The year is 2021 and a study conducted by AARP reveals that almost 80% of senior employees reported witnessing or experiencing age discrimination in their workplace. This represents the highest share since the organization initiated its research on the subject in 2003.
Tech, an industry known for its rapid innovation and youthful workforce, is especially hit.
Is your organization contributing to this statistic?
Companies that have fallen prey to this bias are missing out on the benefits that experienced, older professionals bring to the table.
Are You Succumbing to Groupthink?
Research by organizations such as the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has found that unconscious bias can impact hiring decisions, often leading to age discrimination. The study revealed all-too-common misconceptions about older people as "feeble and sick" and lacking in the technological skills needed to excel in today’s world are key drivers. 
The tech sector is often seen as a young person's industry, driven by the stereotype of the "brilliant young coder." Enforcing that view is the prominence of young, entrepreneurial programmers such as Mark Zuckerberg and Vitalik Buterin in the media.
Although they did strike success at such young ages, the reality, however, is totally different, and the average age of an start-up founder is 40.
During my research for this article, I discovered an eye-opening and blatant case of age discrimination at Google where Brian Reid, an early pioneer of the internet was employed. Prior to working at Google, he had helped to develop Alta Vista, one of the world’s first search engines - later sold to Yahoo. Despite his notoriety, he was fired from his role as Director of Operations in 2004. Reid’s supervisors told him that his ideas were “outdated”, and that he was “slow,” “sluggish”, a “cultural misfit” that was “too old to matter”. Worse still, he was referred to as an "old man" and a "fuddy-duddy" by his colleagues. Reid filed and won a lawsuit against the search giant for age discrimination. California's Supreme Court court observed that even "stray remarks" could be used as proof of age discrimination. 
The story is a little dated now but it's significance is unmistakable.
The discrimination towards Reid illustrates the impact of unsubstantiated groupthink, in which a prevailing notion suggests that younger tech employees are naturally more innovative and productive.
So what are the reasons for this bias?
There's no doubt in my mind that technological change can lead some of us to falsely equate progress with the need for a young workforce.
A joint study conducted by ProPublica and the Urban Institute discovered that 56 percent of employees aged 50 and above stated they’ve been laid off at least once, or felt pushed to go voluntarily. 
Such beliefs, while unfounded, can influence hiring decisions and create a barrier for older professionals.
Ask yourself this question, what comes to mind when an older candidate turns up for an interview? Honestly.
The Benefits of Hiring Older Software Engineers
Experience and knowledge
Older software engineers have spent years, if not decades, honing their craft.
Over the years, they’ve probably worked with countless programming languages, paradigms, and methodologies,
That wealth of experience and knowledge that can be invaluable in solving complex problems, optimizing systems, and ensuring robust, maitainable code.
While coding practices and languages have evolved over time, the fundamental principles of good software engineering remain constant.
They are also more likely to consider future requirements and potential changes when designing and implementing solutions, resulting in code that stands the test of time and is easier to update and extend.
They may be new to coding and making a career transition, (yes, there are many!), if so, they have tackled diverse projects across all sorts of industry domains.
This experience allows them to draw from a vast knowledge base.
Research demonstrates that knowledge and expertise, which are primary indicators of job performance, continue to grow even past the age of 80. 
Warren Buffett, at 92 years old, continues to be recognized as one of the most exceptional CEOs in the financial world. His trusted partner, Charlie Munger, is 99 years old. Several prominent Hollywood figures, such as Robert DeNiro, Meryl Streep, and Samuel L. Jackson, remain highly active and influential beyond the age of 65.
Simply put, their years of professional practice enable them to avoid common pitfalls and provide mature guidance to younger colleagues.
They're More Emotionally Intelligent
It's not just technical skills that increase over time, some interesting research has shown that emotional intelligence also increases with age. 
This can be particularly beneficial in the tech industry, where effective communication and collaboration are keys to success. Older software engineers are often better equipped to navigate interpersonal relationships, provide leadership and foster a healthy work environment.
Furthermore, research indicates that multigenerational workforces are more productive and experience lower turnover rates compared to those lacking age diversity. 
Contrary to popular belief, studies have also found no correlation between age and diminished innovation or overall job performance. Interestingly, older employees seem to adapt more easily to change compared to their younger, Millennial colleagues.
A workforce with diverse ages brings unique perspectives that can lead to more innovative and creative solutions. 
I believe this can help companies break free from the groupthink phenomenon, which in turn leads to better decision-making and ultimately a stronger and more competitive organization.
What is groupthink? Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, where the desire for harmony and conformity within the group leads to irrational or dysfunctional decision-making. It arises from the strong need for group cohesion, which often suppresses individual critical thinking and dissenting opinions. As a result, the group tends to minimize conflicts and reach a consensus without critically evaluating alternative ideas or viewpoints. Groupthink can have negative consequences, as it may lead to suboptimal decisions, a lack of innovation, and an inability to adapt to new challenges. To mitigate groupthink, it's important to encourage open communication, diverse perspectives, and constructive criticism within group settings.
Regrettably, some companies are struggling to break through from this scourge of groupthink. While 64 percent of CEOs claim to have implemented diversity and inclusion initiatives, a mere 8 percent consider age as part of their efforts, as per PwC research. 
In the end, a uniform workforce - even one predominantly comprised of highly coveted millennials—may inadvertently hinder innovation.
An older workforce is an inevitability
We live in a time of societal change, as well as an increasingly older population. The topic, therefore, of age discrimination and diversity is expected to only grow in prominence.
Many Baby Boomers and Generation X members, having faced financial challenges and employment gaps after the 2008 Great Recession, plan to work beyond the traditional retirement age. A May 2016 Gallup poll revealed that 31% of non-retired adults intend to remain employed until they are 68 or older.
This is also evident in the surge in age discrimination lawsuits.
Last year, accounting powerhouse PwC, faced a class-action lawsuit which alledged that the company's "aggressive" recruitment of college students and recent graduates was to the detriment of older job seekers. The verdict was that it amounted to age discrimination. 
Additionally, in October, a former female engineer at Verizon presented compelling evidence of Family and Medical Leave Act retaliation and age discrimination, resulting in a $454,000 verdict, including $165,000 for interest, attorney fees, and costs. 
Tech companies run the risk of legal action if failing to embrace the more inclusive, diverse workforce of the future.
Ultimately, recognizing the value of older software engineers and fostering age diversity will benefit not only the organization but also all employees, creating a more vibrant and supportive work culture! Not only that, an age-diverse work force can enhance innovation, productivity, and overall workplace environment.
Check out the next article in this series on what organizations can do to embracing the unique strengths of experienced professionals.