From industry research and DIY robotics to smart wine coolers and electric airplanes, the achievements of our 40 Under 40 Honorees for 2021 are impressive and may well dictate how the consumer technology industry conducts business in the next decade or two. Make sure to check those out.
Now, not to take any credit from this superlative group of 20- and 30-something innovators — we are fortunate to have them in our industry — but every time I see a list about marvelous mavericks under a certain age, I’m always reminded of the talent over a certain age. For many years now, in the majority of workplaces and industries, age discrimination for some starts once a worker hits 40, and skyrockets for workers over the age of 50. According to a recent survey by the AARP, 78 percent of older workers (between the ages of 40 and 65) had either witnessed or experienced some form of age discrimination in the past year.
The technology industry is no exception in this regard. Recent age discrimination cases at Google and IBM show that the issue is rampant at America’s biggest companies. A recent survey by CWJobs revealed that some tech workers — especially those who work in IT and programming — start to feel age discrimination by the age of 29. Another study by cloud compensation software company PayScale, which dug into its massive salary database, found that only three out of 18 top tech companies — HP, Oracle, and IBM — had an employee median age over 33 years old. At the other not-too-distant end, seven of that list’s companies — Amazon, Google, Salesforce, Tesla, LinkedIn, SpaceX, and Facebook — did not have a median employee age over 30 years old. The rest of the U.S. business world’s employee median age of 42 years old (41.9 in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) seems positively geriatric in comparison. It’s not any better outside of those Big Tech giants, either: a recent people analytics platform WerkLabs survey found that 81 percent of tech industry professionals experienced some form of age discrimination during the job search process. And in Silicon Valley, “the cutoff age is 32,” for younger CEOs looking for investors, as Y Combinator Co-Founder Paul Graham told The New York Times back in 2013.
It’s “the last acceptable bias,” as the AARP wrote in a 2019 report. Is it any wonder that the House of Representatives just passed the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act? While it has yet to be voted on by the Senate, the bill, if passed, will make it easier for U.S. workers over the age of 40 to file age discrimination lawsuits, a safeguard in the 1967 Age Discrimination Employment Act that had been weakened by a Supreme Court decision in 2009.
A 2018 study by PwC said that approximately $3.5 trillion could be added to OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) economies by holding onto older workers longer — not least because of the additional tax revenues and spending power. Companies that don’t employ older workers are missing out. Studies have shown that older workers tend to have a strong work ethic and are loyal, one of the by-products of the tough job market. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, older workers don’t call in sick as often as younger workers and are less likely to job-hop than their Gen Z and Millennial counterparts. Of course, there are always exceptions to any statistic, rule, or generalization, but considering some of the struggles that many employers are having filling positions at the moment, it seems a no-brainer to tap into the experience and wisdom of older workers.
Besides legislation, what else can be done for tech companies to round out their multigenerational diversity with older workers? From looking at adapting pay scales and offering flexible work schedules to updating DEI policies and coaching HR recruiters, there are plenty of steps that can be taken now (see this insightful piece from the Harvard Business Review for more on this).
Experience is a plus, especially in technology: Not only do older workers bring all of the inside expertise from their previous workplaces, but they also bring their bigger professional networks, which can be a boon to any outward-facing or strategic position. Older workers can serve as mentors to younger workers, passing on years of knowledge and experience to the next generation. What’s more, studies have found that multigenerational teams tend to work faster — maybe learning from one’s mistakes helps teams cut to the chase? You can still move fast, but you don’t always have to break things as you’re doing it.
If you’re old enough to remember 2007, when Mark Zuckerberg said “younger people are just smarter,” then you know that ageism in the consumer technology business is nothing new, and that it’s real. It’s important that all of us, no matter our generation, address this weak link in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, and effect change. This will not only help the current generation of older workers as they make their way back into the post-pandemic workforce, but also anyone who goes from being under 40 to over 40.