A Septuagenarian on Ageism in Tech

The Visier Insights™: The Truth About Ageism in the Tech Industry report identified a new finding that made me – a 72-year old tech sector employee – feel a sense of contentment: older workers are actually more valued in tech.

During what we at Visier have coined the “Tech Sage Age” – which applies from age 40 onwards – non-managers in tech are increasingly likely to receive a Top Performer rating as they age, mature, and gain experience.

And, the study showed, newly-hired older tech workers are paid the same average salary as more tenured workers across all age groups. Workers in tech also experience the same salary lifecycle as their counterparts in non-tech; they don’t, as a group, experience a reduction in average salary that’s any different from non-tech industries.

Ageism at Tech Employers

However, the study also uncovered a disturbing finding: when compared to non-tech industries, tech is hiring a higher proportion of younger workers and a smaller proportion of older workers.

Our research revealed that Gen Xers (age 34 -51) in tech are being hired 33% less than their workforce representation, while Millennials (age 20-33) are being hired almost a whopping 50% more than their workforce representation. The numbers are even worse for boomers – they’re 60% less likely to be hired than their workforce representation.

What’s more, the study said, promotion rates for tech workers decrease continuously with age.

Indeed, there have been numerous class-action lawsuits about ageism against Silicon Valley giants. Enough that it behooves organizations to use people analytics to understand whether there is any merit to allegations of ageism or – better yet – get ahead of potential ageist actions before they happen.

The Benefits of Older Workers

Even though I am past the average age of retirement, I love my work and am particularly sensitive to the idea that someone could lose the opportunity to work, simply because of their age.

According to AARP, workers 50 and older are among the most engaged and offer employers lower turnover rates and greater levels of experience than younger ones.

Studies have also found that age-diverse teams are more innovative, which is critical in an era when competitive threats loom large. Hiring people “who do not look, talk, or think like you can allow you to dodge the costly pitfalls of conformity, which discourages innovative thinking,” wrote Neuroleadership Institute experts David Rock, Heidi Grant and Jacqui Grey in Harvard Business Review.

Workers are planning to work longer both for financial need and because they enjoy their work. For organizations, they need to cast their hiring nets wider to gain the skills and expertise they need in a time of a seller’s talent market, and they need to work to retain the skills and expertise of their existing older workforce for the same reason.

I “retired” from full-time work two years ago at 70. For the first year, I did some consulting, learned some new skills outside my normal work, and did lots of family stuff. But I always knew I would continue to work. After my year-long sabbatical, I joined Visier on a part-time basis to continue doing research, something I love to do.

My husband is a cognitive scientist who does brain research on contract to NIH on the effects of chemo on the brain. His partners in this work are in their 70s as well. Another of his colleagues is an astrophysicist teaching at Stanford, as he approaches 80. A best friend forever now in her early 70s, after years as a school counselor and retiring at 65, set up a marriage and family practice business and continues to see 20 clients a week.

Many others in our circle of friends either do paid work or do substantive volunteer work, using skills and experience along with their passion for the focus of their work or volunteering. All of us continue to use our experience and passion for contributing wholeheartedly. And we are not alone. We are living longer, we’re healthier, and we’re fully engaged.

Thoughts From a 'Modern Elder'

Let me close this piece with advice for older workers, some from my experience and some from “Modern Elder,” a Wisdom 2.0 presentation by Airbnb’s Chip Conley: You might as well embrace aging. And you might as well work to disrupt ageism and stereotypes of older workers. But, whatever you do, make sure you are involved in something that you are passionate about. If you hate your work, do something else. Find your passion.

As I’ve found, working with younger people is sometimes awkward, so just listen with empathy and contribute in whatever way you know possible. Conley suggests you “trade digital intelligence from the younger workers for your emotional intelligence.” I’m not sure I agree with this; I’ve encountered many people younger than me who have emotional intelligence and, every once in awhile, I teach my grandchildren a digital trick.

But I do know this: Learning should never, never end. Conley says: “Intern publicly and mentor privately.” The “modern elder,” he believes, ought to be serving and learning, interning and mentoring, being a student and a sage.

If we do this, maybe that’s why — as our Visier report suggests —this is the “Tech Sage Age.”


Lexy Martin.pngLexy Martin is a respected thought leader on HR technology adoption and builds ROI models. Known as the originator of the Sierra-Cedar HR Systems Survey, she now works at Visier closely with customers to support them in their HR transformation to become data-driven organizations. Lexy is Principal, Research and Customer Value at Visier. 

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