Ageism in the Tech Field Is a Real Problem

You would think that with all the chronic skill and knowledge shortages in IT, every qualified person would be considered for relevant open positions. You also would think that anyone smart enough to be retrained would be given the opportunity to be retrained.

But, thanks to persistent stereotypes—and sometimes overt ageism—you would be wrong.

A recent article at Digiday highlights the extent of the problem—and some of the subtleties of ageism. In 2008, a then 53-year-old professional at a digital agency in Boston watched a co-worker stop at every cubicle on his floor and offer a beer. But the co-worker skipped his cubicle.

“I ran through all the reasons in my head why I was singled out,” the professional was quoted as saying. “There could be a lot to it. But then I realized there wasn’t, and it was just the most obvious one: I was old, and so I was invisible.”

Let’s face it, there’s a perception that older workers don’t understand the nuances of social media and mobile technology the way that younger workers do. There’s also a belief that younger people are crack coders but their middle-age counterparts haven’t yet cracked the code on Ruby or Python.

Too often, there’s also a belief that younger workers come cheaper and are willing to work longer hours. Also, some managers think that customers feel more confident dealing with younger and more tech-savvy sales and support staff.

Alas, this thinking, like sexism, is incredibly counterproductive. Although IT departments, digital agencies and others may benefit financially over the short-term by tilting toward younger workers, it’s not a smart long-term strategy. It can also land a company in a court of law. A 2014 AARP article reported that 64 percent of workers age 55 or older say they have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace.

It’s time for organizations to rethink things. “There are too many oversimplifications, and there is too much of an attempt to paint people with a broad brush,” says John Doehring, an independent business consultant who focuses on workplace issues.

To be sure, there are a lot of Baby Boomers who are incredibly tech-savvy and wired in. What’s more, learning the ropes for social media or mobility isn’t exactly rocket science. A person with coding experience can usually learn a new language pronto.

Older workers can help companies curb skill and knowledge shortages—and, in some cases, gain a competitive advantage. In addition, many of these employees possess experience and insight that often elude younger and less experienced workers.

In the end, there’s very little downside for organizations—and IT departments—that commit to hiring and retaining a diverse workforce. But there’s a potentially huge upside.


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