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Youth over Age

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Submitted By duny
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Introduction Jim Fogle has worked in the technical sector for more than 30 years. He has held various positions within the same company throughout his career. During this time, he has witnessed the introduction of new technologies while countless others have gone obsolete. Although Fogle possesses several years of proven industry experience, his career path does not reflect his performance or skills. In fact, Fogle’s career has tended to move on a downward slope. Originally a member of the Engineering department, Fogle has found himself serving within progressively “lesser” roles. Twenty years ago, Fogle served as an area support manager and coordinated technical service and support over the Southeast region. Fifteen years ago, Fogle served as a trainer for contractors seeking product certification. Now in his mid-fifties, he provides over-the-phone support for a network of certified technicians. Each of Fogle’s positions has provided further insight into various aspects of the information technology industry. Fogle is also in a unique position as he is able to leverage knowledge of previous technologies in addition to that of current product lines. His situation; however, is an interesting paradox, as his career path has progressively moved him into positions with fewer opportunities for advancement rather those with upward mobility. Rarely, has Fogle been granted the opportunity to interview for a promotion. He has even been approached on occasion regarding early retirement or voluntary severance (J. Fogle, personal communication, August 12, 2006). When a primary goal of business is to achieve maximum efficiency by best utilizing its human resources, it may seem counterproductive to restrict the ability of an employee to contribute to organizational success based merely on age. This, however, appears to be an alarming trend within the information technology industry. This research will discuss the presence of age discrimination within the information technology industry, legal protection for its workers and viable solutions to deter discriminatory practices.
Age Discrimination within the Information Technology Sector The information technology sector requires that employees equip themselves with technical expertise, an ability to analytically and creatively assess situations, as well as the faculty to communicate effectively. Although formal certification and training may assist in building this foundation, mastery of these skills often comes through time and practice (Ormsbee, 2001). It then becomes curious that many companies within the IT sector prefer candidates below the age of thirty-five (Rosenthal, 2006). In a survey of over fifteen hundred employers, it was found that 59 percent of IT managers felt that they had been deprived of a career opportunity solely because of their age (Hadfield, 2006). Such examples include being overlooked for promotions, decreases in salary, and placement in undesirable positions. A closer inspection reveals that such behavior is rooted largely within bias and stereotypes. For example, management within the IT industry often perceive that older workers hold a negative view towards technology and are unable to learn new platforms. Although statistics collected in 2000 indicated that less than a third of American households headed by someone over 65 had Internet access, this does not show that every worker within this demographic is resistant to technology or incapable of learning how it may be applied (Charness, 2006). Data from the American Perceptions of Aging in the 21st Century survey indicates that while only 4 percent of people between 18 and 64 years of age felt that poor health was not a problem for people over 65, a striking 56 percent of individuals 65 and older felt that poor health was not a problem for them personally (Cutler, 2005). Additionally, there is the errant notion that older workers are inherently less productive than younger employees. Studies have proven that there is no negative correlation between age and employee performance. As employees get older, job performance across various professional and non-professional positions has been proven to hold steady (Judge and Judge, 2007, pg. 49 – 50). Despite evidence to the contrary, stereotypes and biased beliefs continue to permeate the information technology sector. This is partially due to the nature of the industry itself. Information technology companies are geared towards developing innovative technical products and services for businesses and consumers. Technology rapidly evolves and adapts to address society’s needs. For instance, the telephone gave way to the facsimile machine. This soon became virtually obsolete with the introduction of newer technologies such as email and instant messaging (Charness, 2006). Companies within the IT sector seek to maintain a workforce that reflects the youth and vigor of their technology. Sylvia Francis, a researcher of age discrimination, notes, “These industries are looking to match staff with their perceived young image, and once you hit 40 you no longer fit” (Computer Weekly, 2006). Older workers also tend to shun job postings or interviews referring to “young, dynamic” organizations or projects, as these descriptors infer an environment that prefers youth rather than experience (Goodwin, 2006). A 2001 survey illustrates the disparity in both staffing and average salaries for IT professionals. This survey consisted of 3,629 total respondents, of which 40 percent were over age forty. As Figure 1 shows, more than one-third of respondents over age forty held lower level staff positions while fewer members within that demographic were employed as midlevel or senior managers. Figures 2 shows the average salary for IT professionals as based on age and employment level. As illustrated, research suggests that salaries tend to peak during an IT worker’s mid-forties and generally decline thereafter.

Figure 1 – (InfoWorld, 2001)
Figure 2 –
Average IT Salaries by Age Group and Employment Level

Senior Managers Midlevel Managers Staff
Age 18 - 24 $ 101,807 $ 80,547 $ 67,580
Age 25 - 29 $ 113,243 $ 71,584 $ 57,264
Age 30 - 34 $ 108,013 $ 78,615 $ 66,569
Age 35 - 39 $ 109,013 $ 89,603 $ 71,475
Age 40 - 44 $ 111,477 $ 79,508 $ 70,739
Age 45 - 49 $ 132,792 $ 84,582 $ 70,220
Age 50 - 54 $ 114,816 $ 78,050 $ 81,108
Age 55+ $ 129,706 $ 75,619 $ 72,345

(InfoWorld, 2001)

Legal Protection Against Age Discrimination One of the basic tenets of modern business is the employment-at-will doctrine. According to this principle, both employees and employers are free to end any working relationship without notice or justification. Recent events; however, have led courts to challenge this prospect and legislators to develop laws to protect employees. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s led United States legislators to create laws to shield employees against discriminatory practices. Perhaps the most important of these statutes is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII prohibits “job discrimination against employees, applicants, and union members on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion and gender at any stage of employment” (Clarkson, Miller, Jentz and Cross, 2006, p. 693). Although this Act succeeded in defining many protected classes that are legally sheltered from discriminatory practices, it did not establish a means to prevent discrimination as based on an employee’s age. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, or ADEA, was designed to provide protection for individuals between forty and sixty-five years of age against discriminatory practices within the workplace. The goals of this legislation were:
“…to promote employment of the older worker based on ability rather than age; to prohibit arbitrary age discrimination in employment; and to help employers and employees find ways to meet problems arising from the impact of age on employment.”
(Burns, 1968)
Those organizations with more than twenty-five employees and are also engaged in interstate commerce fall within the scope of ADEA. This point is key to the information technology sector as it was not until 2003 that the Uniform Commercial Code was amended to include electronic business within the laws governing interstate commerce. As such, courts were previously left to dispute how exactly IT companies fit within the body of law controlling discriminatory business practices (Clarkson et al., 2006, p. 380). It should be noted that ADEA does not provide a guarantee of permanent employment. The ADEA only restricts the ability of an organization to use age as a basis for awarding or removing an economic opportunity. Furthermore, ADEA does not prohibit an employer from making shrewd business decisions, such as layoffs or severance, which are driven by the need for cost reduction. In some cases, older workers may inherently be targeted by such decisions as their tenure may place them within higher salary ranges. An example of this is shown in a case filed by eleven IT computer programmers against Siemens Energy & Automatic, Inc. The programmers alleged that they were unjustly removed and replaced by younger employees (Vaas, 1999). Additionally, older IT workers may find themselves without jobs as technological advances begin to automate tasks that once require skilled professionals (Patterson, 1997). The concepts within ADEA were extended by the enactment of the Age Discrimination Act in 1975. This law prohibits age discrimination within any organization that receives federal assistance or funding. Additionally, the Age Discrimination Act, or ADA, offers protection equally to young and old workers (Barrett and Tanner, 1981). This element is interesting as it provides protection in the instance that “reverse age discrimination” occurs. In some cases, young workers are passed over for promotions or receive lesser pay than that of more senior employees. Violations of age discrimination laws may be remedied through either restitution or damages. Restitution may include reinstatement to a position lost through a discriminatory decision. Compensatory damages may be awarded so that an employee may recoup lost a salary or increase. In some case, punitive damages are awarded as a punishment for an employer’s blatant violation of the law (Clarkson et al., p. 693). Although these remedies exist, it must be noted that the legal burden rests largely on the employee to prove that discriminatory actions truly occurred. For this reason, many IT workers believe that both ADEA and ADA provide shelter only in theory as practical application has proven otherwise (Ormsbee, 2001).
Solutions to Address Age Discrimination Management experts tend to agree that a diverse workforce contributes to organizational success. The benefits of a diverse pool of human resources include improved group decision-making and increased credibility with customers (Certo, 2006, p. 81). It is apparent that age discrimination runs counter to these objectives as it serves to create a homogeneous selection of employees (Kavanagh, 2003). Workers within the IT industry may utilize a number of strategies to deter such discriminatory practices. Training is key to addressing this issue. Technology and the professional certifications within the technical sector continuously evolve. Older workers must arm themselves with an updated knowledge base in an effort to level the playing field against younger recruits. Colleges often revise their curricula to reflect trends in technology; thus, college recruits become a source of candidates with current skills while older workers remain slightly disadvantaged. Continued education provides the required knowledge for older workers to remain competitive. Although this training may be expensive, some companies reimburse workers for partial or complete costs of instruction. Other organizations make hiring decisions contingent upon the completion of current technical certifications (Vaas, 1999). Older workers must also assume responsibility for combating the perceptions held against their demographic. Interview preparation and demonstration of a positive attitude may offset bias that is encountered during the recruitment process. Candidates should demonstrate their knowledge by including buzzwords or jargon related to current technology in all conversations with prospective employers. In addition, candidates should be receptive to the offer of part-time or contract work. Acceptance of such offers displays a willingness to perform and also provides an opportunity to demonstrate proficiency in various technical areas (York, 1998). Ironically, technology itself has been used to indirectly discriminate against older IT employees. Many large organizations use software to scan, store and filter resume information. It is suggested that candidates not volunteer any information that may be used in a discriminatory manner. Barb Gomolski, an analyst at the Gartner Institute, suggests that older workers include relevant job experience without reference to dates since software filters may be programmed to exclude resumes that contain years within a certain range. Likewise, references to outdated technology or programming languages should be omitted, as candidates may also be screened using this information (Vaas, 1999). Conclusion It is projected that 17 percent of the U.S. population will be older than 65 by 2020. With the retirement age rising, it is anticipated that a large portion of these individuals will remain within the workforce (Raths, 1999). Considering these statistics, it behooves both employers and employees to prepare to address issues facing older workers. The exclusion of workers from certain economic opportunities based on their age causes negative impacts on both employees and the organization. Older IT workers find themselves accepting positions outside of their field or those offering lower salaries due to the reluctance of companies to extend genuine proposals. Organizational efficiency, decision-making and innovation suffer when companies exclude the contributions offered by older workers. Moreover, the expenses of litigation relative to violations of ADEA or ADA can be quite costly for both parties. It is wise for companies to avoid accusations of discrimination by sensitizing themselves to the feelings of all groups. Rob Ghio, head of labor and employment at Arter & Hadden, proposes a straightforward test to detect age discrimination. Ghio suggests that any reference to “young” or “old” be replaced by the word “black”. Since individuals are more sensitive to racism versus age discrimination, this substitution will reveal whether discriminatory policies exist and require attention (Ormsbee, 2001). There are practical ways to address age discrimination within the IT sector. Continued education and training provides the skills necessary for older workers to remain competitive within the labor market. Older workers must also directly address the negative perceptions held towards their group through open communication and a shift in their own behavior. The behavior of older workers may contribute to a self-fulfilling prophecy that inhibits their ability to perform as expected. Technology and the IT workforce are evolving and maturing. IT organizations must find methods to address the needs of an aging workforce. The proper combination of youth and experience may provide the environment required to remain competitive in a global arena. This point is echoed by Sylvia Francis, who states, “Ultimately, employers are going to have to recruit older people because the economy will not be able to function without them” (Computer Weekly, 2006). Those organizations that fail to recognize this challenge may find themselves unable to contend over the long run.

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