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The Rise in Age Discrimination in Tech and How to Stop It

— August 22, 2019

Tech is not exclusively a “young person’s field.” Companies may be overlooking – illegally – valuable older employees.

This year saw the tech giant Google pay out $11 million in response to claims of age discrimination in their hiring processes. Google, often noted for its progressive work practices and emphasis on innovation, claimed that any instances of discrimination were unintentional. However, the case isn’t the first of its kind; in fact, there’s a larger issue of ageism within the tech industry.

Just two years ago, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported on a case involving a former employee of Hewlett-Packard who experienced unlawful termination after almost four decades working for them. The piece noted that this was one in “at least 32 age discrimination complaints” filed against the company since 2012. 

Stories like this have been repeated countless times across headlines with different tech companies, including social media giants like Facebook. With talks of age discrimination making headlines more often, why does it seem that tech companies are at the center of a significant amount of them? What can be done to change the prevalence of these cases within the tech industry? Furthermore, how can tech workers become aware of the problem and take action when it happens?

The Misconception of Tech as a “Young Person’s Field”

Age discrimination within the tech industry may be happening due to the misconception that technology is exclusively a young person’s game. Some of the newest hiring trends, such as using emojis to recruit new candidates, are more likely to target millennials. However, this cultural difference doesn’t necessarily speak to the technical ability of individuals as much as it does their ways of communicating.

For instance, senior use of smartphones, tablets, and social media is on the rise.

Space black case Apple Watch, silver MacBook Pro, jet black iPhone 7 Plus, and silver iMac with corresponding boxes; image by Julian O’Hayon, via
Space black case Apple Watch, silver MacBook Pro, jet black iPhone 7 Plus, and silver iMac with corresponding boxes; image by Julian O’Hayon, via

Things like mobile ads and voice search optimization have been shown to be relevant to baby boomer consumers because they also experiment with and use new technology. Additionally, baby boomers have lived through more technological advances than any other generation, which has given them more experience adapting to new tech within work environments.

Of course, some industries and franchisors are historically more prone to patterns of discrimination, and the tech industry may just be one of them. However, considering the fact that baby boomers are likely to use technology before it has been popularized certainly dispels the misconception that older generations are hopelessly challenged by technology. Rather, they are perfect applicants when it comes to digital transformation in the workplace.

How to Recognize Age Discrimination

Within a tech company, it’s important to recognize what discrimination looks like. Katie McBeth, a writer for Fiscal Tiger, listed the following as common examples of age discrimination within workplaces. Many of these happen within tech startups:

  • Applicants being passed up for entry-level jobs after the hiring manager has commented on their desire for “fresh-out-of-college” applicants.
  • A technically experienced employee not being hired due to vocalized negative stereotypes regarding age and technology.
  • Companies firing tenured employees with the stated purpose of “moving forward into the future.”
  • Employees making comments to their older coworkers using terms like “gramps” or “old man/woman.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing anything on this list, then you may be dealing with age discrimination. Sometimes, there are other forms of mistreatment after termination, such as a lack of severance pay. When experiencing or fighting discriminatory action, victims must keep track of the details surrounding all interactions in question before and after they take place.

What to Do If You Are the Victim of Age Discrimination

Aside from keeping records of these interactions, there are important professional ways to handle the problem. For starters, if you think you or someone you know has been a victim of age discrimination within the work place, you should first speak to human resources. While HR departments are still learning how to navigate age gaps within businesses, they will be able to take professional action and implement structural changes that could make the workplace less discriminatory. If they are unable to help however, then you may want to take legal action.

Taking someone to court for age discrimination in the workplace may only be done after an administrative complaint has been filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). No kind of discrimination lawsuit can be carried out without this happening first. If the EEOC deems your case worthy, you have a limited amount of time to file a complaint in court.

Hopefully this won’t be necessary for you, though. A world in which age isn’t a determining factor in hiring and negative stereotypes aren’t used to make important decisions that affect other people is one worth striving for. If workers are able to identify age discrimination and HR is able to take care of it early on, the workplace will be a fairer and more friendly place. Until then though, the fight for equality must continue so that all people are treated the way they should be.

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