Part II: Experience vs. Ageism in Communications

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 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.

In 2016, Mark Duffy wrote about his experience with age discrimination at Buzzfeed in “Notes from an ‘Old’: Ageism in the digital age”:

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 with those words in the job description, including one for  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.



  1. Good take and update to your previous post. As mentioned over on the Book of Faces … It is so hard to generalize over industries. In my recent job search, age and time in the wider communications business (with zero industry experience) was a big factor in why I was selected over younger competition.
    I almost have sympathy for Brian Halligan over at HubSpot – he does need to get recent college grads to fill a ton of client-facing support positions. Those people probably don’t know better that upwards of 12 hour work days and iffy comp packages aren’t balanced by great beer coolers (I’ve had amazing beer in their offices) and fun office hijinks.
    To your last section on “isms” – sadly, YES, sexism and racism are taking place in tech/startups and other institutions. Ageism may be easier to prove as you and I both faced plenty of “quiet” after we thought we crushed in-person job interviews.
    No easy answers – I appreciate your pointing out the situation for many. In closing – Gosh – does the youth brigade realize they will some day be OLD? Hahahaha

  2. […] in the growing chorus decrying ageism in hiring practices in tech, marketing and other industries. His latest post underlines points by another champion of the cause, Dan Lyons. It’s worth a read and worth paying attention […]

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