Part II: Experience vs. Ageism in Communications
Sadly, ageism is alive and well in communications and digital
This is a follow-up on my intro post about the topic.
As you’ll hear in a podcast that I did with Jennifer Stauss and Shel Holtz a couple of weeks back, according to underlying data and research, ageism (intentionally not hiring people over a certain age – in communications and social media sometimes, 50, sometimes, 40, sometimes even 30) – does not only exist, it is prevalent. Much of this issue was summarized up by Dan Lyons, a 50-something journalist who went to work for HubSpot and quickly learned that older people were not welcome. An excerpt from his book, he detailed it best in this paragraph:
About nine months after I joined, HubSpot’s CEO and co-founder, Brian Halligan, explained to the New York Times that this age imbalance was not something he wanted to remedy, but in fact something he had actively cultivated. HubSpot was “trying to build a culture specifically to attract and retain Gen Y’ers,” because, “in the tech world, gray hair and experience are really overrated,” Halligan said. More about Halligan and ageism at Hubspot here.
Really, Brian? Let’s take a closer look at that. Because you just called me “overrated.”
The backward argument for why experience matters
In this Buffer.com article (whose readership happens to skew young), the author lays out “10 Important Skills and Traits Your Social Media Manager Will Need in 2017.” And makes my point beautifully without trying.
Do Skills or Traits Matter?
Of the 10 skills and traits, SEVEN of them are SKILLS (which one can gain only through experience – no one is born with a skill) and only three are TRAITS (inherent personality characteristics that enable someone to presumably be better at something, this time professionally). So 70% of what matters in what is sometimes a Young Person’s Game is based on experience, but in that world, I have heard that many people are getting openly and willfully discriminated against.
I first found out I was an ‘Old’ (as opposed to just old) in 2012 when I started working for BuzzFeed as an ‘ad critic.’ At 52, I was by far BuzzFeed’s oldest employee. The under-30 editors there used ‘The Olds or ‘Olds’ internally (sometimes even in posts) as shorthand for anybody above the age of their demographic target, people who just didn’t ‘get’ it.
I also found out that the term was used by millennials nationwide, not just at bleeding edge New York City social media websites.
In this piece, a Digiday author states:
Over conversations with executives in the agency space, Digiday has been able to discern a growing phenomenon of agency discrimination against employees over the age of 50.
So if ageism is ok, is racism? How about sexism?
If is not uncommon to see communications or social jobs advertised encouraging “digital natives” to apply (here are all of the jobs on Indeed.com with those words in the job description, including one for Amazon.com). I have sadly learned that it is code for (“if you are over 30, don’t bother.”).
No “ism” is ok
Excluding someone based upon age (ageism) is pure and simple discrimination. Would it be ok to post a job opening that says that only people of a certain skin color or religion can apply? Hell no. Would there be a public outcry? Would people take immediate action? Surely. You don’t get to pick against whom you discriminate in the workplace.
Could someone please explain to me why is it almost accepted practice to take a perfectly qualified segment of the communications or digital working population and willfully exclude them, their abilities and experience simply because of their age? Isn’t is better (in some cases) to mix experience and youth?
Tell me what you think. The comments are below.