IBM has made headlines recently over suspected age discrimination, following the filing of a class action on behalf of three recently fired employees. This comes after a report published earlier this year claiming that the tech giant has laid off more than 20,000 employees over the age of forty in the last six years.
While IBM denies the charges, stating that it’s recruitment and retention policy is based on skills and not age, the claimants believe this is part of a systematic attempt to lower the age of the workforce.
Rather than being an isolated case, it seems that this is indicative of a wider problem across the tech sector, which is now considered the domain of young men. This mood was reflected in a 2017 Indeed report, which found that 43% of tech workers fear losing their job due to their age. On top of this, tech companies overwhelmingly favour young candidates when recruiting for new positions.
While the tech industry is perhaps the most prominent example, age discrimination remains an issue across other industries as well. This is exacerbated by the nature of modern work, which is characterised by constant change, uncertainty, and the ever-increasing role of technology.
Employees who have spent decades in the workplace have seen it change immeasurably. It is a constant challenge to keep up with the pace of this change, as skills that were once critical soon become outdated. The result is the need for life-long learning and development; those that fall behind can quickly find themselves frozen out of the very industries they helped build.
The advantages of age diversity
Younger generations may have an advantage when it comes to technological fluency and the latest trends, but older generations have a head start in other areas. Attributes such as leadership, strategic thinking, industry knowledge, emotional intelligence and soft skills can take decades to develop – and these will be much sought-after skills in the future of work.
In order to build a workforce that can tackle the full spectrum of business requirements, you need people at all ages and stages of their careers.
As employees mature, it is only natural that the type of work they do changes. This could mean stepping back from the front line and using their knowledge and experience to become leaders, strategists and mentors.
Companies that fail to understand the benefits of age diversity risk creating a workforce devoid of experience and leadership.
Why inclusion matters
The IBM case comes in stark contrast to National Inclusion Week, which kicked off in the UK on Monday with the aim of raising awareness around inclusion at work.
Inclusion is defined as the act of including, or of being included. In the workplace, this means an environment where all are welcome, regardless of their age, ethnicity, gender, religion, background, etc. In an inclusive workplace, these factors simply don’t come into play when assessing someone’s suitability for a role.
While inclusion is ultimately a human issue, it is also beneficial to business. The natural result of inclusion is a diverse workforce, where people of different ages, stages and backgrounds come together to share ideas, wisdom and experience. This makes diverse teams naturally more knowledgeable, creative and dynamic than homogeneous ones.
This fact is echoed in McKinsey’s recent Diversity Matters report, which found that diverse teams are more likely to yield above-average financial returns. The positive effect on companies extends to an individual level, with 87% of respondents in the Indeed survey stating that diversity possibly or definitely has a positive impact on performance.
When a company or industry values one type of person over all others, it closes the door to a world of alternative viewpoints and experiences. Just as young employees bring certain qualities to the table, so do older ones. The key to a successful workplace is harnessing the best qualities of a diverse range of people, creating a team deep in skill, knowledge and experience.