A few weeks ago, my Facebook ads changed considerably. Suddenly, I was getting ads for Walmart and Target home delivery service. I live in Switzerland where, sadly, neither store exists. I clicked on "why am I getting this ad?" and it informed me that the ad was Targeted to me because I lived in Pennsylvania.
Well, I did live in Pennsylvania--nine years ago. These Pennsylvanian ads continued for a few weeks, and then something happened at Facebook and I was back to my normal Swiss focused ads.
It demonstrated to me just how much I don't see because of what I've listed in my social media profiles. What I post about, what I search for on Amazon, and what videos I watch on YouTube all affect what I see in my Facebook feed. The other thing that affects my feed is my age.
It turns out that while Facebook stopped businesses from targeting job seekers by race or gender, it still allows companies to indicate an age. And at 45, I may be too old to see certain job postings.
NPR says that T Mobile, for instance, ran ads that targeted applicants 18 to 38. That's a significant age because Federal law prohibits discrimination for people over the age of 40. It's actually perfectly legal (under federal law) to discriminate against young people, but not old fogies like me.
Now, depending on the job, it may seem quite logical that people older than 38 wouldn't be interested. If it's entry level, there aren't many 50-year-olds interested in an entry-level job. But, interest aside, you can't legally make that assumption.
Gray areas in hiring
While it's clearly illegal to reject an applicant because she's too old (except in a small range of jobs with mandatory retirement ages, like airline pilots), targeting certain groups hasn't been clearly defined.
Companies frequently recruit new grads and have for years. While, technically, you can be a new grad at any age (my own grandmother completed her bachelor's degree in her 70s), everyone knows the vast majority of candidates will be young.
But, businesses claim there is a difference between rejecting a particular candidate and targeting a group of people. Nobody has unlimited recruiting dollars and it doesn't make sense to target everyone.
Companies may be damaging their own applicant pool
With unemployment at records lows right now, it doesn't make much sense to limit applicants by age or maximum years of experience. Some claim the maximum amount of experience is simply another proxy for age. Recruiters claim that for many jobs, too much experience makes you overqualified and not likely to thrive in the job.
But, by limiting age specifically, you are also eliminating people returning to the workforce or people who are attempting to change career paths. Assuming that all entry level candidates will be young means you limit your pool of candidates. No quality company wants to do that.
Remember, you too will get old
Age discrimination fascinates me because, unlike race or gender, every single one of us changes our age every day. So, while you say "ugggh, we need fresh ideas! No one over 30!" you know that someday, you too will be over 30. And yet it continues.
So, regardless of how this all plays out in the courts, remember that age discrimination not only hurts other people, it will hurt you if you don't play an active role in stopping it.