Not OK, Boomer: How Do We Overcome Age Discrimination In Tech?

  • April 28, 2022

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Aside from professional football, there are few careers where you’re considered past it at 35. Sadly, the technology sector is one where age discrimination is still rife and the misbelief that keeping up with technological progress is an exclusive trait of youth.

As a result, three-quarters of professional Developers are aged under 35.

This not-so-subtle false conflation between youth and technology seems unavoidable and irreversible at times. With lists of the “top 30 under 30” tech stars, and the value placed on bagging the top talent fresh out of university, it’s not difficult to see where this culture comes from. The idea seems to be that talent equals fresh, young brains who can ‘keep up’ with the pace of the industry.

 

Is age just a number?

Research shows that by the age of 45, tech professionals are beginning to worry that their age is holding them back in their careers. But, surveys carried out by CWjobs revealed that IT & Tech workers are considered by colleagues to be ‘over the hill’ by the time they reach 38. 35% of tech professionals say they are considered ‘too old’ for their job and a similar number fear they may even lose it because of their age.

Age discrimination is illegal, of course, for good reason, but it isn’t easy to overcome.

Patrick Thomson, Senior Programme Manager, Centre for Ageing Better says regarding CWjobs ageism research:

“Age shouldn’t be a barrier to people finding the right job, or employers finding the right candidate. These new figures show the shocking prevalence of ageism in the tech industry, where both workers and employers are being damaged by these outdated attitudes.”

 

So why is youth increasingly valued over experience?

There was a controversial TechRepublic article that caused a stir last year when it cited ‘youth’ as one of the 10 things you need to succeed in tech. They attributed this claim to being able to manage the long hours, commitments and responsibilities and having the energy required to keep up with the pace.

Much as the plethora of articles written in response stated, we couldn’t disagree more that energy is unique to the young. Ironically, the very same article cited other qualities required for success in IT that included patience, connections and a thick skin. These aren’t attributes that are usually associated with youth but rather developed and garnered through experience and time.

There’s a misconception that youth equates to the most up-to-date education or skills. The technology industry moves so rapidly that even recently acquired skills can quickly become obsolete. A commitment and desire for lifelong learning and development are all that are required to overcome this fact, and the date on your birth certificate is irrelevant.

Passion, not youth, is the key

Passion can drive us all, no matter our age or our background. With a government keen to drive fresh blood into the tech jobs sector as part of the pandemic economic recovery, the tide is hopefully turning in terms of age discrimination.

The government’s skills bootcamps are driving people into new tech careers following pandemic-related unemployment. These bootcamps are open to people of all ages and backgrounds and are designed to help retrain people to bridge the skills gap in the technology sector as well as help people find lucrative careers even late in life. There’s no reason why any of us cannot be lifelong learners.

 

Overcoming age bias in tech jobs

A change in attitude from both employers and candidates is required.

Candidates

If you fear that your age may hold you back from being considered for a role, you must consider the overall impression you are giving. Keep up with trends, and make your CV modern, concise and relevant. Remove all age-related information, including a photograph. Commit to lifelong learning and demonstrate this commitment in your CV and your interview process. Keep your network fresh, and ensure your attitude matches your career aspirations.

Employers

It’s essential that you become an age-positive workplace. Dominic Harvey, Director at CWJobs has the following advice:

Employers can ensure they are hiring age-positively by becoming more mindful about how they choose to advertise their vacancies. By using inclusive, age-neutral language and images in job adverts, employers can encourage age diversity amongst applicants and minimise potentially damaging age biases in the workforce.”

We recommend eliminating unconscious bias wherever possible by using blind screening when compiling shortlists of candidates.

We also advise sending all hiring managers on implicit bias, discrimination and harassment training to better understand how unconscious bias influences our decision-making and behaviour without us realising.

It’s also essential to report and discipline for all instances of ageism, no matter how casual. For example, 60% of tech employees have heard it said in the workplace that ‘Old people don’t understand technology.’. As benign as it seems, these statements help to cement these outdated opinions, and ageism is no less harmful or serious than any of the other -isms.

We believe strongly that ageism has no place in our sector. We also believe strongly that we all have a responsibility to stamp it out.

 

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