We had a raging response to Timothy Huckabee’s article, “Older workers fall into consulting’s ‘gray’ area.” Our reader mailbox was virtually stuffed, and the discussion forum was hopping. An overwhelming response came from members who have experienced age discrimination, but some had suggestions for winning the battle or unique points of view. Read on to find out what your colleagues had to say.

Same old story, same old song
Most members related incidents of age discrimination in their own lives. One typical story came from Jenkins Ebiware, a systems administrator:

“I have been a victim of high-hope interviews and looking forward to that phone call with an offer that never comes. My experience is similar to the author’s. I interviewed with one of the big grocery chains in the country [for] an NT/SQL Administrator [position]. Went through three interview processes and got no call back. I knew the job opening they had to offer inside out. After about six weeks of waiting, I decided to call one of the junior managers I interviewed with, and he was frank enough to tell me the job went to a younger guy even though, in his opinion, he wasn’t as qualified as me.”

Bob Foshay wrote us with a similar lament, but said he was going to make it known that he was aware of the discrimination the next time he encountered an obvious case of bias.

“I think I am going to carry a copy of your article to interviews,” he wrote. “And when there is no doubt the interviewer is passing over my qualifications because of age, I’ll hand him or her the article and politely excuse myself, stating I have a more pressing engagement.”

Even the IT professionals who aren’t looking for new employment indicated that they felt the sting of ageism. One 55-year-old member wrote to tell us that his age and gray hair tainted his coworkers’ perceptions of him:

“In my current position, it is assumed that I’m waiting for an ‘early-out’ package, just waiting to retire. Is this just paranoia? I’ve got nine years as an Oracle DBA… and experience with Oracle ERP applications, but it is the younger DBAs who get the retention bonuses as well as ‘salary-positioning’ raises.”

Member says you reap what you sow
Why has this ageism become so prevalent? One suggestion came from a 37-year-old member BIFROST_CA, who is struggling to join the IT sector:

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t youth unemployment of the late 80s and early 90s (a period of ‘expenditure rationalization’ and ‘downsizing’) exacerbated by skilled baby boomers hanging on to jobs traditionally vacated to youth and the inexperienced? There is a harvest, for better or worse, to the collective decisions baby boomers have made…”

But Alan Wild wrote us to say that the baby boomers should unite and revolt.

“This blatant age discrimination cuts across all industries,” he wrote. “The baby boom generation has always swung a pretty big stick. As we move solidly into our 50s, we will reach a time when we are sick of discrimination and start doing something about it. HR managers nationwide must either cut out this unnecessary bias or end up looking down the barrel of some nasty new laws and/or expensive class action lawsuits. Either change now or bite a big bullet later. …Perhaps this age bias seems fair turnaround to disgruntled x-gen and echo-gen folks!”

Once bitten, twice shy
One member, who asked to be called Ageless in Seattle, wrote in to say that although he has recently felt held back by his burden of having lived 57 years, he could also see the “flip side.” As a software development manager of a PC hardware firm—and an advocate of equal opportunities for seniors—he hired a C programmer who graduated from college in 1953, “before there was such a thing as a computer science department.

“He talked a pretty good game in the interview, had good references, but once on the job, he was unable to perform acceptably. Basically, he could write new code that ’worked,’ but couldn’t read and assimilate others’ more ’stylish’ and modern code, nor follow the company’s programming standards. He just didn’t get it.

“Sadly, we had to let him go, which was emotionally much more difficult— knowing that he would probably never work in the industry again—than firing a 25-year-old with lots of lateral opportunity. As a manager, I took a hit for a bad recruiting decision that I never fully recovered from…”

Foreign workers cause concern for American IT pros
Many members were in agreement with the points raised in the article by Dr. Norman Matloff, a computer science professor at the University of California, who contends that claims of major labor shortages made by the Information Technology Association of America are just a hidden agenda perpetuated by the ITAA to leverage Congress to increase the yearly quota of H-1B work visas—under which employers import thousands of young programmers to the United States each year. Much of the discussion and e-mail we received suggested that there were plenty of IT pros with excellent skills ready to go to work, but that employers would rather hire younger, cheaper labor.

Tom Jones, an American CSC working as a defense contractor in Germany, wrote in to say that he has uprooted himself due to his graybeard status.

“It seems incredible that we have to leave U.S. soil to find fairness in the marketplace as we grow older, but that does describe my experience. I could never, in my opinion, find as good a job as I have now anywhere in the civilian job market of the United States of America. On the other hand, we of the Vietnam generation have been pretty tough overall at surviving. I think this is just one more challenge.

“I will also add that the Europeans are having the exact same experience. I have read many articles in the German press by aging German IT workers decrying the exact same prejudicial hiring of less educated and less experienced applicants or less expensive immigrants brought into the country under the equivalent of the H1-B quotas. So it is not an ‘American’ statistic only.”

Another member wrote to say that it all boils down to the almighty dollar.

“I’m with a company now, Internet (of course), that has half of the IT staff as contractors from India,” he wrote. “Naturally, they are also young, most aren’t married and don’t have children, and work any hours they are called on to do. Almost all of the rest are young American workers…

“Although, I haven’t personally seen any stark examples [of discrimination] as written in the article, …most of it has to do with who will work longest for the lowest salaries. An additional question is, ’Are American IT professionals being priced out of the job market, or is the rapid influx of foreign workers just a case of internal [American] supply not keeping up with demand?’”
If you’re responsible for the hiring at your firm, what are the issues behind hiring foreign workers? Will your “native” staff resent their presence? Should you expect foreign workers to integrate themselves into your work culture or let them do things their way? Tell us how it is! Send us an e-mail, or post your comments below.