Cisco is looking for "A digital native with true love for all things mobile, and a social person by nature." Jumpstart Automotive Group would really like to find a, "Sr Marketing Manager-Digital Native Needed!" Those are just two listings from five pages of results for companies looking for "digital native" at Indeed.com. Meanwhile, other companies are offering "Millennials only seating areas."
Let's talk about how ridiculously stupid this whole thing is. Digital natives are people who are young enough to have been raised on the computer, which means, what companies should say is, "Young person with true love for all things Mobile" or "Sr Marketing manager-30 and younger only need apply!" No one would do that, but for some reason people think it's okay to use a code word. Fortune points out that this is not a new problem. Tech has had a love affair with the young for a long time.
Don't try to argue that it's not a code word. It is a code word and a stupid idea at that. Why does it matter when someone learned how to navigate the digital world? Does it make you a better marketing manager if you had your first laptop at 11 then if you didn't get one until after you bought your first house? No. Even if the people who wrote it didn't mean it as a code word, people interpret it that way, and don't apply if they are too old.
And then we have the company that made a kids' table for their new Millennial workers. Now, in theory, marketing and advertising firm Grey Global Group is simply putting all entry level workers together, regardless of their age. If you're 62 and just graduated from college, you'd be at this table. But, of course, it's unlikely to play out that way. Here are the problems with this segregation and discriminatory hiring.
It could lead to legal problems. While it's probably not enough to win a failure to hire age discrimination suit because the company listed "digital native" as one of the characteristics in a job description, it's enough to flag it. If you are advertising for digital natives and then only hiring younger workers, it's going to be pretty hard to claim that it's just chance and you certainly would have hired someone older if only they'd been the most qualified.
It's based on a false premise. The idea is that all Millennials have these fantastic computer skills. US Millennials have abominable computer skills when compared with their global counterparts. They may know how to handle a smart phone but that does not mean they are naturally technically better than someone who actually designed the smart phone in the first place.
It focuses you on too narrow of a group. Why would you want to exclude job candidates for any reason other than qualifications? Why would you want to reject someone because of age? Is someone young necessarily better with "digital" things than someone older? Of course not.
The kids' table doesn't get you to your goals. You want to train new people. That's awesome. Just how is putting them all together going to train them? Who are they going to learn from? Each other? While we have this glorified idea of the natural genius who just needs support to thrive, most people are normal humans who actually benefit from learning from people with experience. What this separation does is two fold. 1. It tells the new hires that they are special snowflakes and 2. It prevents the snowflakes from actually learning anything. When their mentors are their peers (which they will be because that is who they sit with), you lose the opportunity to actually help them-relegating them to second class status forever.
The idea of training people is to help them learn and grow-and that can be painful. The Wall Street Journal quotes 22 year old Micole Himelfarb-one of the people at the "kids' table" as saying "it puts you at ease to be around people your own age." Is this your goal? To make your new hires "comfortable?" I remember being the new person in the office, straight out of school and not a clue how the business world really operated. My boss didn't stick me with other clueless people, but instead, had me accompany him to senior team meetings where I (gasp!) interacted with people over 40 and actually learned a thing or two. Were those meetings uncomfortable at first? You bet. Did I say some stupid things? Absolutely. Did I learn a ton from that job? Of course. It wasn't about my comfort. It was about training me so I could do a good job so that I could help the company.
If you are excluding older candidates and employees from opportunities in any way, you open yourself up to a lawsuit. (Federal law prohibits discriminating against anyone over 40.) If you're simply putting your new entry level employees in a group (which should be legal as long as you are not making illegal hiring decisions), ask yourself if this will achieve your end goal of having employees that are learning and growing. If it won't, knock it off.