“Systemic” Age Discrimination in Tech, even as Tech Workers Get “Better with Age”

by Wolf Richter, Wolf Street:

But “ageism” exists “across all industries,” not just Tech.

Many people have seen this with their own eyes as it happened to others, or have experienced it themselves even as companies have vigorously denied it. So finally, here are some numbers that expose blatant age discrimination in the Tech industry, both in hiring and promotions, and it’s even worse than the age discrimination in Non-Tech industries.

The study boils down to this: if you’re a Baby Boomer, forget it. And if you’re Gen X, it’s tough.

These numbers are not based on VC-funded startups where the two founders may be 27 and 28 and the oldest people of the bunch. No one even bothers to mention age discrimination in these outfits. It’s just a fact of life. No, these numbers are based on an analysis of over 330,000 US-based employees – 63,000 in Tech and 267,000 in other industries – from 43 large companies. This is Corporate America.

Here is what the study by Visier, which provides workforce analytics for HR professionals, found: “Systemic ageism is occurring in Tech hiring practices.”

Here are some nuggets:

  • Millennials (aged 20 to 33) make up 43% of the workforce in Tech, compared to 26% in Non-Tech.
  • Gen X workers (aged 34 to 51) make up 45% of the Tech workforce, compared to 47% for non-Tech.
  • Baby Boomers (aged 52 to 70) make up less than 12% of the Tech workforce, compared to 27% in Non-Tech.
  • Non-manager workers in Tech are on average 38 years old and thus five years younger than Non-Tech workers (43 years old).
  • Managers in Tech are on average 42 years old, vs. 47 in Non-Tech – not that managers in Non-Tech industries don’t face age discrimination, it’s just not as brazen.

But performance is not the problem.

The study found that the older workers in Tech had more “Top Performer” ratings in their respective jobs. Some nuggets:

  • “From age 40 onward, non-manager workers in Tech enter the ‘Tech Sage Age’ and are increasingly likely to receive a Top Performer rating as they age, mature, and gain experience, compared to Non-Tech.”
  • The proportion of Top Performers in Tech increases with age, but in Non-Tech industries the proportion decreases.
  • “This suggests that maturity and experience are more important drivers of high performance in Tech than in Non-Tech industries.”

Despite the high performance of older workers in Tech, they’re being discriminated against via both, hiring practices and promotions:

  • Tech hires a higher proportion of younger workers and a smaller proportion of older workers than Non-Tech.
  • Notably, the Tech Sage Age does not translate into higher promotion rates for older non-manager workers in Tech. Rather, promotion rates for Tech workers decrease continuously with age as they do in Non-Tech.

This produces a “disconnect” for older workers between their rising performance and their declining promotions with age. In a sidebar, Visier’s report cited a study by researchers from the computer science department at North Carolina State University that found that programming knowledge actually improved with age:

Using Stack Overflow user data, they found a correlation between age and reputation. They found that: “…programmer reputation scores increase relative to age well into the 50s, that programmers in their 30s tend to focus on fewer areas relative to those younger or older in age, and that there is not a strong correlation between age scores in specific knowledge areas.”

As older programmers are “getting better with age,” what are their salaries doing?

Turns out, non-manager workers in Tech and Non-Tech experience similar salary trajectories: The median salary for workers in both sectors increases in the first phases of the career and peaks in their early 40s, at which point it “stabilizes” for both – that is, it begins to decline slightly for both.

However managers in Tech experience some salary increases as they age – if they remain employed in Tech, which, as the above numbers show, is very hard to do.

The study summarizes: “We found that hiring decisions in Tech do indeed favor younger candidates” compared to Non-Tech industries. Millennials are the big winners – at the expense of Gen X candidates and Baby Boomers.

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