Should Diversity Efforts Include Older Workers?


Over on Medium, columnist Steven Levy brings up an interesting point about Silicon Valley: Despite tech companies’ recent focus on diversity, there’s been precious little focus on whether older workers are underrepresented.

“Let’s take those diversity reports,” Levy wrote. “As far as I can tell not a single one of them reports age distribution.” He then cited a three-year-old study by Palescale that listed the average age of workers at some of the biggest tech companies; while the median age at Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM—three longtime Silicon Valley stalwarts—coasted somewhere between 37 and 39, it skewed much younger at firms such as Amazon (31), Facebook (26), Google (29), and Apple (31).

“In my view, age information should be included in those diversity reports, to underline the need for change,” Levy added, “and, even more important, those in charge of company cultures should view age diversity as a plus.”

It’s no secret that fears of appearing ancient have driven workers in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs to take drastic steps, such as plastic surgery. “In talking to dozens of people around Silicon Valley over the past eight months,” Noam Scheiber wrote in a much-circulated piece in The New Republic, “I got the distinct sense that it’s better to be perceived as naïve and immature than to have voted in the 1980s.”

As Yael Grauer discussed in a recent Dice article, older tech pros have also taken steps to eliminate as many digital signs of age as possible. Concerns about being seen as “too old” has led many professionals to edit out their year of college graduation from their online profiles and résumés, for example.

But there are also ways to leverage decades of industry experience in one’s favor; for example, older workers tend to have professional networks that put those of their younger colleagues to shame. While tech pros just out of school often know the latest programming languages and methodologies, there’s something to be said for experience, which has led some firms (mostly in the financial sector) to hire back older workers.

Underrepresented or no, perhaps the best way for older tech pros to remain relevant (and employed) is to keep their skills up-to-date. That means investing in classes and technical conferences, and making sure all certifications are current. If you’re on the cutting edge, it’s harder for anyone to argue that you don’t have the necessary strengths to do the job.

7 Responses to “Should Diversity Efforts Include Older Workers?”

  1. Speaking from personal experience, I make no bones about doing what I need to do to self-teach myself. I believe that’s a healthy way to conduct living, regardless. That being said, it is unlawful for workplaces to be discriminating against age, etc, etc, etc.

  2. Try being an older woman doing java development. I have been a developer for 30 years and a Java developer for the last 15 years. I simply don’t fit the demoogrphic of most java devs.
    I strongly agree that staying current is the most important thing. At the beginning of every new contract, the assumption made is that I don’t know what I’m doing. But I am able to turn that around (so far) by showing my knowledge. It’s an uphill battle that requires great effort to stay current. Grab every opportunity to learn.

  3. Yes, diversity efforts should include older workers. Age discrimination is rampant in Silicon Valley. This is partly because it is so easy to get younger, lower paid workers on H1-B visas, partly because there is a premium on having the most up to date skills, speed, and long work hours (which gets harder once you have a family). It is also partly because of a culture which is frankly contemptuous of people who have moved past their twenties and thirties, a form of prejudice. True, it’s important to keep your skills up to date. But I’ve seen work places where people who would never make racist remarks would brazenly make fun of workers with gray hair, or make remarks like “we need younger blood around here” as a reason for firing middle-aged people. This needs to change if Silicon Valley is to provide large numbers of people careers that can last.

  4. Now that my hair is grey and I have a bit of a working history (including 3 U.S. Patents in computer security) I will relay a little story of a past experience:

    A number of decades ago (in the mid 1980’s) I was speaking with a head hunter about a particular job. Now the language being used at the time was my specialty. I was one of the few in the country that knew it as well. Well the head hunter got back to me and said that the person doing the hiring at the company told him thought I was too old at age 35. I was astounded at the remark and the fact that the guy actually said that. Well another head hunter sent me out on the job interview to the same guy a little later. I listened to the guy tell me of the plan for the project that would require two parts. The first needed to be finished within the next three months. The second the next year. I knew I could write both parts in about two or three months. Well I guess the guy still thought I was too old… About a year later another head hunter called me because the guy needed a programmer. His three top programmers decided to leave him and take a bicycle trip across New Zealand. I went on the interview out of curiosity. The guy didn’t remember me, but I remembered him and his original plans. Well it turned out that they still had not finished the first part of the plan after being over a year overdue and had not even begun the second part. I walked out of the interview thinking that they needed to replace the manager with an intern. They couldn’t screw it up any more than they did.

    Wow that was longer than planned. Got a lot more stories if you are interested. I still like writing code. But I am a little tired of doing long commutes to work for dysfunctional companies. Increasingly more so since Y2K.

    Many of the youglings won’t remember what that was.

  5. Ah, yes. I didn’t expect to have any problem finding a job with a Ph.D. in one STEM field and a brand-new M.S. in another very hot STEM field. My classmates from the M.S. program quickly found jobs. Almost a year and 176 applications later, I’m still unemployed.

    A family friend sent my resume to an acquaintance at a major employer in my field. He liked my resume. He asked our friend how old I was. Why? He said that his company wouldn’t hire anyone over 40.

    At the same time, I know of one position I lost recently to a less-qualified foreigner, who adds diversity – if not skill – to the company.

    During the political campaign cycle, I am paying close attention to which candidates will stop the H-1B visa system, which abuses American workers. One candidate trumps the others on this issue. Should this candidate be elected, we may finally see an increase in demand for American workers, including those of us guilty of having remained alive after age 40.