Ageism: An (un)accepted form of discrimination in the workplace

Written by Jessica Rochman Fowler:

The tech industry is no stranger to age bias in employment practices. Several articles have been written over the past few years about ageist assumptions that permeate the tech world, including that older people can’t keep up with improving technology, or that older employees should “let the younger people do it,” with “it” referring to any number of tasks. The fact is, employing older people is often labeled (incorrectly) as a bad return on investment, an investment employers will find subtle ways to avoid.

Recently, an article was written titled “Cutting Old Heads at IBM,” which detailed the recent firing of thousands of IBM workers that targeted predominately senior employees and contradicted rules against age bias in the process.

According to the article, “ProPublica estimates that in the past five years alone, IBM has eliminated more than 20,000 American employees ages 40 and over, about 60 percent of its estimated total U.S. job cuts during those years.”

Finding a tech job doesn’t hold much more promise – simply put, says the Newstack, “for Baby Boomers, the chances of being hired are 60 percent less than their workforce representation.” And age bias doesn’t just mean being fired or not being hired, it can mean being passed over for promotions, being assigned work well below your pay grade, or being pushed out of your job in some other way as a result of your age.

Yet, an op-ed in WIRED magazine noted that those most affected by ageism in the workplace often don’t want to bring it up for fear of being labeled “old.” Which brings me to a broader question – when will our society address our collective fear of being “old” and acknowledge that this fear can result in unpunished acts of discrimination?

The Vanier Institute reports that 13.4% of seniors participated in the paid labour market in 2015, up from 9.2% in 1976. As people live and work longer, ageism is an issue that begs to be addressed. It’s time we start valuing the variety of skills displayed across generations and enable older people to continue participating in the workforce for as long as they’re able. This includes recognizing that ageism isn’t just a problem in the tech world, but one that resonates in many employment settings.


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