About 15 years ago, I was inexplicably offered a job at Google – aged 52. At that time, my age reliably put me in the “oldest employee” nomination. However, I am happy to be there and work hard to be known as a good colleague, trustworthy, energetic and fast learning. As the company grew, so did our team, and of course many new (mostly younger) people were hired around me.
One day during my tenure, I had a quick chat in the hallway with one of our team leaders. As part of my job, she suggested, I should show these new people how to do some of my daily tasks. “You know, let the young people do it,” she said.
Let young people do it: I got it right away. In the meantime, me and her are already mature managers (by the way, she’s about 15 years younger) looking through a green scene of young staff. The two of us can share the adult understanding that the way forward is to provide these teenagers with every opportunity to learn and grow. As I recall, my reaction at the time was a shrug of soul: Yes, it is.
I’ve thought about that short talk a lot since then – and it’s nothing special for Google. Age perception is a funny thing. I’m 66 years old now and I don’t dye my hair or hide my age. But this confidence comes in part from working in tech businesses for years, between – and increasingly – people 10, 20 and even 30 years younger than me. I don’t always like it, but that’s the norm. I’m used to it. So used to it, I am quite skeptical of legacy companies that value hierarchies and older protocols above all else. (You know: They live by “We always do it this way.”) I wouldn’t want to work in a place where management is close to my age without the gilded assurance they share. try it and see “the prospects of younger companies.
There is a lot of attention in today’s business world about what is known as diversity and inclusion. The idea that companies need to work harder and harder to attract, retain, and recognize diverse talents across genders, races, classes, etc.It’s not just the right thing to do. do, think longer it also enhances business by creating broader combinations of people who bring fresh energy, style, creativity and thinking to the job. And we’ve all seen corporate culture stories go awry when diversity is not given priority.
But there’s one prejudice that’s not much resolved: age. People who might be affected by the age difference don’t want to talk about it – especially in Silicon Valley. Let’s face it: Very few of us over 40 want to be considered “old” or consider ourselves an outsider. If workers move forward, it is difficult to prove age discrimination, as it is often concealed by internal restructuring, budget cuts, and employee “will” agreements. The “older worker” topic can be a legitimate minefield for companies – it could even be admittedly unboxing Pandora problems.
Our “elders” fully know that our workplaces are generally not about us. We do not dictate how role, function, promotion and success are perceived. Career development options and the career ladder people are expected to climb designed for the majority: young workers.
What can be done? A system overhaul is needed before members of the crowd over 40 can quit worrying about dyeing their hair or give themselves a pop culture course. Almost everyone I know over the age of 40 tend to ignore their graduation year on their resume and eliminate or streamline their past experiences.
Let me suggest some areas where old people might get a little more TLC.
In an age where we are encouraged to work, socializing after work is part of the deal. For older workers (and others who are not completely “culturally appropriate”), encounters with the tone deaf can cause emotional or logistical devastation. I have survived singing karaoke, climbing mountains and a folk song overnight ski trip yourself. There are good reasons for groups to shut down and get to know better, but please be sure to admin everybody feel comfortable socializing in any way and at any time that you think will be fun. Writer and working mother Mikki Kendall observe, “Colleagues can stick together over a lunch in the office or a staff picnic welcoming families, if not better, since they can enjoy whiskey.” Here’s a good guide: Team social events shouldn’t require physical prowess or too much alcohol – so forget about crawling with paint guns and bars. Done right, the employee’s social communication leads to understanding between ages, cultures, genders and all that. Failure to do well, the company’s “joy” can make employees unhappy—or worse.