When most people are asked to imagine walking into a top tech company, they conjure up images of young, twentysomethings, (mostly male) in jeans, tee shirts and flip flops. Because that has traditionally been the reality. There has been a belief among tech companies that older workers wouldn’t be comfortable with new technology, that they are less creative and less teachable. But these beliefs are unfounded—and extremely limiting.
According to Scientific American, “for groups that value innovation and new ideas, diversity helps.” Yes, even in the tech industry. And, yes, diversity needs to include age as a demographic in addition to race, gender and sexual orientation.
While most states and the federal government have laws that prohibit workforce discrimination—including age—the laws that require companies to report diversity breakdowns by demographics like race and gender, do not require the reporting of workers’ ages. So, unlike other demographics which have been making great strides over the past decade, age discrimination has been left somewhat unchecked.
The AARP provided data showing that 64% of workers between the ages of 45 and 74 said they experienced age discrimination. And yet, in the U.S., the full retirement age to receive unreduced benefits is gradually increasing to 67. Older people need to continue working but many companies, particularly in the tech industry, are finding ways to try to push them out the door.
Interestingly, though, now that the original entrepreneurs and workers from the tech boom are nearly 20 years older, they’re facing a reality they overlooked when first starting out: everyone ages. And with that realization, age discrimination is becoming a reality for larger numbers of people.
This increase in awareness of age-related discrimination has also led to an increase in age-related lawsuits. For example, Google settled a multimillion dollar claim a few years ago when a 54-year old computer scientist was fired by his 38-year-old supervisor who repeatedly made age-based remarks about his work, like being “obsolete,” “to old to matter” and “sluggish.”
So, perhaps it’s time to reach out to the over 50 crowd with a good recruiting campaign that really speaks to this underappreciated and underutilized demographic.
Offering options like ongoing training, flexible hours and part-time employment can be a real boon for older workers (and pretty much anyone who is interested in work-life balance).
In addition to the fact that keeping older people employed benefits the economy by preventing them from becoming dependent on federal aid, diverse teams have greater perspective and more information to pull from. And this enables them to be more creative, more productive and better decision makers. According to Ed Lazowska, who holds the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, “All forms of diversity are important, for the same reasons: workforce demand, equality of opportunity and quality of end product.”
It is likely that it’s just a matter of time before companies are required to include age in their reporting demographics. So, get on board now and not only will you be ahead of the game legally, you’ll also be able to benefit from the experience and wisdom older workers can bring to the table.
Embrace the value that older workers offer and everybody wins.