Ageism in tech - share your experiences and advice!

✨ UPDATE: We've published our resource for navigating ageism in tech here!

Hello everyone! 🍂

It’s Josefina from Elpha’s content team. ✍️

For our next resource, we'd love to hear your stories, advice, and best practices for dealing with ageism in tech.

I'd love to hear from you on any of these topics:

  • General thoughts and opinions around ageism in tech: early career and late career
  • Experiences with ageism – from the obvious to the more subtle forms
  • Advice for re-entering the workforce
  • Tactical ways to combat ageism: in the job search and on the job
  • How companies can do better to prevent ageism in their orgs
  • Ageism myths that need to be debunked

With this resource we hope to shed light on how ageism can appear in the workplace but also talk about the ways in which we can turn the narrative around to our advantage.

Share your stories and advice with us in the comments below by EOD September 18th, and don’t forget to emoji upvote your favorites 💜 We will let you know if we include your comment in the resource!

Thanks in advance for sharing your knowledge with us ✨

I’ve got a few stories in mind but am having trouble shaking a current one: I’m a principal seasoned designer working with a young researcher on a project evaluating folks experience accessing medical benefits. I’m over 50, but I’m not sure she knows my age. She suggested we recruit participants under 50 for tech literacy concerns! I was floored. She actually believed that folks like me struggle with tech literacy when a lot of us are the ones who built a lot of the tech in the first place! Not to mention my 83 year old mother is a wiz. I challenged her assumptions by asking how she got there and calmly cited a study I did that debunked the myth that you can equate age with tech literacy. She took it in but I’m still flabbergasted by it and it did make me feel unsafe and worried about being viewed as “old”.
I'm so sorry you experienced that. It's great that you were able to challenge her assumptions! But I can see how that can make you worried about how you are perceived.
I am glad that you addressed that concern and challenged her assumptions. It is not fair that age has become so associated to tech illiteracy cause as you said, a lot of older technologists have literally BUILT the systems and tech we use today! Glad you were able to address that and hopefully that younger researcher is now aware of this bias! I think unfortunately also a lot of companies seem to stigmatize older tech workers as not being up to date on cutting edge technologies, which obviously isn’t true, but I think they try to keep the tech workforce younger cause they tend to have less responsibilities to family/having kids, and a lot of tech work culture is this mentality of constant working/upskilling/delivery and burnout with no downtime, so I think many companies exploit that unfortunately for profitability. I think older workers tend to have more experience overall and thus less likely to put up with excessive and unfair work expectations and BS while younger workers don’t know better when they are first entering the field and early-mid career cause they don’t have leverage to say no and jump around to other jobs and they are on the lower end of skills/experience sadly.
Can you give us the 50+ data? Can you remind this young woman that the company can be sued in Federal court for discrimination with her name on it? The young lady sounds incompetent. Anyone allowed in business should be savvy enough to know U.S. laws. See that’s the thing..older women know more by default of time in career. We are valuable across the entire business.
I’m still on the young side but as a woman in tech I can share my perspective on what I’ve perceived in the tech work culture and environment regarding ageism. I think coming into tech as someone who doesn’t fit the stereotype often meets a lot of adversity and friction cause I think sometimes there is a sort of ‘herd’ mentality in the workspace, where everyone just wants to fit in and be respected. It is really tough going against the grain and a lot of people unfortunately can treat others really horribly. I worked on various teams where I was a minority and was often disregarded for the difference in perspective I brought to the space. It is very sad, but it is the reality. A lot of people don’t like change and they can get really aggressive and defensive to change. That said, progress cannot be stopped. I’ve met older women in the tech industry who I respect so much! So many mentors of mine have been older women who are great friends and many have believed in me and pushed me forward. I’ve unfortunately also encountered some older women who seemed very intimidated by younger women talent in tech which is disheartening. But people are different so it is what it is and you shouldn’t expect everyone to be the same. To older women in the tech space, I say don’t apologize for existing in this space. Tech needs balance and diversity in order to grow in the right direction. If you see ageism in the field, confront and discuss, offer your perspective so others can gain awareness who may not be enlightened otherwise!
Thanks for sharing these kind words! Hopefully there can be more awareness around this bias and more people can have your perspective!
Great topic, thank you! I think just about everyone has a story about ageism, which is something we can work together on. I am in my 40s and live in the United States. I am pivoting into tech as a software engineer from another career. Below are thoughts based on my experience.1) Experiences with ageism: In the United States, it's still widely seen as acceptable to discriminate against people because of age. I've seen people talk about instances of ageism openly, without even realizing that they are engaging in or describing discrimination (as another poster commented here).For example, just a few weeks ago, I met with a potential mentor I had matched with. This person had worked at a prominent tech company and told me that their hiring manager at that company aimed to have an average age of 28 among the engineers on their team. The potential mentor had zero compunction telling me about this, and I honestly don't even think they considered this to be wrong or illegal. This attitude steered our conversation and their ideas about what I could and could not do, so that was the last meeting I had with the potential mentor.In SWE interviews, I often have to vigorously defend my decision to change my career. I don't at all mind explaining why I want to change my career, since everyone can expect questions as to why they want to be in a particular field. But, I shouldn't have to defend myself so vigorously. I recently had an interviewer who was in disbelief as to why I would leave Career X to become a software engineer. I passed their technical interview, so although I had demonstrated that I have the skills they need, I had a really difficult time convincing them that I am serious about being an engineer. I suspect that younger interviewees' motivation for getting into tech is not scrutinized as heavily. When I was in my 20s and 30s, I worked in a non-technical field with a strong bias toward older, more experienced workers. So, I saw quite a bit of age discrimination toward younger workers: their perspectives were dismissed because they were seen as inexperienced, even when they had good ideas. I've also seen older folks seem threatened by younger people's successes (similar to what another poster commented here), when instead they could have thought about how they could learn from a successful person with less experience.2) Myths: It's a myth that people in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond can't code or do technical work. It's a myth that older people cannot learn new technological tools quickly. I completed a computer science degree designed for career changers. Students' ages ranged from early 20s to 60+, with the average age between 30-35. While I was enrolled, many of my former classmates were in their 40s or older. They were stellar students. They were the ones everyone would go to when they needed a partner for a group project, or the ones whose office hours they'd wait in line to attend when they were lucky enough to have these people serve as teaching assistants in their courses. I haven't been in tech for a long time, but through networking, hackathons, and other interviews, I've met many engineers who are beyond their 20's/30's. They can do the work.3) General thoughts:As someone who works with people who are younger and older than I am, I would give this advice: Look to work with and socialize with people who are outside your age bracket. Look to younger people and older people. Find out what you can learn from them. This will change your attitude about what others and you can do.From younger people in tech, I've learned from their amazing skills, of course, and I've also observed that they tend to have a more flexible mindset that's helpful at work. For example, in working with younger people, I have learned not to be so hard on myself. (There is less stigma around mental illness and life struggles in general. So, younger folks seem to me to be more accepting of the fact that that we all need support in some form or another.) I've also noticed that some of the Millennials I've worked with are less likely to put up with toxicity in the workplace. I've seen them stand up for themselves at work in ways that I would never have thought of, even though what they did was very reasonable and healthy. In other words, younger people are models for me.Advice I wish someone would have explicitly given to me when I was in my 20s: Fifteen or twenty years go by fast. So, you have a wonderful opportunity to help shape your not-so-distant future: cultivate a mindset where older people are valued, listened to, respected, and not patronized. Other people will pay attention and follow your example. Ageism against older people is systemic in the U.S. If you find yourself thinking along these lines, it's not because you are a bad person. It's because we all are taught to think this way, and it requires un-learning. When you do find yourself thinking with this mindset, forgive yourself, and think hard about how you can redirect your thinking for those around you and your current/future self.