There is an alarming trend happening right now. It involves ping pong, Nerf wars, keg stands, and foosball. No, I am not talking about an Animal House sequel. I’m talking about workplaces resembling more of a frat house than an actual place to work.
If you haven’t already noticed, the workplace is no longer for those over 35. At least in the tech sector.
No matter how hip you are, or how much you adore technology, if you can recite the “Dukes of Hazzard” theme song, you aren’t likely to find work in a tech company.
Ageism is the tech industry’s dirty little secret. It’s nothing new, or even unknown, but rather something we look the other way at. Ageist tech startups won’t overtly admit to such discrimination, but it isn’t difficult to spot.
It usually begins in the cleverly crafted job description. Like the one social media platform Klout used at a 2012 hiring fair. “Want to bro down and crush code? Klout is hiring.” In other words, don’t apply if you are over 30. And definitely don’t apply if you are a woman.
Outlandish perks, like Lego, paintball, or endless snacks are on almost every tech job description. All in an attempt to lure “20 somethings” who aren’t yet concerned with salary, benefits, or working hours. The job descriptions work to not only attract younger workers, but also to scare away older people with families and mortgages. What mother of three has time for weekend go-karting?
Candidates who qualify for an interview are then subject to a ‘culture interview’. This is to ensure the candidate meshes well with the team–which in itself is a great idea–but is most often used to weed out older applicants. The culture test isn’t so much about what values or motivation you have, but rather do you dress casual enough, or are you fun enough to chill with us, or do you also worship companies like Uber?
If you are wondering why I don’t worship Uber, it’s quite simple. Since their 2009 founding, the taxi company has a long history of degrading women. From the CEO referring to the company as ‘Boober’, to the chauvinistic advertisements, to the ‘slut shaming’ of allegedly assaulted female passengers, Uber is far from any business model I’d subscribe to. Yet, in tech circles, this is a company that is idolized.
In the early days, tech startups were all about acquiring funding, and getting bought out. Nowadays, it’s about maintaining a frat, or bro culture. I’m not even sure some companies even want to get acquired. From all appearances, they just want to have a good time.
The tech community will also have you believe that the influx of young startups is creating jobs. But what it’s really doing is perpetuating instability. 90% of startups fail. This is a fact.
Being an entrepreneur is not an accomplishment. Anyone can be an entrepreneur. And anyone can offer crazy perks. The real challenge is growing and scaling a sustainable business. But this isn’t going to happen when you run your business like a fraternity.
Advocates for casual culture will argue that fun on the job leads to happy employees and increased employee engagement. I don’t disagree with this. Engaged employees are better workers.
I also believe that younger employees are often more innovative, creative, and adaptable. But this isn’t because they are smarter or more tech savvy, but rather because they have less to lose and more free time to work with. With no families, they are cheaper to hire, more dispensable, and more willing to work long hours.
It’s not entirely without logic. But it’s still discrimination. And yes, discrimination may technically be illegal, but you won’t find it being enforced. At least not yet. Ageism, as well as sexism, is so ingrained in startup tech culture that we often don’t even notice. Did I mention that most of these companies don’t even have HR departments?
Some of you may be thinking that it doesn’t sound like your workplace. At least not yet. But regardless of which sector you work in, we all need to be concerned. Why? Because if there is one thing we know about tech, is that what happens in tech spreads fast.