I.T. is a young person’s industry. Don’t believe me? Perhaps you’ll believe Mark. Mark* told a Y Combinator Startup School event in 2007, "I want to stress the importance of being young and technical. Young people are just smarter."
Consider that last sentence. “Young people.” Can you imagine the fuss if he’d said, “young men”? Or if I’d written ‘young man’s industry” in the first sentence? What is now regarded as beyond the pale was once the norm. Yet no-one in Mark’s audience seems to have batted an eyelid at the idea that young people are “just smarter”.
Now before everyone over 40 starts throwing things at the screen, let’s consider what the reality is for IT recruitment. Well, to be honest, it is a problem if you are older. It should not be, but it is. Partly, this is because as technology moves on, those who are already working in the industry aren’t coming in to new jobs, full of the joys of their recent, cutting-edge education. Also, new start-ups are full of committed young bloods, working 60-hour weeks to see their dream turned into (big money) reality. Older people just don’t seem right to them - even if the oldies have lots of useful experience. The average age at Google is about 29, and I believe it’s 28 at Facebook. In due course, these 29 year olds will become 39 year olds and then 49 year olds. It’s worth noting that even at 49 they have, in the UK and the USA, another 15 or so years to work before they are regarded as the ‘normal’ age for retiring. In time, even Mark may realise that young people are not necessarily “just smarter”. And in case anyone needs reminding, Churchill was nearing retirement when he took on his biggest, most important job…
So are some IT firms/recruiters breaking the law, which is quite clear when it comes to just how illegal it is to discriminate in terms of age (or almost anything else come to that)? Yes, probably, is the short answer.
And do recruitment consultants help or hinder this situation? Probably both in truth. I can honestly say that at BeIT we do not treat any candidate differently in respect of age, gender or any of the other criteria that are sometimes used by others, illegally again, to sift candidates. Yet too often our clients will, unthinkingly, say something like, “I don’t want any of the old guys who have just been made redundant at X company”.
Where do we go from here? Well in the next blog piece I’ll consider some more of the arguments, both real and absurd, used to justify the reasons why older people don’t always get IT jobs. I’ll also ponder how we might change the minds of those who would be appalled at the thought that they might discriminate against a woman, or a non-white person, and scared of the consequences if they did so, but wouldn’t turn a (not grey) hair at ignoring anyone who is ten years older than they are…
Gareth Biggerstaff, MD, BeIT Resourcing
* Mr Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook in case you’re too old to know him…!