Getting Away with Age Discrimination?

The two biggest articles on Linkedin this year were about being too old for the Tech Sector (my sector) and Gun Control. Surprised? I sure was – but not for the reasons you think.

Gun Control is not daily political fodder in the UK. However, ageism is constantly being rammed down my throat! So, if you don’t mind I will sit out the Gun Control debate but I do have something to share on ageism.

You have all seen articles by recruiters about friends always asking; “can you get me a job?” Well, I get asked that a lot as well but a close second is people leaning in and asking in hushed tones about how I navigate the minefield of ageism and discrimination. What they are really asking is: ‘how do you get away with it?’

It’s as if there is some unwritten truth that we all know it exists so let’s have a naughty, ‘off the record’ conversation about it.

So, how do I respond when a hiring manager says: “Bruce, don’t include anyone in this Search Assignment who is over 40”.

Difficult one, isn’t it? They are paying me so I kind of have to do what I am asked. Besides, no one will ever know and no one can ever prove that conversation took place. There is nothing to stop us from discriminating. Simple.

The snag with this explanation is that I don’t give this answer. I NEVER give this answer. My actual answer is a lot simpler and easier to share:

What I say, word for word:

“I get asked this a lot and honestly, I have never been asked to discriminate. Not once. Not on age, not on gender, not on race. Not once”.

This isn’t blind loyalty to my clients, it’s the truth. The one caveat I must offer is that I have had hiring managers express a preference for finding a woman. Some have spoken about a need to add balance to the team.

When people know they won’t get caught and do the right thing anyway that is called being ethical. I have seen that in abundance in the Software and Tech space over the last 15 years.

I am not saying ageism doesn’t exist but in my experience the free market is winning. If you are good enough and have the right experience then that is the end of it. The people I look for are generally quite important or very important to a business. Do you really want to explain to The Board why the new GM for Europe got the job because you wanted a handsome 25 year old instead of a seasoned 45 year old. No, of course you don’t.

The same is true for a Sales Director justifying hiring a Pre-Sales resource to his MD. Do you want to defend hiring someone who is pretty competent or just pretty?

Stop being a jerk it’s self correcting…

If any hiring managers are reading this and are still wanting to somehow get away with discriminating against older workers I would first of all urge you to stop being so short sighted. Second, I have good news! This issue is almost always self correcting. That is to say that candidates normally remove themselves from a process if they feel too old! I have lost count of the amount of times people have ended my approach by saying “I am 50 or 55 or 60 and too old for this, I am retiring in 2-3 years and wont be moving”.

Is the tech sector diverse enough?

That is a completely different and much more far reaching question. Like the question of Gun Control I’ll leave that for others to discuss but I will share where I think this must logically conclude:

Action is the most important ingredient of success. However, a diverse mix of people throwing around different ideas and challenging each other is surely the optimal way of formulating the best action.

Or to put it more elegantly:

“Diversity: The art of thinking independently together” – Malcolm Forbes.

Merry Christmas and all the best for 2017.

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About the author

Bruce Wright is the founder and Managing Director of Pathfinder Executive Search Ltd and has over 14 years Recruiting, Staffing and Executive Search experience. Over 12 years of this has been spent in Executive Search. He has been helping top Enterprise Software companies find senior level executives and helping build world class teams across Europe and North America since 2003. Unlike many Executive Search Professionals who claim to work across borders, he really has placed Senior Professionals with Enterprise Software companies in France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, UK and North America. Often working across borders simultaneously for the same client – this generates a synergy that makes for truly outstanding results. He is also a committed endurance athlete who has competed in challenges around the world, including the infamous Marathon des Sables, Zurich Ironman and the magical Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. In addition to UTMB he has twice run 100 miles non-stop.