Does Ageism in Tech Really Exist?

While leading tech companies openly publicize their organizational diversity data in terms of ethnic and gender composition, little data has been shared about the age makeup of the tech workforce.

Age, and how it impacts the way a worker is treated, is not a veiled issue within the tech industry. In recent years, a flurry of stories have surfaced about experienced tech workers being laid off and replaced by younger employees, or older employees remaining unemployed for unfairly long periods.

Situational ageism—prejudice or discrimination on the basis of a person’s age—undoubtedly exists in the tech industry. But is it happening on a widespread, systemic level in the tech industry? The Visier Insights™ Report: The Truth About Ageism in the Tech Industry found that—when it comes to hiring—it is. But we also uncovered an interesting paradox. When measured in terms of performance, older workers are more valued in tech than in non-tech.


The Truth About Ageism in Tech

Using the Visier Insights database (an aggregation of anonymized and standardized workforce databases that for this report included 330,000 employees from 43 large US enterprises—a subset of Visier’s customers), we were able to examine the role of age in the workforce like never before.

Our research found that experience and maturity are more valued in tech than in non-tech industries. We call this the Tech Sage Age. A unique finding to the tech industry, the Tech Sage Age occurs from age 40 onwards, with non-manager workers increasingly likely to receive a Top Performer rating as they age, mature, and gain experience, compared to non-tech workers.

The Tech Sage Age reflects the higher value older workers bring to tech organizations and suggests that maturity and experience are more important drivers of high performance in tech than in non-tech industries.

Yet, despite our Tech Sage Age finding, there is systemic ageism in tech hiring practices: Tech hires a higher proportion of younger workers and a smaller proportion of older workers than non-tech.

Despite receiving more Top Performer ratings as they age than their non-tech counterparts, Gen Xers in tech are being hired 33 percent less (and Baby Boomers 60 percent less) than their workforce representation, while Millennials in tech are being hired almost a whopping 50 percent more than their workforce representation. In notable contrast, in non-tech, Gen Xers are being hired only 22 percent less than their workforce representation. Simply put, a Gen Xer has a significantly lower chance of being hired in tech. For Baby Boomers, the chances of being hired in tech and non-tech are the same.

What Businesses Can Do

There are a number of important steps employers can take to ensure they root out the risk of ageism in their workforce, and acquire the best and brightest talent available, regardless of age:

  • Review your workforce data to understand the current state of age equity within your organizations to find any signs of potential bias in hiring, promotions, salary levels, turnover, and performance ratings.
  • Set objectives and develop a plan with manageable steps (and a way to monitor your progress) that will help your organization achieve an inclusive work environment.
  • Keep in mind that, as with ethnic and gender equity, age equity is a cultural issue. If pockets of ageism exist within your organization, you will need to devise plans to address them not only via better HR practice and policy rollouts, but through culture change.
  • Consider implementing a version of the Rooney Rule for age, specifically for teams or roles where the workforce is less diverse in age: for every position you have open to fill, consider one or more older candidates (or candidates that will help create a more diverse team, in general).
  • Develop hiring practices that reduce the potential for intentional or unintentional bias in the screening out of older applicants.
  • Develop hiring practices that specifically do not screen out candidates based on the length of their unemployment. While this report focused on systemic ageism, many individual stories suggest older unemployed workers struggle to get hired, and studies indicate recruiters screen out candidates that have been unemployed for longer periods of time.
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