Ageism in technology
Image: Ruslan Guzov/Shutterstock

How to solve the ageism problem in the tech sector

30 Mar 2017

The tech sector is already fighting to narrow the talent gap and the gender gap, but what about the age gap?

There is a global gender gap problem in various industries, not just the tech sector. Many STEM industries are also suffering from a skills shortage. Several companies could do with overhauling their recruitment processes to ensure diversity when hiring.

However, one element of diversity that is often forgotten about is age. Every industry needs a varied pool of employees from different social backgrounds, of different ethnicity, from different countries and, of course, of different gender. But you’re not doing your company any favours if most of your ‘diverse’ staff are under the age of 30.

Considered to be one of the worst-kept secrets of Silicon Valley, ageism is still rife within the tech sector. You only need to look at films such as The Internship to see how easily older employees can be discounted as ‘out of date’ or ‘unable to keep up’.

Blatant ageism

In November 2016, USA Today reported that 90 age-related complaints have been filed since 2012 against a dozen top tech companies in Silicon Valley.

The biggest problem with ageism in this sector is that it appears to be widely accepted as just that: acceptable.

In 2016, Dan Lyons, writer on the HBO series Silicon Valley, released a book about his time working at HubSpot, outlining the blatant ageism that takes place in the interview.

Lyons cited a particular interview that the (then) CEO of HubSpot gave to The New York Times, in which he stated that he had no desire to cure the age imbalance in the company because “in the tech world, grey hair and experience are really overrated”.

This is not a new phenomenon. Ten years ago, Mark Zuckerberg was at a start-up event and said: “I want to stress the importance of being young and technical. Young people are just smarter.” He was 23 at the time and I can’t help but wonder if he still he still feels the same way, having aged naturally with the rest of us.

Wanted: Young blood

The data seems to agree. PayScale showed that the median age of a Facebook employee in 2016 was 29. In Google, it was 30 and in Apple, it was 31.

It’s not all bad, as the same data shows that HP, Oracle and IBM all have median ages between 35 and 40. But there’s no denying the ageism problem in many companies and, unfortunately, the tech giants who continue to chase young blood don’t see it as a problem that needs solving in comparison to other elements of inclusivity.

However, a company can’t truly claim to be diverse if they have is a gender balance, but the majority of their employees are from the same socio-economic background. Nor can they claim it if they have employees from various cultures and countries, but very few of them are women.

So why is the same battle not being fought when it comes to diversity of age? Is it because older people simply can’t keep up with today’s technology?

The age-old myth

A 2016 survey from Dropbox of 4000 IT professionals painted a very different picture to that perception.

The report showed that only 13pc of respondents aged 55 and older reported having trouble working with multiple devices, compared to 37pc of those aged 18-34.

The survey also found that just a quarter of people over the age of 55 felt stressed out working with technology in the workplace, compared to more than a third of young adults.

Evidence aside, more tech companies are looking for passion, drive and soft skills, all of which are traits unlimited by age. If anything, it could be argued that older people have a natural inclination towards these soft skills, with more life experience under their belt.

Supporting this idea, Prof Brian MacCraith said that mature entrepreneurs are almost twice as likely to launch high-growth start-ups as 20-24 year olds.

Now that we’ve proven that abilities don’t go down as age goes up, how can the tech industry begin to solve its ageism problem?

Fixing the problem

For a start, they can update diversity training and recruitment methods to ensure that they include age and not just gender, race or ethnicity.

Unconscious bias isn’t just about hiring people who come from the same background, it also means solely hiring people that are roughly the same age as you.

Removing buzzwords from your job adverts is a good start when looking to recruit from a truly diverse pool. Of course, it’s illegal to discriminate based on age, but that doesn’t seem to stop recruiters searching for ‘recent graduates’ or ‘fresh talent’, which will most likely put off older applicants.

Finally, make age an essential part of your overall diversity plan. If a company strives to show off cultural differences and inclusion as well as a narrow or non-existent gender gap, that company should also look at the age of its staff.

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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