Age discrimination can happen in any field, including technology. Older technologists often complain that ageism is a huge factor in job interviews, preventing them from landing new positions despite their extensive experience and skills.
It’s crucial for hiring managers and recruiters to realize that technologists often train continuously. The myth that older technologists are resistant to change and upskilling is just that—a myth. Companies must push back against any bias against older candidates that might creep into their hiring processes.
According to Elke Osadnik, director of talent acquisition at Envoy Global, companies must consider candidates on a case-by-case basis. “Applying generalizations and assumptions can lead to organizations missing out on many highly suitable, effective employees,” she said. “To change these mindsets, employers must increase awareness of this bias through multiple channels.”
From a management perspective, that means putting all hiring managers and recruiters through internal interview training sessions, anti-discrimination training, and potential bias training. “Talking about the issue of age discrimination more in general, by sharing and contributing to relevant articles, is incredibly important,” Osadnik said. “Employers must also prioritize learning more about ‘success stories’ of those hired in the IT field across a cross-section of age brackets. This is to ensure hiring managers and the general organization can have firsthand experience meeting and hearing from people who may not fit their preconceived ideas.”
Heather Paunet, senior vice president at Untangle, a provider of network security for SMBs, added that age discrimination in tech must be addressed. There’s a shortage of technologists right now, particularly in specialized arenas such as cybersecurity. In addition to that, older technologists have crucial soft skills (such as communication, work ethic, and leadership) that younger workers may lack.
Those technical and soft skills can impact the success not only of individual projects, but also the business overall. And yet ageism shows up in a variety of ways, including workers of a certain age experiencing reduced roles and lower salaries.
“[Older workers] are left off of projects or teams, or have their responsibilities given to a younger worker,” Paunet said. “Tech companies are also known for offering perks to attract workers, yet these are almost always tailored toward younger workers and can be alienating to older workers.”
Age discrimination especially comes up during the hiring process. “I’ve seen connections have trouble getting as many interviews as they reach their late 40s or 50s,” Paunet added. “However, once they did get that first interview, things evened out.”
Steps to Take
Osadnik suggested that technologists remove any information from a resume and application that could be used to guess age, such as graduation dates or date of birth. Consider using a cover letter to preempt potential biases; for example, emphasize your flexibility and adaptability to new processes, tools, and systems.
“Pointing out the potential benefits of hiring someone who has experienced more in life and knows exactly what they want in a role can be a huge bonus,” she said.
Osadnik recently encountered a similar situation with a leader who was facing ageism. The leader noticed that every time he joined a video interview, the other person seemed disappointed upon seeing his age. “I encouraged him to ‘address the elephant in the room’ and immediately call it out upon facing a similar situation,” she said.
After that, the leader kicked off every interview by saying, “Before we start, I can see that you’re possibly wishing I looked younger, but I am highly adaptable, flexible, up-skilled, and I’d love you to really give me a fair chance at this role.”
In his next interview, the leader secured the role—and since then, he’s been promoted to a senior manager position. “Addressing the potential for ageism upfront in an interview can be extremely effective,” Osadnik said.
Changing the mindset of focusing on younger workers requires a company culture change, Paunet said. Leaders need to understand that the stereotypes of older workers are often inaccurate.
“It’s also important that companies bridge the gap between ages and embrace the importance of different perspectives and experience,” Paunet pointed out. “And, as much as leaders aim to recruit younger workers, they will need to find ways to attract and retain older workers.”
Paunet admitted that, unfortunately, older workers need to market themselves even in current positions, including demonstrating their tech capabilities in their daily work. “In addition, they need to be open and willing to try new ideas, and not get stuck in the past,” she said. “They can also set themselves apart by being proactive and using their soft skills in facilitating communication and teamwork, and even taking the time to listen to their younger colleagues, and hear their ideas and concerns.”
For seasoned workers looking for new opportunities, demonstrating how they use both soft and technical skills to create value and productivity is important. “It is also recommended to research companies known for ageism. While it may seem like a good opportunity, it’s easy to find which companies have reputations for only hiring young workers,” Paunet said. “Even if they decide to still pursue the job, they will know how to prepare to present themselves as a viable candidate.”