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The tech industry has well-known diversity issues around gender and race. Age is another blind spot: 40 is the top age curve at a number of tech companies. Google just settled more than 200 claims of age discrimination, and the complaint is becoming much more common.
The median age for an American worker is 42, according to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the biggest tech companies, according to jobs sites and research firms, it’s more like 25 to 35.
In the latest installment of Evenly Distributed, we explore this issue. Kate Edwards, who works in the gaming industry and was head of the International Game Developers Association for several years, spoke about how she came up with a way to celebrate experienced tech workers — like herself: The Global Game Industry’s “50 over 50” list. The following is an edited transcript of her story in her own words.
My name is Kate Edwards and I’ve been in the game industry for 26 years. I am 54 years old. One of the initiatives that I’ve been focused on is ageism.
I came up early in 2018 with this idea about doing a 50 over 50 list just on a whim. And I was like, “Why can’t we celebrate age? Why can’t we celebrate wisdom and experience?” At the advice of one of the people — which I won’t name, but they’re actually on the list —they said, “You might want to contact everybody and make sure they want to be on this list, because to have their name on a 50 over 50 actually could double down on the ageism that they might be experiencing because there might be people around them who don’t know that they’re that old.” I reached out to them and I asked them, “Are you OK with this?” And of course, I was super happy because 100% were just like, “Absolutely, I don’t care. Put me on the list. I think it’s awesome.”
There is this general stigma or this misperception that older people get set in their ways. They’re not into learning. The thing that I find interesting is in the fiction we consume so voraciously, you see older characters all the time. They serve a very important role in the hero’s journey. They serve a very important role in narrative that we love. They serve [a] very valuable role as a mentor and a guide. Why is it that the same value that we place in older people is just not there in reality? And that disconnect has always been at the forefront.
When I turned 50 years old it was a week before the big Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. So, instead of having my 50th birthday at home, I deferred it to the next week. So, our party became partially my 50th birthday party. And I did it for a point, because I wanted people to know that I’m 50 years old and I’m not ashamed. I mean, I already know I’m doubly challenged because not only am I a woman in tech, [but] I’m also over 50. But I want that to be emphasized, and I guess, in a way that was sort of a kernel that led to me eventually creating something like the 50 over 50 list.
Related links: more insight from Molly Wood
Google was sued in 2015 by a 60-something-year-old tech worker who was denied a job there. It later turned into a class action lawsuit and a judge still must approve the settlement. But court filings say Google will pay about $11 million to settle claims of age discrimination from 227 different people. The tech giant doesn’t admit any wrongdoing, but the settlement says it will have to work harder to prevent age discrimination with manager training and a new hiring committee.
WeWork was also sued for age discrimination last month as it prepares to go public. The Wall Street Journal reported that its former vice president of construction said WeWork “consistently treated older employees differently than their younger colleagues.” And that his job was taken by someone 20 years younger.
And last year, IBM put the brakes on an internal program called the Millennial Corps after age discrimination lawsuits used it as evidence the company was biased toward younger workers.
While the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 specifically protects certain applicants and employees age 40 or older, let’s acknowledge that ageism can also include unfair treatment of younger workers. For example, underestimating their skills or dismissing their opinions. It’s something that’s come up more around millennials and office culture.
A piece from the site Future of Work calls millennial bashing “the last bastion of allowable workplace discrimination.”