When she was 22 years old, Priscilla Bonzi finished her internship at an embassy in Washington DC, United States. You applied for a job and didn’t get it, which might seem completely normal.
However, when she asked why they did not choose her, the answer confused her: “They told me it was too young for the job“.
“I didn’t expect my age to be the cause of the decision,” Bonzi tells the BBC.
Now she works in New York as a consultant at an international law firm and that bad experience is long gone. However, many young people experience similar situations.
This is what happened to 19-year-old college student Nadirah Hussein at her job in London.
“When I talked to my colleagues they were shocked when I told them my age and sometimes they downplayed the things I have achieved or treated me as if I was younger, even though I am an adult.”
“I felt that they treated me like a little girl. It was difficult for them to take me seriously, ”he explains.
This discriminatory practice known as youngism (a word in English that refers to job discrimination for being young) seems to be more widespread now than in the past, at least in developed countries.
The challenge of detecting that discrimination really exists
Although it is difficult to be certain that you have not been given the job because you are considered too young, it is possible to infer it when there are no solid reasons to support the rejection.
Elizabeth Houghton, a career development consultant specializing in advising people under 35 in different parts of the world, says that many of her clients often bring the issue to the table.
“If you have all the skills required by the job and you can show that you have put them into practice, and still they tell you that you don’t have enough experience, I would say that it is a decision based on your age and not on what you can really do, Unless they give you reasons and concrete examples to argue that you are not the right person ”.
Another element is added to the issue of age: gender discrimination. “I would say that affects women more than men, ”says Houghton.
From their perspective, one of the things that works against hiring young women is that they are likely to have children at some point.
That possibility, he argues, operates as an unconscious bias in employers.
A “more accepted” practice
Although age discrimination has traditionally affected older people, the opposite trend that affects younger people is often a more accepted practice, says Lauren Rikleen, a consultant who works with companies to create more inclusive work environments.
“It is a subject that we do not talk about enough”says Rikleen. And since it seems to be a problem that does not exist, it becomes even more difficult to combat it.
Although there has always been a certain level of bias against the youngest in different generations, the expert believes that this practice is more common now than before.
One of the reasons that can explain the phenomenon is that the new generations have been raised in a very different way to how it was decades ago.
For example, younger generations have more space to participate in family decisions or the decisions they make about their own lives.
To this is added the effect of technologies, or the way in which childhood passes in a much more structured way at school and outside of it.
One of the biggest historical changes to come from this new upbringing, Rikleen argues, is that there is a greater focus on integration between work and other spheres of life.
“That does not affect your self-confidence”
“People always talk about achieving a work-life balance in a way more holistic and healthy of the vision that previous generations had ”.
In that sense, he adds, “the greatest contribution young people have made to the workplace is a fundamental shift in priorities.”
But in the eyes of some employers, the fact that younger people are unwilling to “sacrifice everything” for work is an unwelcome attitude.
Recent research from surveys of 6,000 people in the United States and the United Kingdom argues that age discrimination affects young people more than it does older people today.
“People view young adults today in a positive and negative light at the same time,” explains Michael North, a professor of management at the New York University School of Business and one of the authors of the research.
On the positive side, they consider that the new generation has more skills to solve challenges. They see them more ambitious, smarter, more cool, more technological.
But the flip side of the coin is that they are perceived as ungrateful, disrespectful, or more naively radical.
On the other hand, he adds, people have a “cooler” attitude toward young adults today.
“People of all ages have a more negative view about the youth of today compared to the youth of previous generations, ”says North.
Experts suggest that young job applicants be very clear in emphasizing what they have done, moving the interview to a place where they can highlight that experience.
And most importantly, says Elizabeth Houghton: “If you have experience, don’t let discrimination affect your self-confidence“.
(This note is adapted from a chapter of the BBC Business Daily radio program).