As the recruiting and employment world experiences a sea change, many new factors are dominating the conversation, including new efforts in diversity recruitment and the “new normal” of remote work or hybrid work. One topic not getting enough attention is age discrimination in recruiting — something of particular importance in recruiting for tech companies, where long-held bias against older employees has been an issue.
In 2019, Google settled one of the most high profile class action lawsuits by more than 200 candidates over 40 years old who alleged discriminatory practices based on their age. Google paid out $11M to these job seekers, and agreed to train employees and hiring managers about age bias, and to form an internal committee to address the issue.
There are many reasons that employers might discriminate against older employees. One common reason is that they generally make more money than the younger, less experienced employees, so getting rid of them can be seen as a cost cutting measure. But another common reason and misconception, is that older employees might not be up to speed on the latest technology – an assumption that can result in older employees or candidates feeling it necessary to erase years of experience off their resume to hide their age.
There might have been a time, years ago, where older employees who were not raised as digital natives had to learn new skills, but that time has passed. There is no reason that a 50 or 60 year old today, who works in technology, would not be as technologically literate as younger peers. And in fact, that employee’s breadth of knowledge as they have seen technology evolve during their career is a huge bonus to employers. And for those that think that only 25 year olds are capable of working the long hours often associated with tech startups, think again.
Often age bias can be hidden, but evident in certain language used in job descriptions. “We’re looking for someone with a lot of energy!” or “Someone who is hungry for advancement and has a huge drive and is all about the hustle!” might be code for AARP members not to apply. It wasn’t that long ago that Facebook still allowed employers to target job listings by age.
One tech executive spoke about how a younger colleague was offered a plum assignment that involved travel to an industry conference. When asked why he wasn’t offered the opportunity, he was told that they “didn’t think he would want to travel as the long days would be really exhausting.” Just as female employees who are parents are often passed over for things like this under the paternalistic justification of “We didn’t think you’d want to be away from your family for that long,” these assumptions need to be shelved. There is no reason to think a 40, 50 or 60 year old isn’t capable of any roles that require energy, drive, travel or innovative thought.
There is a reason diversity recruiting is front and center for most top employers. Study after study has shown that a diversity of opinions and ideas around the table increases the bottom line of a company. It’s not just what is fair and equitable — it is about what makes a company thrive. This diversity of opinions and ideas includes people who remember a time before TikTok, video conferencing, and even cell phones. And there is no substitute for experience — a seasoned tech worker will have seen the rollout of many new technologies, been a part of numerous startups, and knows what works and doesn’t work as far as a team effort, whether it is on the engineering side, the sales side or any other part of a successful tech company.
In this ultra competitive market, candidates have options. Top employers need to make sure they are including age bias in their training for diversity and inclusion programs. Work experience from the ‘90s is still valuable, and LinkedIn profiles that include a few grey hairs in the photo shouldn’t be passed over. As for hiring a young recent college grad who will work for a lower salary? Well, the adage “You get what you pay for” comes to mind. Older job candidates bring something to the table — employers need to make sure they are not missing out. It’s not just the law, it’s the best course of action to build a team that thrives.