People would be rightly shocked if a job description for a high-tech position said: "whites and South Asians only" or "women need not apply." They'd be shocked not because racism and sexism aren't rampant in these firms, but because the company would be explicitly acknowledging that the racism and the sexism exists.

However, whilst they're sensitive about being outwardly racist and sexist, high tech firms are total fine with discriminating against one type of job candidate: anyone born before 1985. To express this, high-tech firms use the dog-whistle "digital native" which basically means "nobody older than 36 need apply." Here's an example from the Mountain View-based  TapInfluence:

"As an Influencer Marketing Accounts Coordinator, you are an eager and ambitious can-do-er. You are bright, creative and won't stop until both you and your customers (marketers and influencers) are successful. You are a digital native who loves everything about social media and who keeps up with all the rising social trends." (Emphasis mine.)

The term "digital native" comes from a 2001 article suggesting that "children raised in a digital, media-saturated world require a media-rich learning environment to hold their attention." Over time, this highly-questionable notion that millennials are particularly prone to ADD and ADHD has morphed into the even-more-questionable notion that millennials are better adapted to the digital world.

Just to be clear, there is absolutely no scientific evidence for either of these notions. Quite the contrary. A recent study of millennials entering higher education in the UK found that

"there is no evidence that there is a single new generation of young students entering Higher Education... and the terms Net Generation and Digital Native do not capture the processes of change that are taking place."

The study further concluded that

"advice derived from generational arguments should not be used by government and government agencies to promote changes in university structure designed to accommodate a Net Generation of Digital Natives."

High tech firms, though, have so thoroughly embraced this "digital native" junk science that many don't even feel it necessary mention age in their pro-forma diversity statements. Like Facebook, for instance:

"As part of our dedication to the diversity of our workforce, Facebook is committed to Equal Employment Opportunity without regard for race, color, national origin, ethnicity, gender, protected veteran status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion."

Note: I emailed Facebook's PR group asking "why isn't age included?" in their diversity statement. I will update this column in the unlikely event that they deign to reply.

Since high-tech firms are looking for "digital natives," Gen-Xers seeking dream jobs in Silicon Valley (or any other high tech Mecca) should probably be looking elsewhere. According to a study of 1,011 currently employed U.S. tech workers released yesterday by the job-search company Indeed.com, inside high-tech firms:

  • Only a fourth (26%) of employees are over 40.
  • Almost half (43%) worry about losing their job because of their age.
  • Almost a fifth (18%) worry about losing their job because of their age "all the time."
  • Over a third (36%) have experienced at least one instance during which they weren't taken seriously by colleagues and managers due to their age.

How are the Gen-Xer coping with this pervasive age discrimination? Apparently not all that well. Mostly they've elected to ape the millennials, for instance by dropping older jobs from their resumes. Some even go so far as to get plastic surgery to appear to be more of a "digital native."

You've probably noticed that I haven't even mentioned the Baby Boomers. That's because while Gen-Xers are facing discrimination, Baby Boomers are considered so beyond-the-pale undesirable in high-tech that the only time they get on the radar is when they're offered unpaid internships.

So, then, what should the Gen-Xers do? Here's a novel idea: how about some collective action? The high-tech world is past the point where it needs trade unions to keep its overly-aggressive and overly-oppressive management in line.

Seriously, I'd like to see how these companies would function (badly, I suspect) if everyone over 40 suddenly stopped working until their employers guaranteed policies--like blind interviews and proportional hiring--that would level the playing field.

I'm not holding my breath though.

Published on: Oct 20, 2017
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