– Or: How we learned to normalize chewing people up and spitting them out.
Uh oh. Another “heavy” topic. Yes. Ageism.
“But George,” you’re saying, “you promised to start a series on audio engineering. What gives, mate?” To which I respond, “YEAH BUT.”
(my kids think it works, so I figured I’d try it here too)
A recent article got the loin-girders in my brain all up in a twist on the subject. And because I’m adequately (?) equipped with opinions and a blog and FINGERS this is where it’s coming out. For good or for suck. You be the judge.
Anyway. That’s where we’re going this morning because SQUIRREL
Audio Engineering stuff is on deck once I get some examples recorded so that I can both visually and audibly demonstrate what the devil I’m talking about. Otherwise I’m going to use a lot of words and not be able to quantify any of them. It would be like trying to describe a 7th chord and making it interesting without actually playing one for you. That dog does not hunt.
Side note: this. is. not. all. companies. There are good ones out there. Stand up and be recognized, you’re doing good by your workforce.
Why just ageism in the tech world? Why not every other place where ageism exists?
Tech is where I have the highest degree of familiarity. This is a personal blog, not a research term paper. That last thing sounds too much like work. I have an allergy.
Does ageism exist in other realms? Dear heavens yes. In virtually every single field of work – with the possible exception of American Political theater – it is rampant. Sometimes out in the open, sometimes – as we’re going to discuss later – hidden in the background to be later discovered and ridiculed. That’s usually when the carefully crafted PR apologies come out, except we all see through them as a “we got caught with our hand in the cookie jar” kind of apology. Not the “we recognized a thing that was bad was happening and we have taken steps to fix it of our own volition” kind of apology.
We don’t do those kinds of things.
But back to tech. The articles that I started scanning recently – along with dredging up a metric boatload of memories of years gone by – were mostly focused on the world of computer and tech advancements. So that’s where this is gonna sit for the time being.
Why omit other isms? It takes a special kind of jerk to leave that on the table
Building foundational isms into our culture and history is something we’re so good at it’s almost like it’s our job to do so. Racism, Ageism, Sexism, many more isms. And all of them carefully crafted in a way to make it almost seem like there’s a level of plausible deniability because deep down it is known that what is happening is just plain wrong but it’s a key component to some perceived notion of success. Therefore, it’s worth it, right?
As my youngest has taken to saying at all times of the day: “Oh COME ON!”
There is absolutely no acceptable justification for discrimination (which is what isms create) based on pretty much anything. Having said that, there are volumes that could be written on each one of those isms. HAVE been written on those isms, in fact. Including today’s topic of ageism. Probably written with better words than the multitude I’m going to use, at that. But for today, this is the one that I’m sticking with because it’s fresh in the brain. If I need to go “heavy” again (there’s that word, almost like there’s a problem with the Earth’s gravitational pull) there’s plenty to draw from.
The cold dank history of ageism in the form of sentences
This isn’t new. Ageism is a tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme. Someone starts at a company and kicks all of the bottoms. Succeeds, advances, brings the company new levels of wealth and power. Palm leaves fanning, grapes fed, etc.
Fast forward to a couple decades later. Because we’re still living in the fantasy world of people staying at a single company for a 30-40 year “career” in my blogiverse. There’s a new bottom-kicker at the bottom of the ladder. They’re All Of The Things: Better, Faster, and Cheaper. They’re hungry to please, they have ideas, and an immense level of drive and ambition. This new bottom-kicker has every advantage right now because a large company will get much more out of them than the more experienced employee who has been around, isn’t quite as fast, and kicked so much bottom that their advanced salary is not giving them the same yield as it once did.
Out they go. They’ll be given a variety of neutral reasons that satisfy any legal liability concerns and ultimately let that individual – and their experience and expertise – go. That individual will then find themselves in a position where they are too young to “retire” and too old to find a decent position at another company.
Longevity perception changed
Once upon a time, hiring managers would find longevity at a company to be a significant asset. If you stayed at a company that long, you were there through thick and thin and were a valuable contributor to a company culture and success. That trend shifted in the late 90s where longevity began to be perceived as being “stale.” Job hopping – a prospect that was horrifying to me – became a good thing and preferential selection was given to people who were willing to jump ship from one place to another to bring competitive edges and experience. Ageism fits into that model nicely: gotta move fast, gotta catch ’em all, old people don’t play Pokemon.
That trend eventually leveled off but my perception is that there are circles where it is still prevalent and thriving. Churn and burn doesn’t really leave much room for culture in my estimation. Then again, I’m nowhere near the churn and burn world so the outside looking in doesn’t look pleasant but maybe they all love it.
Examples time! Ageism receipts as the cool kids call them
So here’s where I present examples of this having happened. Evidence, if you will. I’ll start with a recent example that was uncovered at IBM.
To quote from this article at Forbes:
In September 2018, there was a sweeping investigation highlighting the alleged abuses of age discrimination within the technology industry. It was reported that IBM fired about 20,000 American employees over the age of 40, which amounts to about 60% of its total U.S. job cuts during the time period in question.
Over. The. Age. Of. 40.
When this article first popped up, I expected that we’d be looking at a slow shuffling out of folks between the age of 50-60. Also reprehensible.
FORTY is considered too old to keep on board?
Also. 60% of their workforce cuts in that 40+ demographic is not something to be proud of. And the fact that it was around 20,000 people on top of that. I just ….. wow.
Full disclosure: This is being written from the perspective of someone in their mid-40s. I sure don’t feel ancient but apparently I’m in the “too old to be useful” category.
Some of the highest ranks at IBM were responsible for things like this:
“IBM executives discussed in emails how to force out older workers and derided them as “Dinobabies” who should be made an “Extinct species,”
Dinobabies needing to be made extinct.
That’s some nefarious and infuriating stuff.
Intel was in the hot seat according to this (paywalled) Article back in 2018 for exactly the same thing: Age-related firings in 2016.
I think we just need a checklist for IBM
2018 – Investigated for age-related discrimination in firings.
2013 – Determined to leverage age-related discrimination in firings.
2006 – References to age-related discrimination found.
I’m guessing it wouldn’t be too difficult to continue to find more examples of ageism in widespread practice.
Seattle isn’t immune to ageism
Microsoft was the target of a lawsuit related to ageism. So uhh, a large company needing to be competitive and finds younger cheaper faster employees to function toward that goal. Check.
NOT THE GOOGLE!
Yes, The Google. Google settled an age-discrimination suit just a few years ago.
This. Is. Happening. All. Over. The. Place.
Why is it even possible for ageism to happen? Aren’t there protections in place?
Every time you build a better mouse trap to capture the evil and nefarious things a giant company will end up doing to its workforce because it’s just way to blasted large to manage, backroom meetings have already figured out how to build a better mouse. Look at the examples above with just that very very very short list. Those are the ones who got caught. Sometimes even on the receiving end of lawsuits.
Plenty of mice that haven’t been caught yet and none of them are going to own up to anything until they absolutely must because delaying that finding for as long as possible keeps things going. No interruptions in advancements for as long as possible. There are deadlines to beat and competitors to crush. Ageism works because it’s difficult to detect until it becomes so blatant that it cannot be ignored. Or someone says something. Speaking up probably feels like career suicide due to the possibility of blacklisting so it just goes on.
Look. It’s an ages old tradition for us to stand on the backs of angels. We’re not supposed to stab those backs in the process and then congratulate ourselves for the advances we’ve made.
There’s a massive paradoxical thing happening here though. Seriously. We have outlined some pretty reprehensible stuff that has gone on since the beginning of time and heavily in a world where technological advancements have brought unprecedented levels of capability and convenience to our fingertips. I am sitting here decrying the fact that older generations of people whose backs we stood upon before thoroughly stabbing by using a keyboard built into a really thin and ultra powerful laptop that only exists because of that exact thing that I am decrying. Which you are reading on a mobile device or computer that exists the way it exists today solely due to those same stabbed backs.
Dangit. I like these toys and I am uncomfortable with how we got here knowing that this is how we got here. I’m also powerless to make any kind of meaningful change. What, boycott laptops? Set fire to an iPad?
We as a society don’t -want- those advances to slow down. Our calendars are built on Apple’s annual releases and Google’s somewhat annual releases. We need bleeding edge hardware to keep up with bleeding edge bloat/software and those things have to stay fast or else we get cranky. (read: entitled)
So what’s the solution?
The idealistic approach is for tech companies who need to be creating the bleeding-edge instruments that we utilize on a daily basis who need a workforce that can sustain and create those advances to find ways in which to better take care of their “aged” workforce. Once upon a time, large companies offered pension programs for their employees who stood by them for their long-term careers. Pensions have gone out of favor for a variety of reasons, most of which center around “they cost money.” And really, if a trend like that has fallen out of favor industry-wide, why be the one hanging on when there are c-suite salaries that could benefit from that? </sarcasm>
It’s not like giant companies like IBM, Intel, AMD, and the like are barely surviving on razor-thin margins. Yes, they have to report to shareholders quarterly and shareholders like money and they’d prefer to have more of it and will punish companies that make decisions that lead to less money.
It’s a financial trap that nobody seems to know how to dig out of outside of discarding human resources for the sake of faster and more competitive advancement.
Cut throat business has never been quite as aptly named as it is now.
My very quiet challenge to those large companies? Find a way to do better by your workforce. Development teams who can leverage experience married with speed. Something. One of you start the trend. You’ll like where it takes you. I bet the company response for this writeup is happy. I promise. If you don’t, I’ll send you cookies.
Straight up! I’m talking to you, Arvind Krishna, current CEO of IBM. You inherited this problem given that you are new in the CEO role but you can fix it. If you fix it and you don’t like it, I will personally bake you two dozen homemade oatmeal cookies and ship them to you. With a handwritten apology note. Let’s do this.
-= george =-