May 09, 2024

It’s Time for Tech Companies to Combat Ageist Language 

By updating job descriptions and hiring practices to be more age-inclusive, tech companies can tap into a wealth of benefits for their teams, brand and bottom line.

In the fast-paced world of technology, innovation is non-negotiable. But in the quest for the latest and greatest, are tech companies inadvertently leaving behind the vital talent of older workers?

Ageism in tech is a real issue. While “older workers” across any sector are generally considered workers over 55, a 2021 study uncovered a very different story in tech, where 35 is considered “old.” T

Pew Research notes that “Older adults are one of the few age groups that are expected to increase their labor force participation rate over the decade.” The future health of the tech workforce relies on hiring and retaining older workers.

The subtle signs of ageist language in tech

Ageism in job descriptions is tricky to track because it’s often subtle and unconscious. A 2022 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that even when it’s not blatant, ageist language in job ads “can have roughly as large an impact on hiring of older workers as direct age discrimination in hiring.”

Here are some examples of ageist language that tech companies may not have considered:

  • “Digital native,” “tech-savvy”: These terms imply a preference for younger candidates who grew up with technology.
  • “Recent college graduate”: Specifying this can exclude seasoned professionals who have valuable industry experience but either graduated years before, switched careers or don’t possess a college degree.
  • “Energetic,” “dynamic,” “highly motivated”: Of course companies want enthusiastic employees. But these words can unintentionally imply a preference for younger candidates.
  • “Cultural fit”: This term can subtly indicate that the company is looking for a candidate close in age (or other demographics) to the existing team.

Overemphasizing years of experience: Requiring excessive years of experience can exclude older candidates who may have equivalent skills but a non-traditional career history.

The value of older workers in tech

Portrait of a mature Black male manager smiling with his diverse team of designers standing in the background
Age diversity in tech can unlock greater productivity.

Older workers bring immense value to the table, including:

  • Experience: Older workers often have diverse experience that can’t be taught in a classroom. For workers who’ve been in tech for years or even decades, they’ve also seen the industry evolve and have valuable insights to share.
  • Stability and reliability: Older workers tend to have established work habits and a strong sense of professionalism, which can contribute to a stable and productive work environment.
  • Adaptability: Contrary to stereotypes, older workers are often highly adaptable. Many have successfully navigated multiple career changes, life circumstances such as caregiving and technological shifts throughout their careers.
  • Mentorship and leadership: Older workers can serve as mentors and leaders to younger employees. They can also engage in reverse mentorship to unlock the myriad benefits of a diverse workplace.

By 2030, the tech talent shortage will cost $8.5 trillion globally in unrealized annual revenues. Considering the growing older workforce, hiring and retaining older employees is not only equitable but makes business sense.

Tips for creating inclusive job descriptions and hiring practices

So, how can tech companies ensure their job descriptions and hiring practices are age-inclusive? Here are some tips:

  • Focus on skills, not age: Skills-based hiring is on the rise. Instead of specifying years of experience, focus on the skills and qualifications necessary for the role.
  • Use accessible language: In addition to the above-mentioned terms, watch out for business jargon such as KPIs, or slang acronyms like IRL or FOMO. When acronyms are necessary, write them out on first instance.
  • Offer training and development opportunities: Invest in training programs that help all employees, regardless of age, stay current with the latest technologies and trends.
  • Encourage diversity and inclusion: Foster a culture where employees of all ages feel valued, respected and celebrated. This can include mentoring and reverse mentoring programs, as well as anti-ageism training—the same as you would do for sexism and racism.

The future of tech is age-inclusive

Ageism in tech is pervasive. Eliminating ageist language is imperative. By updating job descriptions and hiring practices to be more age-inclusive, tech companies can tap into a wealth of benefits for their teams, brand and bottom line.