Silicon Valley is often regarded as a place where ideas can flow freely, innovation is embraced, and all are welcomed as long as they have the chops to make it in the fast-paced tech world. Despite being put on a pedestal in this regard, Silicon Valley has its faults, according to some critics. Many have lobbed accusations of race and gender bias, arguing that a black woman in Silicon Valley is more likely to be passed over for a promotion or raise than her white male counterpart.
While those who accuse Silicon Valley of such discriminatory practices tend to agree that they are somewhat subtle -- e.g. job postings will never say "Women need not apply" -- another ism has been looming over Silicon Valley for years has been anything but subtle. Ageism is much more overt in the tech space and is even encouraged.
At a 2007 Y Combinator Startup School event, Mark Zuckerberg famously told the audience,"Young people are just smarter." He then asked, "Why are most chess masters under 30? I don't know...Young people just have simpler lives. We may not own a car. We may not have family." Fast-forward to 2015 and the Facebook founder is the proud owner of a Volkswagen Golf. And seeing as the now 31 year-old is expecting his first child with wife Priscilla Chan, its safe to assume that his views on parenthood, car ownership, and people over 30 may have evolved. How much, though, is debatable.
That's not the only instance of Zuckerberg and Facebook revealing its proclivity for young minds over veteran workers. In 2013, the social media giant settled its case with California’s Fair Employment and Housing Department over its job posting for an attorney. In addition to listing typical applicant requirements, such as a minimum of four years of legal experience, Facebook put itself in hot water by including the following line in its ad:
"Class of 2007 or 2008 preferred."
State regulators opened an investigation into Facebook's hiring practices after receiving an age discrimination complaint. Ultimately, Facebook settled with the state agency. No financial penalties were placed on the company, but it did agree to no longer include law school graduation dates in job ads for legal positions. However, the company continued to put the words "new grads" in its other job notices.
“In our view, it’s illegal,” explained Raymond Peeler, senior attorney adviser at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, about the use of “new grad” and “recent grad” in job ads. “We think it deters older applicants from applying.”
Facebook isn't the only tech giant that has an apparent bias towards Millennials. "We want people who have their best work ahead of them, not behind them," read the career section of ServiceNow, a large enterprise software firm based in Santa Clara. With such messages being put out by Silicon Valley companies, its no surprise that the median employee age at Facebook, Google, AOL and Zynga is 30 or younger. At Twitter, the median age is just 28. Meanwhile, median age of the American worker is 42.
As a result, the lawsuits have been pouring in, beginning when Google lost a high-profile case filed against it by a former worker who claimed age discrimination. In 2010, the California Supreme Court ruled that the employee, who was fired from his post as executive director, presented enough evidence to make a discrimination claim, including comments from colleagues mocking him as an “old fuddy-duddy."
Still though, such cases are hard to prove. After all, there's no law against not hiring someone who is overqualified and costs more -- cost being a main driver of ageism in Silicon Valley. Why hire an experienced employee who commands a higher salary when there are plenty of ambitious and cheap Millennials eager to sign on the dotted line?
As Silicon Valley's darlings like Mark Zuckerberg approach middle age, it remains to be seen if the next decade will show a reduction in ageism within the West Coast tech sector. In the meantime, however, if you're looking for a job in Silicon Valley, be sure to pack on the age-defying makeup as wrinkles are not welcomed.