Eradicating ageism in tech

As a woman who has spent over 40 years working in the technology sector, my career path has not always been straightforward or smooth. On many occasions I have had to challenge preconceptions about gender and fight against the tide to progress and seize opportunities. These are experiences I have no doubt many of my female peers would recognise.

But I was always optimistic, and I’m pleased to see that today there are so many more high profile and well-established female role models within the sector for younger women to look up to and emulate. I am fortunate enough to mentor some younger female CEOs and their fierce intellect and drive is truly impressive.

That said, I have come to realise over time that, once you overcome one hurdle, another is often waiting just around the corner. After 30 years in business and having achieved seniority, I felt I had won my battle. After 40 years I came up against a new one: ageism.

In a sector often presented as being dominated by young, high-profile entrepreneurs, ageism is particularly prevalent. Research from CWJobs for example, identified that well over a third (41%) of IT and tech-sector workers in the UK have experienced age discrimination in the workplace – which is significantly higher than the average of 27% across other industries.

The study also revealed that tech sector workers are confronted with ageism at an earlier stage in their careers than in other industries. The average across the workforce is 41 years old. In the IT and technology sector, according to this research, ageism kicks in at 29! When you consider that according to data from the Office of National Statistics, two-thirds of people working in the UK technology industry are over 35, there is clearly a disconnect to be dealt with.

There is, of course, a well-worn narrative about older age people struggling to grasp modern technology. And during the past few months of lockdown, the elderly relative failing to navigate a Zoom call has become a comic stable. But I don’t buy it. And, particularly within the technology sector itself, it’s simply not true. To the contrary, I have found that the longer you spend surrounded by technology the more open, receptive and adaptive you become to change and learning.

I have concluded that ageism can be a silent career killer. And, at a time in our collective lives when the value and importance of diversity has never been more prominent, we need to include ageism in the conversation

I am also convinced that people with more years of experience in the technology industry have a much wider understanding of the impact technological innovations have had over time and are well positioned to offer valuable insights on how tech can be best implemented, improved and leveraged to drive future efficiencies and positive outcomes.

One of the biggest strengths of technology is that it makes a wealth of data, much of it complex, accessible, understandable and actionable. Combine that with the benefit and wisdom of experience, it becomes even more powerful.

Over the last five years or so I have had first-hand experience of the technology sector’s age bias. During that time I have been given unvarnished judgements that I was too old to take on specific positions and I’ve had doors closed in front of me.

Fortunately, I have been able to work hard and create other avenues and opportunities for myself, but I know that not everybody will have that possibility open to them. This is why I have concluded that ageism can be a silent career killer. And, at a time in our collective lives when the value and importance of diversity has never been more prominent, we need to include ageism in the conversation.

There needs to be more education on the value of age diversity and the benefits it can bring not only to the technology industry, but across all sectors. The more time people spend in collaborative environments, the more likely they are to be inclusive and the more they will benefit. A well-rounded team is considerably better placed to deliver the best possible service to an increasingly varied customer base.

I strongly believe that supporting each other and networking is vital. We should all network more; it helps unite interests, promotes different cultures and build strong businesses. There are significant benefits to be gained from joining or developing networks that empower and enable employees of all ages.

Everyone can learn from somebody else and making new connections can open doors and provide a great deal of value throughout your career.

Perhaps most important of all, It behoves and benefits everyone – whatever their age – to ensure that ageism is eradicated. After all, the best case scenario is that, one day, you’re going to be the oldest person in the room. How do you want to be treated when that day comes?


Patricia Hume

CEO, Canvas GFX


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