims are in this field.
  • Smaller businesses (between 10 and 99 employees) had the highest reported rates of age-related discrimination. The largest companies reported the lowest rate of age-related bias.
  • The vast majority of those 60 and over—more than 70%—believe that their age would be an obstacle to landing a new job today. One-quarter of those in the 40 to 44 age group also feel this way.
  • Even with survey respondents who didn’t report experiencing workplace bias because of their age included, about 47% of women and 40% of men say their age could keep them from getting a job.

Can Remote Work Help Combat Age Discrimination?

Taking on various types of remote work—from freelancing to running your own business to signing on for virtual and contract gigs—is one way that workers can remove age from the equation. One reason is that these types of work, done from home or another non-office location, generally don’t involve revealing your age as part of the application process (for example, listing your college graduation year on your resume). Many types of virtual workers and remote freelancers never even see their clients, communicating primarily by email and phone. This means that age bias has much less opportunity to come into the equation than it does when a person is working in an office, and their age is visibly more apparent.

“Certain impacts of age discrimination, such as being passed up for promotions, may not necessarily apply to freelance work,” said Jeff Hoyt, editor-in-chief at SeniorLiving.org. “And some of the fields that reported the highest level of age-related discrimination, such as business and technology, are well-suited for remote or freelance work.”  

Hoyt explained that the SeniorLiving.org study does describe obstacles for mid-career or late-career freelancers who may want to transition from part-time or freelance work to full-time work with benefits. “Our research suggests that age discrimination continues to be a serious issue in the workplace,” Hoyt said, reinforcing the fact that even remote arrangements are not immune from the possibility of age-related discrimination.

Can Remote Work Make Age Discrimination Worse?

An article in HR Dive by Sheryl Estrada, titled “Age as an Asset: Why There’s No Room for Bias in Telework,” explored this issue further—particularly in relation to potential age discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the article, Estrada stated that “telework policies, which incorporate the use of technology, can draw particular attention to generational differences.” 

The author quoted Carla Bevins, assistant teaching professor of business communications at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, who pointed out that “ageism existed in the workplace prior to technological disruption,” even though “technological advances such as data analytics and social media have affected work culture and have also influenced how we work in all parts of an organization.”

In the HR Dive article, Bevins also called out the tech industry in terms of age discrimination, stating that tech companies stand out in this area because they “have perpetuated the ageism bias.” This can manifest through employer stereotypes of younger workers having stronger technical skills, which results, according to a report by people analytics firm Visier, in Millennials being given more promotions than Baby Boomers.

Virtual Work Is a Start

Studies like this show that virtual work alone isn’t enough to erase the potential for age bias—particularly for those who have started out working in a company office, with their age known by their employer, and are now working from home during the coronavirus pandemic. 

While the real onus lies on employers to train their managers and staff on best practices and facilitate a culture where all ages of employees have the same opportunities to remove age discrimination from the workplace, older employees in remote roles can also take steps to help level the playing field. 

If you work for one employer, regardless of your age, it helps to upskill in functional areas as needed to avoid having technical skills and other competencies become obsolete. Even this can’t fully protect you, though, from the potential for age discrimination in the workplace, which is another reason why pivoting to become your own boss or freelancer in the new world of virtual work may become more appealing than ever.

For more remote work tips and advice, check out our blog. And if you’re looking for remote work, we’ve got you covered. We post fully remote jobs in more than 15 categories. Browse our listings today!

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By Robin Madell | August 7, 2020 | Categories: Work Remotely


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