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How To Create An Equitable Workplace For Older Workers

By: Veronica Figueroa Fernandez, PRSA Orlando Diversity & Inclusion Chair

Nearly 2 out of 3 workers ages 45 and older have seen or experienced age discrimination on the job, according to results of a wide-ranging AARP workplace survey. More than 50 years after the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was signed into law, forbidding employment discrimination against anyone over 40 years of age in the United States, “age discrimination remains a significant and costly problem for workers, their families, and our economy.”

An investigation by ProPublica and the Urban Institute found that 56 percent of workers over the age of 50 reports that they were pushed out of their jobs by their employers before they were ready to retire. Some of the comments these employees heard include, “older workers can’t handle the day-to-day demands of the job,” and “they can’t be retrained and are too hard to manage.”

Patti Temple Rocks, author of “I’m Not Done: It’s Time To Talk About Ageism In The Workplace,” writes that ageism in the workplace produces slanted messaging and it is bad for business. She shares that the idea that workers become less valuable as they age ignores reality. “The years of experience and the confidence that comes from an expanded track record of success can make employees more effective,” she said. 

She observes that when it comes to the creative world of advertising, the belief that people get better with experience is often replaced with the belief that the only answer is innovation, making us believe that innovation can only be achieved by young people. 

What many companies do not understand is that older workers possess a depth of knowledge and experience that is worth paying for. They believe that investing in younger workers is cost-effective and less risky, when in fact according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), workers 45-54 stayed on the job twice as long as those 25-34, so concentrating on training those over 40 was seen as a sound investment. 

In 2019, the median age of workers in advertising, public relations, and related services was 38.5. It is no wonder that advertising is considered a “Peter Pan” industry, meaning few employees make it long enough to retire from their roles. 

Organizations that sincerely value their employees and actively encourage them to reach their full potential need to create an equitable workplace where workers of all ages feel respected. So, how does one go about that? 

Remove hidden bias from the job description.

You’ve seen the job descriptions looking for a high-energy, savvy digital native that can outline a communications strategy in their sleep. While many managers do not intend to exclude older job applicants, common phrases in job descriptions may seem that way. “Digital native” for example, may discourage qualified applicants who didn’t grow up with an iPhone attached to their hand, scrolling through different social media feeds. “High-energy,” “ninja,” and “guru” often refer to younger candidates. 

More often than not, job applications require candidates to share milestone dates and information, such as college graduation year or highest GPA achieved. This can discourage older candidates from submitting an application, giving the perception that your company is searching for younger candidates. The best and brightest should be given an opportunity, regardless of age. 

Portray a diverse public persona.

Many times, before submitting a job application, candidates will visit your website and social media profiles to see what the culture at your agency or organization is like. If you’re lucky enough to work in a diverse office, share that! Ensure that your agency’s public profile demonstrates racial diversity and generational diversity. If you’re using stock photos on your website, make sure that they portray diversity and inclusion. 

Train your management to recognize hidden biases. 

Are leaders in your organization making assumptions that older workers cannot grasp changing technology? How are you training your leadership to eliminate age assumption practices? Managers need the training to help acknowledge and remove those biases. 

Update your policies. 

In a perfect world, it would be enough to trust your employees to treat each other with respect, but that is why it is important to place policies in place and enforce them. Update your workplace harassment policies to include that your employees cannot discriminate based on age and stress that they will not tolerate unfair treatment. Additionally, if your company has the ability to, consider offering a competitive retirement incentive plan to encourage your employees to stay for the long-haul. 

Offer professional development opportunities across the board. 

Professional development should be an ongoing process throughout an individual’s career, ensuring that employees remain relevant and up to date with knowledge and skills. Like their younger colleagues, older employees will leave companies if there aren’t opportunities to continue to grow in their careers. Do you encourage your younger employees to attend industry seminars or to earn certifications but do not do the same for your older employees? There is always something new for your employees to learn. Offer training and career advancement opportunities, fair to all ages and levels. 

Do you have any tips on creating an equitable workplace for older workers? Share them with us!

Tips For Making Social Media Content Accessible To The Blind; Visually Impaired

By: Veronica Figueroa Fernandez, PRSA Orlando Diversity & Inclusion Chair

Last month marked 30 years since a major milestone in our nation’s history – the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law by President George H. W. Bush. In three decades we have seen how the lives of Americans have transformed, ensuring equal opportunities and access to the 61 million adults living with disabilities in the U.S. when it comes to employment, government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.

And although increasing physical accessibility has been a central focus, it is important to recognize the obstacles that remain in place, such as creating accessible and inclusive social media content for the blind and visually impaired. 

Today, our lives revolve around a constant stream of breaking news alerts, status updates, tweets, memes, images, and videos. Social media has shaped our public discourse, from allowing us to connect with loved ones to reacting to happenings around the world.

Many aspects of social media are still inaccessible for the 2.2 billion people worldwide who suffer from vision impairment or blindness, despite the best efforts of social media giants like Facebook and Twitter. Creating a social media strategy inclusive of your audience takes time and effort, so we’ve shared a few tips below to help you get started. 

How Does A Blind Person Use A Smartphone?

Despite the iPhone being accessible to the blind and visually impaired since the launch of the iPhone 3GS over a decade ago, many still do not understand how they navigate their phones. The iPhone and other Apple products use VoiceOver, a screen reader program found in the phone’s settings. Android smartphones use TalkBack.

Screen readers are assistive technology that attempts to interpret what is being displayed on the screen. In the case of an iPhone, users can touch or drag their finger around the screen, and VoiceOver will read or describe whatever the user has selected, from reading sentences to describing images and emojis. The phone even has the capability of assigning commands from a gesture. And although the iPhone has the capability of “reading” an image, if the social media manager who posted the image originally is not following best practices for social media accessibility the screen reader tends to miss a lot.

Include Alt-Text.

Screen readers describe the content, images, and charts to the blind and visually impaired using alternative text, or alt-text for short. When developing a social media strategy, marketers should keep descriptive alt-text in mind when drafting captions for future social media posts.

  • Avoid saying, “This is a picture of…” They know. Because the screen reader will automatically recognize an image, you can assume the user is aware as well. An alt-text caption of a picture, for example, could read, “My very excited one-year-old nephew and I were ready to have fun at Universal Studios Orlando and posed in front of the globe outside of the park entrance,” rather than, “This is a picture of my nephew and I outside Universal Studios Orlando.” 
  • Everyone loves a laugh. Be descriptive and don’t be afraid of using humor. 
  • Some blind and visually impaired social media users lost their vision gradually and are familiar with color, so don’t be afraid to mention it. 
  • Don’t overthink your caption! Your captions are being read by a robot, but don’t feel like you have to write like one. 
  • Screen readers read everything, so avoid using excessive emojis on your captions or alt-text. No one wants to hear, “face with tears of joy,” fifteen times in a row. 
  • Transcribe text. Screen readers won’t be able to read images such as a picture of a historical marker, plaque, chart, meme, screenshot, or GIF. Summarize what the image is showing.

How-To Add Alt-Text.

The automatic alt-text social media platforms use does not always work and will use general terms such as “food” as an automatic descriptor when you could be describing dishes such as “a succulent roasted pig, with a side of crispy Brussels sprouts in a bowl,” or “a hearty, warm chicken soup.”

The character count for alt-text varies by the social network. We’ve linked to each social network’s how-to below, but it is easy to figure out once you upload an image and choose edit or advanced editing options.

Write Your Hashtags in Camel Case.

Make your hashtags accessible by capitalizing the first letter of each word. This format is known as camel case and allows screen readers to read the words individually rather than as one long, jumbled word. #YourHashtagsShouldLookLikeThis

Color contrast.

Color contrast is important for colorblind social media users. According to W3C, the contrast between text color and background should be 4.5 to 1. Problematic color combinations include red and green, green and brown, green and blue, blue and gray, blue and purple, green and gray, and green and black.

Earlier this year Marks & Spencer, a British retailer, posted an image regarding some of their new measures in place surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. The initial image was incredibly difficult to read, but once enough of us tweeted at them, they swapped out the image for one that was easier to read.

First Version:

Second Version:

These tactics are only a small glimpse at how social media marketing can be inclusive and accessible to the blind and visually impaired. And while social media giants like Facebook have opened many doors to these users, they continue to encounter many glitches and problems with the programming and feel as if there isn’t enough manpower dedicated to addressing these issues. By making a few adjustments in your social media strategy, you are opening your brand up to a wider audience to fall in love with you. 

The original version of this blog post appeared on Laughing Samurai.