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How ageism “insults” our future selves

Older tech workers are at the forefront of the brutal consequences of ageism. Noam Scheiber in an article in the New Republic exposes the desperation of the once-young tech guns seeking out botox to keep them looking youthful in the face of the rising new younger guns.  While the start-up tech world of Silicon valley  is an extreme microcosm – after all the most well- known young gun of his generation, Mark Zuckerberg, publicly declared young people were “just smarter” –  it is here that aging tech workers are being brought up hard against the disservice they have done to their future selves as the rising stars steal the mantel.

If you think that’s bad – what about the venture capitalist who told a conference that anyone over 45 in the tech start-up industry was “dead in terms of new ideas”.  In the Silicon Valley bubble anyone over 40 who has managed to survive is likely to be tagged with terms like, “grey beard, or gramps”.  And these are the people in charge of developing the technology that will help shape our world into the future.

It would be amusing if it wasn’t so sad or damaging. Apart from the obvious impact of getting or keeping a job, ageism has been shown to impact on people’s self-esteem and long term well-being. There is a suggestion that ageism is fueled by our desire to avoid thinking about our own aging and what better way than to shun the old, even to the extent of keeping them out of the workplace. According to the Human Rights Commission, 27 percent of people over the age of 50 report experiencing age discrimination. 

We know that companies are increasingly adopting diversity policies, particularly in regard to gender, race and ethnicity, but rarely do they factor in age.  Even a progressive company like Atlassian admits that they have overlooked the need for attention to this older demographic.

Older Australians are challenging ageist perceptions in their expectation of continued employment well past the age of 65. However, a recent study indicates that 30 percent of employers are reluctant to employ people over a certain age and a sizeable proportion believe that cut off point is 50. We also know that experienced professionals can begin to experience discrimination from as young as 45, an age which the oldest millennial is rapidly approaching.  Given the speed of technological change, they too are likely to come face to face with the consequences of having discriminated against their future selves as they are forced to prove they are ‘up-to-date’ and relevant in an environment where ageist assumptions are deeply ingrained.

Ageism has been described as one of the “stickiest ‘isms’ as efforts to change attitudes have had mixed results. Only through concerted efforts on a number of fronts is there any likelihood that we can drive the necessary change needed to undermine ageism in the workplace. War on Wasted Talent is driven by this challenge.

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