Updated: Dec 22, 2019
by Nancy Branka
Attend almost any gathering of job seekers who are over 40, and the topic of age-related obstacles quickly comes up. Nowhere is that more true than in tech. This is the issue I addressed at the Phase2Careers Annual Breakfast.
The numbers in tech bear up. First Round Review’s annual survey of 529 startups conducted in December of 2018, reports 89% of respondents agreed that older people face age discrimination in the tech industry. This number was higher than for race or gender! How old is “older?” On average, founders believe tech ageism starts at 46 years old.
Over-40 employees bring so much to the table, though! Experience hones the soft skills such as leadership and management. And while tech tends to value very transactional skills--technical proficiency, for example--the soft skills, which are harder to define and quantify, can mean the difference for a company between becoming a unicorn or imploding. A Boston Consulting Group study found that companies with diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue due to innovation.
So what can we do to create more balanced generational representation in tech companies?
Raise awareness by publishing numbers. Diversity and inclusion programs routinely now publish company demographics regarding gender and race. How about age?
Use age-neutral language. In job ads, avoid terms like “digital native,” “energetic person,” or “young company.” SHRM and AARP provide excellent guidance. Do not put a cap on experience, for example, “five or more years experience.”
Embrace intergenerational mentorship programs. These can be formal (third parties can set these up for you) or informal.
For job seekers:
Avoid age-signaling. Review your LinkedIn profile and resume to remove history older than 10-15 years, college graduation date, etc. And audit the vibe you send out in person and on social media. Do you project a timeless engagement in work and life?
Target specific funding stages. Startups with seed funding are eager for experienced talent, which helps them scale quickly. And companies that have just received Series B funding often have enough organizational maturity to offer a fair amount of structure, and will be hiring more experienced leaders for growth.
Get support. Job search is challenging, and is usually a marathon rather than a sprint! Seek support from in-person groups like meetups, organizations like Phase2Careers, online communities like Next for Me’s, or hire a coach.
One thing is certain: Every under-40 employee will one day be an over-40. I believe balancing the generations in the tech workplace will benefit everyone. After all, we’re better together.
Nancy Branka is founder of Startup Decoder, which provides resources for those who are mid- and late-career in tech.