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When It Comes to Age Bias, Tech Companies Don’t Even Bother to Lie

Source | LinkedIn : By Dan Lyons

Imagine you’re African-American and working at a 500-person technology company where everyone else is white, and one day the CEO declares in a national newspaper interview that his company’s lack of diversity isn’t an accident. In fact he prefers to hire white people because when it comes to technology white people simply make better employees. 

That statement would be unthinkable. But what if a tech CEO made the same comment about age? 

In 2013, I went to work at a software company called HubSpot. I was 52 years old. The average HubSpot employee was 26. Everyone seemed to be right out of college. The place was like a frat house, with refrigerators stocked with cases of beer and telemarketing sales “bros” drinking at their desks while hammering away on the phones. Thirty-something employees were considered “old people.”

About nine months after I joined, HubSpot’s CEO and co-founder, Brian Halligan, explained to the New York Times that this age imbalance was not something he wanted to remedy, but in fact something he had actively cultivated. HubSpot was “trying to build a culture specifically to attract and retain Gen Y’ers,” because, “in the tech world, gray hair and experience are really overrated,” Halligan said. 

I gasped when I read that. Could anyone really believe this? Even if you did believe this, what CEO would be foolish enough to say it out loud? It was akin to claiming that you prefer to hire Christians, or heterosexuals, or white people. I assumed an uproar would follow. As it turned out, nobody at HubSpot saw this as a problem. Halligan didn’t apologize for his comments or try to walk them back. 

The lesson I learned is that when it comes to race and gender bias, the people running Silicon Valley at least pay lip service to wanting to do better — but with age discrimination they don’t even bother to lie. 

Making hiring and firing decisions based on age is illegal, but age discrimination is rampant in the tech industry, and everyone knows it, and everyone seems to accept it. What other industry operates like this? What would the world be like if doctors, lawyers, or airline pilots — or anyone, really, other than professional athletes — had to accept the idea that their career would end at age 40, or 50?

One excuse for pushing out older workers is that technology changes so fast that older people simply can’t keep up. Veteran coders don’t know the latest programming languages, but young ones do. This is bunk. There’s no reason why a 50-year-old engineer can’t learn a new programming language. And frankly, most coding work isn’t rocket science.

Read On…

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