The Cover Up: Age Discrimination in Silicon Valley

Recently the head of Global Marketing for Linkedin, Nicolas Draca, was asked in an interview by CNET ( reported by VentureBeat) about his approach to hiring, and he was quoted as saying, “Don’t be afraid to hire young”.

Wow – What a bold move!  How courageous!  How different and unique!  Not being afraid to hire young, white males in Silicon Valley – imagine that!

The average age on on Mr. Draca’s team is only 24 – young even by the standards of Silicon Valley, widely known for its ageism.  When asked about his young staff Draca’s response was both lame and nonsensical. “it’s tough to find talent,” he said, so “limiting to seasoned professionals would just make hiring impossible”.

A Brilliant Plan

Not to worry, however, Linkedin, like Google and Facebook before them, have a brilliant plan for dealing with their fetish for certain demographics. They now simply publish the data on the racial, ethnic and gender makeup of their workforce publicly.   This allows them to claim that they are being “transparent” and to appear to be taking action, even though this does nothing to directly address the actual issue.  It basically just reports on the issue and pushes it off to some future management to be accountable for the problem.  This gives executives like Draca the freedom to continue to build their teams of twenty somethings.

Now, even if you want to believe that the tech companies are sincere in their effort to become more diverse, and this “numbers centric” approach is what they believe will really work, there is still a HUGE problem with this – and VentureBeat report is actually the first time I have seen it mentioned:

NONE OF THE TECH COMPANIES INCLUDE AGE IN THEIR NUMBERS!!!!

I am sorry that I had to yell, but I was astounded that none of the tech press picked up on this. See for yourself – here is the report Google did: http://goo.gl/HJ0bGd, Facebook http://goo.gl/MEaxkq and most recently Linkedin http://goo.gl/yMWlXb

Seeing what isn’t there

On our Google+ profile we were once asked to name our “superpower” and I proudly listed mine as “seeing what isn’t there”.  It is a skill I read about years ago – it’s a Zen Buddhist thing I think, a skill said to be highly valued by Japanese business people, and I really do think I am pretty good at it.  When those “diversity reports” were coming out I was was astounded that age data would be missing from a demographic report and none of the tech press seemed to even notice. Why wasn’t it there? It was so obvious to me that it seemed it must be deliberate – like something was being purposely hidden.

Even more amazing, many in the tech media used these charts to compare the tech companies to each other – rather than society at large, or at least other similar industries – like this one from TechCrunch. Am I missing something or isn’t the media doing exactly what the tech giants must have wanted?  – comparing the tech giants  to each other, i.e. “We are better than Google” – which is actually what Linkedin bragged about in its report. This is like letting the worst offenders in some criminal activity – say bank robbers – publish statistical reports  so they can be compared to other bank robbers, “Hey, isn’t this cool! – I committed way fewer bank robberies this year than those other bank robbers”.

It is of no matter – the smokescreen was launched – the tech press took the bait and did exactly what they were expected to do and the operation was a success. Everyone got to wag their fingers at the tech giants and say “you’re bad – not diverse at all” – then go on to non-stories or even misleading stories comparing the tech giants  to each other. The actual “problem” has now been kicked into the future so they can keep happily hiring teams with an average age of 24 while an equally big – maybe bigger problem has  been effectively hidden from view – perhaps forever.

Collusion, or just a coincidence?

This latest report by Linkedin is where it hit me – something smells fishy about this. It is just too much of a coincidence that three of the major tech companies have issued almost identical “diversity” reports, and all three have been missing something screamingly obvious – any mention at all of age, or even an explanation as to why it is missing. This almost seems like collusion-  it is almost certainly a cover up.  That is not being inflammatory. A supposedly scientific and objective report containing demographic information, and key demographic information is missing with no explanation.  That is a cover up in my book.

The real question is “why?” – and “what are they trying to hide?”. A young workforce does not necessarily mean age discrimination, and they may have valid reasons for not hiring older workers. So why are they hiding the data? I have been in online discussions with fairly high level employees at Google where I voiced my opinion but most of them couldn’t “because of legal issues’. I mentioned that the average age at Google was only 29 and that was among the youngest in the industry. I made it clear that I wasn’t accusing Google of age discrimination – but that I did believe they are “unnaturally young” and that in fact it showed at times. The point is I really had no way of knowing whether Google was doing this or not – I simply didn’t have the data or information, and with the release of these reports, I still don’t.

A Preponderance of Evidence

Now, having come to the conclusion there is some kind of cover up here, I have to change my mind on the age discrimination assumption as well.  It is now fair to conclude that a “preponderance of evidence” is showing that companies like Google really are discriminating by age. Why else would they be hiding this data? In fact, how did three different tech companies come to the same decision to release data about race, gender and ethnicity but withhold data about age? If there is some policy or legal justification they should disclose that but I don’t believe there is. The fact that the very thing they are suspected of “age discrimination” is the area where the data is “missing” is more than a little suspicious.

As I understand it, the spirit with which they released these diversity reports was that by honestly laying this data on the table, they could learn why this was happening and then figure out ways to address it. Why can’t they do the same for their age data? Is there something so dark and terrible in those numbers that we must not be allowed to see them?

Maybe the truth is that the tech companies simply don’t like older workers – that they are harder to manipulate or something, or maybe they think they are simply not smart enough, or their skills will never be up to date. Maybe, in fact – and this might be the real truth – that older workers have been “written off” by the tech giants.

Occam’s razor, the simplest explanation is probably the right one.   The data is “missing” because the tech giants don’t want to solve this problem –  and they don’t care.  They may want to improve their racial and gender makeup – otherwise they just wouldn’t be cool – , but they want older workers to ” just go away”.  It is possible, of course, that they are making some efforts in this area, but as long as they withhold this information, it is reasonable to assume that the companies issuing these reports really are practicing age discrimination.

 Legitimizing Age Discrimination

In the explanation accompanying the Google diversity report they said the following:

We’re not where we want to be when it comes to diversity. And it is hard to address these kinds of challenges if you’re not prepared to discuss them openly, and with the facts.All of our efforts, including going public with these numbers, are designed to help us recruit and develop the world’s most talented and diverse people.

Google seems to be “leading” the way on this, but by withholding this data they are not helping – and in fact they seem to be going further down the road “legitimatizing” age discrimination – to the point where it is now widely accepted in Silicon Valley.  That is the really unfortunate thing about this – people seem to look at these companies as leaders, but in this case they are leading us in the wrong direction.

If this was just them showing their bigotry and could be contained to Silicon Valley  it would be one thing, but they have already done a great deal to make age discrimination “the norm” and acceptable in our society.   Now, by making it clear that older workers are so unimportant they should not even be counted they are doing huge amount of damage, and someone needs to say something.

Time to Come Clean

Let’s hope they do the right thing and release this data – if they do, the other tech companies will likely follow suit. If they don’t – the tech press, needs to realize they have been played on this, and they need to point out at every turn that those “diversity reports” are in fact bogus, and are missing a major chunk of the human race.  It is way past time for Google, Facebook, Linkedin and the other tech giants in Silicon Valley to come clean on this.

 

Tags: