Is ageism a problem in the tech industry?
The tech industry has long faced criticism over a perceived lack of diversity, something we’ve covered on our blogs before. Though this is often talked about when it comes to gender and race – there are increasing claims that age discrimination is overlooked. Critics point to a growing body of evidence showing that younger workers are unfairly favoured over older ones, with a recent study from HR analyst company, Visier, showing that the average age of staff in the tech industry is five years lower than in non-technical industries. So – is ageism a problem in the tech industry?
Ageism in the tech industry: a growing problem
When surveyed, many older workers have highlighted the presence of an ageism problem in the sector. In a questionnaire of older workers from employment consultancy Dice, 76% of respondents believed that it existed in their industry. The study also found that one in every four baby boomers report they have been refused a promotion solely because of their age, while 29% of respondents had experienced or witnessed age discrimination based in their office. Perceived ageism has even led to companies facing penalties for discriminatory practices – Google, for example, recently agreed to pay $11 million to settle a lawsuit brought by 200 job applicants over 40 who had been declined work in engineering positions. This has even extended to job adverts. A recent lawsuit filed by the Communications Workers of America claims that Facebook is filtering job ads to a younger crowd, violating fair employment laws in the process.
A fast pace of change
To explain this lack of older workers, many point to the fact that because under-35s were born into a digital world, they are more capable of working in tech. According to Visier, ‘the tech industry changes so quickly – what was needed five years ago might be less relevant now.’ However, this attitude has been criticised by a number of industry leaders. Recently, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales lambasted Silicon Valley for its ageism problem, saying that successful young tech industry entrepreneurs are the exception, not the rule.
There are several statistics to support this, with studies showing:
The average age of a successful entrepreneur in high-growth industries is 40.
Twice as many successful entrepreneurs are over 50 as under 25.
The highest rate of entrepreneurship has shifted to the 55–64 age group, with people over 55 almost twice as likely to found successful companies as those between 20 and 34.
It’s not all doom and gloom
However, many others play down the severity of the ageism problem in the tech industry, and point to data that paints a more optimistic picture. In Visier research, the company found that after 40, workers are increasingly likely to receive top performance ratings, which is not true in non-tech industries, where older workers find their performance ratings declining According to the data, older workers are also more loyal – with far lower turnover rates than those in their mid-twenties – which sits at around 40%. Finally, older workers are also just as likely to be promoted to management, with Dave Weisbeck, CSO of Visier, stating that ‘there is no bias on this front.’
The argument rages on
Ultimately, the argument over whether tech suffers from an ageism problem isn’t going away anytime soon – and we’re keen to see how the conversation develops. As an agency committed to diversity and inclusion, we’d be interested in hearing the thoughts and feelings of our clients and candidates on the subject, in order better understand whether they think there is an ageism problem in the tech industry.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio