Age Discrimination In The Workplace

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2010-09-2917

Just like with anything else, unemployment seems to be particularly cruel to certain demographic groups — in particular, to those who find themselves at the extreme ends of the age spectrum. That is, the younger and older folks get the short end of the stick when our economy goes through the wringer as it just did. The recovery will be slowest for job seekers on the fringes. So when “they” say that the recession is over, it’s hard to buy.

If you look at the plight of the younger generation in this current economy, you’ll see that they’ve got quite a disadvantage with having to face present day college education costs as well as paltry job prospects. It may not be so easy if you’re just starting out today.

On the other hand, when you’re over 50 and unemployed, you could be facing an uphill battle to get back into the workforce until we start seeing more vigorous growth in the economy. And who knows when that will finally happen? Like many people in my generation, I share their feelings:

age discrimination

Age Discrimination In The Tech Workplace

Which leads me to the job situation here in my neck of the woods. The truth is that things are pretty good over here if you’ve got specialized skills. I know of many places that are hiring, especially if you have a technical background. But there’s a caveat here, which I found well covered in this expose and discussion over at TechCrunch. The author calls it a dark secret, but it doesn’t strike me as such when they say that “age discrimination” is alive and well in Silicon Valley. Not necessarily because I’ve known this all along, but because I’m of the mindset that age discrimination is indeed alive and well anywhere! What that really means is that the longer you stew in a rank and file job, the harder will it be for you to make any progress with your career. And worse, you become much more expendable as you age. Again, not a surprise if you’re not seeing any career growth, but certain professions are more notorious for this than others.

For instance, what about modeling? Or those “dangerous jobs” where you need to be extremely physically fit to be effective? What about athletes? I guess we all face the same truth: that we should stay proactive about our work and think ahead if we’re to keep our place in the company. And it’s really our responsibility to avoid feeling too complacent about what we’re doing. As the tired old cliches go, the only constant is change. Expect the unexpected. This reality will never be forever.

That said, I picked up some great tips from that TechCrunch post. Before you decide to sit back and think you’ve escaped the brunt of the past financial crisis or recession, read on. I think these pointers ring true no matter what white collar job you hold:

Whether we like it or not, it’s a tough industry. I know that some techies will take offense at what I have to say, but here is my advice to those whose hair is beginning to grey:

1. Move up the ladder into management, architecture, or design; switch to sales or product management; or jump ship and become an entrepreneur (old guys have a huge advantage in the startup world). Build skills that are more valuable to your company, and take positions that can’t be filled by entry-level workers.

2. If you’re going to stay in programming, realize that the deck is stacked against you. Even though you may be highly experienced and wise, employers aren’t willing or able to pay an experienced worker twice or thrice what an entry-level worker earns. Save as much as you can when you’re in your 30s and 40s and be prepared to earn less as you gain experience.

3. Keep your skills current. This means keeping up-to-date with the latest trends in computing, programming techniques, and languages, and adapting to change. To be writing code for a living when you’re 50, you will need to be a rock-star developer and be able to out-code the new kids on the block.

That last point resonates. Heh, now you know why I’ve decided to take a shot at entrepreneurship. It’s all about the hair color!

Copyright © 2010 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Brian H. September 29, 2010 at 9:29 pm

As I age, I realize I’m getting to the point where I’ll be less employable. But I still hold out hope that successful entrepreneurship may be the road I’ll be able to travel…soon.

Erin Kipling September 29, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Age whether we like it or not matters especially in this time where technology is far more advanced than before. It is true that experience wise, the older generation will have an advantage but on the other hand, with respect to technical know-how, the younger generation benefits from these technological advancements. A handful of the older generation have these so called technophobia which somehow affects their performance with respect to execution of delegated tasks. This may be a bit shallow but this is critical.

The examples above are not the only professions that requires sound physical capability. There are many if you’d only look at them from a deeper perspective.

Craig September 30, 2010 at 5:13 am

It’s definitely tougher for older folks to justify their incomes these days. Not that they don’t deserve it, just that companies look for ways to reduce costs and some would rather sacrifice experience for the lower salary.

We really have to look at our careers in the long term and ask ourselves what we will be doing in 5-10 or more years.

Hannah September 30, 2010 at 7:16 am

About 3 years ago I had the realisation (much as Brian H commented) that as I got older, I was going to be less employable.

After a weekend of worry about my future I looked into consulting; so the 5 year plan should now be back on track. At least with age comes perceived wisdom.

Brian H. September 30, 2010 at 8:58 am


Love what you said about perceived wisdom. : )

Also glad it only took one weekend of worry before you got things back on track. That’s great to hear. I would love to know more about how your consulting work has gone, how it began etc. If you’d ever consider a guest blog post on my site, I’d love to learn more. You should just be able to click my name and go there. I don’t want to put the site in the body of this comment though.

And by the way, Silicon Valley Blogger, great site and great readers. There aren’t too many blogs where I might interact with other readers. Again, great site and great insights.


CB September 30, 2010 at 9:53 am

I work in Silicon Valley and see lots of need for coders inhouse. We need to focus on training local workers instead of importing workers for basic coding. The rationale for needing H1B visa workers is that in-country workers are not available, but when jobs are being offered to Visa workers preferentially, there is no point in training for such jobs. Parents who code are steering their children into jobs that can’t be outsourced from within or without. Hard to believe we couldn’t offer training to our own students; we just need to adopt the policies of developing countries that focus on programs to train students for jobs in high tech here.

BTW, the NYT has had several articles on older workers without jobs and features photos of women who don’t have the most dynamic appearances.

The Digerati Spouse September 30, 2010 at 10:12 am

That has got to be the worst looking muumuu I’ve seen for a while. I hope she doesn’t wear that to job interviews.

Silicon Valley Blogger September 30, 2010 at 10:23 am

I think it’s age appropriate and it looks like a cheerful outfit! Perfect for Hawaii though. But I agree, quite distracting for interviews to say the least.

I agree on training more local talent. There’s a cultural and sometimes language difference when importing workers. I worked around here for quite a while and found the work to be plentiful for the specialized jobs. Wish that more local applicants could be a fit. And appearances — I guess we should all take greater effort on looking the part.

kosmo @ The Casual Observer September 30, 2010 at 8:14 pm

I think the value of experience can very greatly from one organization to the next. In a smaller organization, it might not have a ton of value. In a large organization, it can be immensely important.

My company has about 150,000 workstations spread across the US and Canada (roughly half employees and half independent contractors) – in addition to a web portal that can be accessed by tens of millions of customers. We have hundreds (actually, most likely 1000+) applications running on workstations and servers, performing a wide variety of functions.

Some of the applications are third party apps, but a lot are developed in house – and, of course, they all interact with each other in wonderful and crazy ways.

Think that a person who has spent years in the organization learning how things work (and who to sweet talk to get something done) has some value?

I’ve been at my job 13 years, supporting the “same” system (although we’re on the third major rewrite of the system). People know that if they have a question about my system, they can come to me. If I don’t have the answer, I can certainly track it down. I got a (strange) question today regarding the use of red felt tipped pens … and quickly tracked down the answer.

Another key point – don’t be an a-hole to your co-workers. Some people love to find a reason to say “that’s not my problem”, while others are willing to assist even when a problem is technically outside of their own area. Which person would you retain?

Robert October 1, 2010 at 8:46 am

I think the issue of age in the workplace makes it even more important to save, save, save when you’re young! There’s no guarantee our health will hold up and allow us to work at 60 or 65, so save as much as possible when you’re young and vibrant to tide you over should employment become difficult later in life.

Sean Browne October 1, 2010 at 9:27 am

There are some pretty good tips here about what to expect as you get older while working with the same company. My father has recently experienced some of the drawbacks that you have stated in this report. But I do agree with having to stay up to date with new information and skills. In the growing work force more and more students are leaving college with a fresh set of skills. It is necessary to stay ahead of the curve, and this really makes me think about my own position down the line. Thank you for all the helpful information.

Jeremy October 1, 2010 at 10:44 am

Age discrimination is also a problem in the workplace in terms of employees dealing with customers and clients as well. I saw this a lot while working in finance as a 20-something. Older people had absolutely no trust with a younger person more often than not.

Abe Trader October 3, 2010 at 1:26 am

At some point in life society expects you to be or able to be self employed. You’ll find both general and financial solutions within yourself (rather than outside yourself).

DomainS October 3, 2010 at 1:30 am

With the internet all jobs went overseas.. India is TODAY the largest english speaking country on the planet… the US is infested with TAXES and CORRUPTION…. things will not improve.. in my opinion.

Gordon October 14, 2010 at 6:44 am

Thanks for the post. I live in Michigan, the worst place in the country to be looking for a job. I find myself looking and I’m in my late fifties and let me tell you, it ain’t fun. With a lifetime of experience in healthcare management you woould think that someone would be interested in what I have to offer. I’ve been searching for several months and the only response I get is the sound of crickets chirping. Age discrimination is something that is almost impossible to prove but from my experience, no one will ever convince me it doesn’t exist. (This is my rant for the day)

jozelyn December 12, 2010 at 8:16 am

I agree with what Robert has and invest while your young ..if you come to think of it, nothing in this world is truly permanent, you wake up one morning and realize everything you have may be all gone. Life is really full of uncertainties but that’s what makes it exciting. Challenge yourself in a good way…follow a millionaire mindset and be wise…if your age is what’s stopping you from getting a good job, then explore the million possibilities around..its takes a bit of initiative and technique to beat this problem..

Joey June 20, 2012 at 6:48 pm

Many business people are spurred to try their luck in the world of business due to a desire to be independent (in more ways than one, risks be damned). Here’s what I figured — if you are finding yourself with a lot of experience and a little over the hill as compared to your colleagues, then I believe that your career track should eventually lead you to the point where you decide to become an entrepreneur or perhaps a highly paid independent consultant, if you haven’t yet managed to rise up the corporate ladder to become an executive. I believe that doing the grunt work for someone else gets pretty old after a decade or more. Unless of course, you’re set up to receive a pretty good pension or something equivalent down the road.

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