Tess C. Taylor, PHR, The HR Writer
Apparently, it’s the survival of the youngest in Silicon Valley. According to a recent New Republic article, by writer Noam Scheiber, that details the desperate measures that professionals in their early 40s are doing to stay employable, these efforts that include getting regular Botox injections and hitting the gym for hours a day to stay youthful are on the rise. No longer are seasoned employees looked at as valuable to the success of the technology firms they work for. Instead, a growing disdain for anyone born before the 1980s has reared its ugly head.
For years, we’ve been hearing about ageism happening in the Information Technology market. Hundreds of older workers in their 40s and 50s are being edged out to make room for Generation Y and Z; the perception being that older IT professionals are somehow less smart or capable in this line of work by their younger peers.
A growing number of tech startups led by 20-somethings have added to this negative perception. Even Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, was once quoted as saying “I want to stress the importance of being young and technical…young people are just smarter”, as he spoke at a Y Combinator Startup event at Stanford University back in 2007 when he was just 28 years old.
Myths About Hiring Young vs. Older Information Technology Candidates
The struggle for career equity continues to be a problem among many tech firms, due to various myths that have sprung up since the start of the Great Recession. Some of these false ideas that create ageism in the workplace include:
- Younger workers have less personal responsibilities, therefore employers can get them cheaper than more seasoned workers with families, mortgages, and retirement plans
- Employees who are younger tend to work harder and longer hours than their older counterparts due to lack of life responsibilities
- The latest generation of college graduates are smarter about technology principles and practices because they have learned using these systems
As long as employers continue to view younger workers as somehow superior to more seasoned workers, there will exist disparity between the career opportunities and eventually compensation rates. It’s time to stop viewing the youth culture as somehow better than the multi-generational reality of the workplace as it stands today.
Why is There Ageism in the Information Technology Industry?
Outside of the myths that have been spiraling out of control in Silicon Valley and other technology hot spots, there are some contributing factors that are supporting ageism in the workplace.
- Cloud Computing – Leading to the breakdown of the traditional work environment was the advent of the cloud based, virtual model of sharing and processing information. No longer are employees chained to desks or relegated to cubicles overseen by a looming manager. This has created a younger, more independent type of worker who prefers not to answer to anyone but himself. Traditional values such as respect for authority has gone out the window, alongside many office procedures.
- Social Networks – While they serve to add a great deal of value in many companies, social networks have also created a way for elite groups of workers to increase segmentation from others in the establishment. Old styles of team building have become obsolete and there is a breakdown of true socialization and connection across age groups. While workers are increasingly part of the “I want it my way” generation, some are cemented in traditional methods adding to the problem.
- Demand vs. Supply – Much of the ageism comes down to the demand for skilled workers in the IT market. It can seem much more appealing to hire directly through college programs that churn out a source of cheap labor than it is to hire more seasoned professionals and pay them accordingly. Technology companies simply cannot keep up with the demands for coders and developers, skills that were more of the focus in younger generations than those who have other skills that were part of the past.
Companies who want to offer the best possible chance of expanding and surviving the challenges of IT must do their part to hire for diversity. Adding employees from all generations increases skill sets which will carry the organization through peaks and valleys that occur. It’s not fair (or legal) to focus on hiring only from certain age brackets, nor is it wise to buy into the myths above.