Q. I am a 54-year-old single woman who just left Silicon Valley and heading back to Southern California for one reason. I could not find a technology-related position at a comparable level to my previous position. I think the problem was my age. Help me understand this.
Thank you. - G.A.
You have identified a pervasive problem that is not new to the technology industry. It’s about age and work. Age discrimination, burnout and keeping skills current are issues facing many older techies. Unfortunately, “older” in that world could be as young as 35 years.
The following gives you a sense of the age imbalance in the industry as evidenced by the median ages of technology employees. In 2016, the median age for Facebook employees was 28; for Google, it was 30 years and for Apple, Amazon and Yahoo it was 31 years. The median age for IBM employees was 38 years. Compare these numbers to the median age of the American workforce which is 42 years.
Here is some background information for context. Since the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was passed in 1967, age discrimination in the workplace is illegal at any stage of employment. That includes hiring, promotions, raises and layoffs; it applies to employers who have at least 20 employees. Some states have stronger protections. The ADEA also prohibits mandatory retirement because of age. Although there are a few exemptions such as airline pilots, bus drivers, police, firefighters and models. Senior policymakers and executives who are age 65 and older and entitled to $44,000 or more in benefits also are exempt.
It has become harder to prove age discrimination since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2009 ruled that plaintiffs must meet a higher burden of proof for age discrimination compared to other types of discrimination.
According to an AARP survey, nearly two out of three workers ages 45 and older have seen or experienced age discrimination on the job. And gender counts. When it comes to the perception of age according to an AARP report, 72 percent of women between the ages of 45 and 74 said they think people face age discrimination at work; only 57 percent of men in the same age range said so.
What are the reasons behind this discrimination? Part of the problem is ageism. Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook told attendees at a Stanford event in 2007, “Young people are just smarter,” He was 22 years old at the time. This comment only affirmed an erroneous assumption about older workers; that they have outdated skills, cannot adapt to new technology and environments and are just are “not the right fit.”
According to Norman Matloff, Professor of Computer Science at the University of California, Davis, “Some employers do claim that older workers are rejected due to not having up-to-date skills, but I have found that in general, that’s just an excuse and that most older tech workers do have modern skill sets” as quoted in TechRepublic. Matloff also identified cost as a problem, indicating that older applicants are viewed as too expensive and automatically rejected.
Some older IT workers are being recognized. Google, even with a young median age, has formed a group called Greyglers. It’s Google-speak for employees 40 and older. One of Google’s most prominent Greyglers is their Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cert, considered one of the fathers of the Internet.
So, what to do? Monster.com offers several suggestions.
Never Stop Learning: Spend time and money to update your skills. Consider online or classroom courses. Also, note recent classes on your resume and mention books during interviews.
Teach a Course: There is a relationship between experience and expertise. Teaching a course is one way to highlight expertise.
Show passion: Hiring managers like to see enthusiasm from job seekers.
Be a Leader: Leadership can mean anything from being a project manager to volunteering in your community. Check out your local IT organizations.
Malcom Gladwell in his book “Outliers,” writes that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve a level of expertise. Many older technology professionals qualify.
G.A., Thank you for your good question. And good luck in finding a position. If that doesn’t work, consider consulting and becoming your own boss. That’s another conversation.