Last year my age came under the microscope in an organisation I was working with. It was called out in notes I discovered and my parental responsibilities were questioned when I needed to work from home on one occasion. It goes without saying that I left this company soon after these incidents. It dawned on me for the first time in my life that I might have been experiencing ageism.
Over the past few weeks I have seen an increasing number of posts on LinkedIn that have been upsetting to read. Super experienced senior leaders are being laid off and cannot find work. Some are having to work for Ocado delivering food because their usual job of choice is no longer available to them, even after months of interviews.
Is ageism on the rise? What has your experience been? And how can we tackle what seems to be a rising problem? Or is ageism simply an acceptable part of the start-up world? Dan Lyon’s incredible story about his tenure at HubSpot showcases the hard reality for many who are over 45 and their experiences in the product or start up world.
I believe it’s crucial to challenge the ridiculous misconceptions that fuel ageism and recognise the immense value that experienced individuals, particularly those over 45 or 50, bring to product-led organisations.
- Debunking the Myths:
- Contrary to common stereotypes, age does not equate to a lack of innovation or adaptability. Research consistently shows that older employees possess valuable skills, including problem-solving, leadership, and a deep understanding of industry trends.
- A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that age-diverse teams are more productive and innovative, combining the fresh perspectives of younger employees with the wisdom and experience of their older counterparts.
- Experience Matters:
- Seasoned professionals bring a wealth of experience that can’t be replicated by younger colleagues. This experience translates into a better understanding of customer needs, more effective decision-making, and a strategic mindset that contributes to long-term success.
- Empirical thinking is often crucial to success in product companies. When you have little data and cannot afford large research studies then senior leaders can impart their experience to provide better bets than guesswork from inexperienced younger colleagues
- I’ve noticed that experience often plays out more successfully than what I call the ‘Marty said..’ syndrome. This is where less experienced practitioners quote books they’ve read or the Reforge course they’ve attended as supporting evidence for their desired direction. However many of these individuals have never actually brought a product to market or had the wins or losses than can provide a more informed decision.
- Benefits of Hiring Older, Senior Talent:
- Stability and Consistency: Older professionals are often more stable in their careers, reducing turnover and promoting consistency in leadership.
- Mentorship Opportunities: Establishing mentorship programs where senior professionals guide younger team members can foster a collaborative and knowledge-sharing culture. This is incredibly valuable for teams who will always take with them the lessons from more senior folk.
- Reduced Training Costs: Older employees often require less training, as they bring a wealth of industry knowledge and can quickly integrate into existing workflows.
- Building an Inclusive Culture:
- Promote diversity and inclusion initiatives that focus on age diversity. Encourage open conversations about the value of experience and how it contributes to the organisations overall success.
- Implement blind recruitment processes to ensure that age is not a factor in initial hiring decisions.
If you’ve been a victim of ageism then you can work out yourself which path you would like to choose. Do you still want to work in an industry that seems to accept it as a norm or even encourage it? If so then some of the tips below might help you bolster your confidence in the tech industry. If, however, you feel that you’re fighting a losing battle then you may wish to retrain or take a reduced salary in another temporary role before finding what it is suits your lifestyle better.
- Embrace your experience as a strength rather than a liability. Showcase your achievements and the positive impact they’ve had on previous projects.
- Never stop learning. This applies whether you want to remain in the tech industry, product world or start up culture or follow a completely different path. Having worked in the learning space for a few years I found in the research that continuous learning has a great impact on mental health and aptitude. It keeps us curious and new skills will of course offer up new opportunities.
- Know your tooling. Tech companies often jump on the latest products to help them communicate, run product development, interpret data, share files or conduct workshops. It can be exciting to learn these new systems so try to see this as a positive.
- Keep your focus area updated. If you’re a designer, for example then examine how the role has evolved – you may have to hone your research, design system or animation skills for example.
- Build resilience. It can be tough dealing with ageism. Reach out to your network and share experiences and stories. Follow your gut and choose a path that means your day to day is a happy one.
- If you are a parent then this presents unique challenges. A good friend of mine secured an incredible role with a firm based in the US many years ago. He commanded a huge salary and went on to exit his own venture too. But one of his big regrets was that he barely saw his children in their formative years as he was working too much. You can never get that time back.
I feel like ageism is more widespread than ever. So many posts on LinkedIn are testament to this unfortunate fact. You’ll have to make tough decisions but try to make the ones that serve your life rather than your work, you’ll have less regrets!