Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The age of ageism

Ageism is rife in a western society that elevates and fetishizes youth, leaving our wisest counsel in business and experienced business know-how outside of the picture. When the experts are unable to meaningful contribute – both business and the mature worker loses.
Many corporations replace their mature professional staff with younger staff each year, keeping just enough of the experience and knowledge they believe they need at the top of the management hierarchy. Middle aged, middle to upper management is often made redundant to make way for younger managers with “new” job titles, who move into the same role until they too reach their expiry date.

To be clear, ageism in the workplace is illegal but that doesn't seem to be stopping certain employers and especially not the ones in the ‘tech world’. Lisa Eadicicco from Business Insider recently reported that in a rather lengthy Hacker News thread, numerous software developers voiced their concerns about what happens once they hit age 30.

The fact is ageism is mainly about reducing perceived costs. Although older people have more experience in general, they also have families, earn higher salaries, and are less likely to put in crazy hours. Additionally, businesses wonder if these mature workers who are 20 or 25 years into their career are ‘tech savvy’ enough, and if they have kept their skills current and updated.

In The New Republic, Noam Scheiber who writes about ageism in the ‘tech world’ quotes a 40-plus developer whose department consists mostly of 20-year-olds

“People presume an older developer learned some trade skill five to ten years ago and has been coasting on it ever since.”

From a capitalist perspective why would you pay more money for someone willing to work less hours at the perceived same level of work. Think about it, this is not so different to our consumerist attitudes of “upgrading” our products. So too are corporations upgrading to a new model (aka younger worker), with all of his or her shiny new technology skills.

There has been a social move toward a task-based workforce from a relationships-based workforce over the last three decades. This is creating high-unemployment for the 45 and over whose skills are perceived as “outdated” and whose accumulated knowledge and experience are minimalised. If this trend continues, will we see people considered redundant at 35 as technology continues to shape all industries?

In a Forbes article by Krisztina Holly, people who start businesses when they are older (those 50+) have a higher rate of success due to their experience and networks. In fact there are twice as many successful entrepreneurs who are over 50 than those under 25. She writes:

“More experienced leaders tend to have deeper networks, experience managing teams, and better business savvy and skills for delivering on their vision.

“We must create an environment that encourages experienced talent to recognise new business opportunities.”

Are we creating a scenario where businesses are missing out on opportunities or are perpetuating problems because the experts are no longer a part of meaningful conversations?

Ultimately making money means building good connections. Good connections involve people with the experience, know-how and wisdom to make things work.

The question is, do companies agree?


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