Ageism Kicks Off After Tech Pros Hit 36: Startup Founders

Ageism remains a problem in tech, but it’s particularly pervasive within the startup community, where 37 percent of founders believe that investors display some kind of age bias (according to a 2018 survey by First Round Capital). According to that data, the majority of founders think that ageism kicks off against tech professionals once they pass the age of 36.

The idea that investors encourage ageism within startups has endured for years. “If these guys came to believe that it was in their own self-interest to hire more older workers—if they thought they would make more money with older workers—they would,” Dan Lyons, who tackled ageism in his bestselling book “Disrupted,” told Dice back in 2016. “But I think they’ve just decided they can make more money with young kids.”

Indeed, startups often lack the HR infrastructure designed to prevent ageism and other kinds of discrimination—it isn’t until companies grow to hundreds of people that they often integrate substantial HR departments. Ten tech pros in a rented office, desperately trying to launch an app before the last of the seed money runs out, might not think they have time for niceties (a view that’s quickly rectified when lawsuits hit).

It doesn’t help that many prominent people in tech engage in what could only be described as ageist rhetoric. For example, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is famous for once suggesting that “young people are just smarter” (one wonders if he holds that same opinion now that he’s 34). That creates a culture that promotes youth over all, especially if the youth in question doesn’t have a family and is willing to work 80 hours a week.

Of course, the issue isn’t restricted to startups with no HR infrastructure. In the First Round Capital survey, some 88.7 percent of those founders also thought that older people faced discrimination in the broader tech industry. And over the past several years, mature tech giants such as Intel and IBM have faced age-discrimination lawsuits. For example, a much-circulated 2018 report by ProPublica and Mother Jones accused IBM of eliminating more than 20,000 jobs held by American employees aged 40 and over, or “about 60 percent of its estimated total U.S. job cuts.”

Given this state of affairs, what’s an older tech pro to do? While it’s impossible to mitigate all the effects of ageism, you can boost your chances of landing your next job by emphasizing your management skills, relying on your network, and adjusting your application materials to emphasize your knowledge. The tech industry’s increased emphasis on employees’ work-life balance may end up helping older workers in the long run, as well, by making hiring managers and CEOs more inclined to hire those with skills, not just those willing to work insane hours.

8 Responses to “Ageism Kicks Off After Tech Pros Hit 36: Startup Founders”

  1. 50 year old over the hill IT worker

    America has to always be bigoted and prejudge about something.

    Today, if a tech company representative states they don’t want to hire a black man, there will be protests, candle light vigils and the rep who said it would have to “go away”.

    If you do the same thing based on someone’s age, not only are there no ramifications for this act, you will probably be recognized as being able to make the “tough choices” for the good of the company.

    Pathetic and shameful.

  2. Greg Thompson

    It’s rather baffling that companies would see more value in younger tech workers, rather than the more mature, and experienced, older workers.

    Often, I look around the office and see many of the younger workers staring at their phones.

    They straggle in late in the morning, and then seem to disappear at all hours of the day, and are nowhere to be seen later in the afternoon. For many, their communication abilities seem to be rather stunted. Both their verbal and written abilities.

    I would be interested to hear from one of these hiring managers, who isn’t afraid to admit that he / she prefers younger tech workers. If course, it rarely happens. They seem to prefer hiding in the shadows, hoping nobody notices their blatent age discrimination.

    • wageSlave

      Greg Thomson states, “It’s rather baffling that companies would see more value in younger tech workers, rather than the more mature, and experienced, older workers.”

      It is really not that difficult to understand once you factor in bean counter myopia. A good manager manages people and resources. Poor managers, bean counters, manage what they can and that is budgets and attendance. A couple decades ago there was a management pyridine shift in the US from stake holder equity to shareholder equity. Long term stability vs short term gain (1/4 point in stock price). This pyridine shift brought about a slow rise of bean counter manager dominance.

      I’ve heard the term MBA mentality used to describe the short term focus. The story goes that an MBA comes to a company cuts to the bone sacrificing long term survival for short term gain. The equity market sees the cost savings and a ¼ point gain and a bonus for the MBA. Three years later the company is in trouble and the MBA is gone to repeat their success somewhere else. Two decades later and here we are.

      Bean counter myopia brought about a thought process where cutting health care cost by removing every one over 40 from the work force could bring about a ¼ point gain in equity AND destroy the long term survival prospects of a company in the process.

      I try not to try and make sense of nonsense.

  3. Dr. Flywheel

    Strange coincidence. Just about two weeks ago I published an article entitled “Ageism in the Workplace Affects Multiple Generations – Time to Sound the Alarm Bells”, on PDX-TIE.ORG.
    PDX-TIE.ORG is a mutual support organization for the many thousands of employees that were laid off from Intel Corp. over the last four years. We filed official complaints against Intel Corp. with the EEOC, once we the layoff statistics demonstrated that the age of laid off employees is heavily skewed against persons 40 years old and older.

    As you already published, a major Federal investigation is currently taking place against Intel Corp. in conjunction with massive layoffs that took place during the last four years. We are behind this action. Our web site provides a lot of useful information for high tech workers who have experienced or are experiencing age discrimination in the workplace. We also collaborated in the past with the original authors of the Pro-Publica articles and shared our research materials with them, more than a year prior to publication. We encourage interested individuals to use the materials published on our web site as a resource and we are willing to land a hand to anyone who is fighting the good fight against age discrimination in employment.

    –Dr. Flywheel

  4. Another reason behind it could be that younger people without families will work 24×7.

    A former colleague, who was well over 30, once told me that she was not going to hire anyone over 30. Her reason was that they would work 20-hour days and not complain. In fact, she thought that it seemed to make they feel like they must be really important.

    IMHO they are fools for sacrificing their health and youth.