Ageism: Did Big Blue purge its older workers?
A shrinking IBM stands accused in a lawsuit of firing as many as 100,000 employees, targeting older workers, said Olivia Carville in Bloomberg.com. The suit, filed by a 61-year-old from Texas who worked at the company for 24 years, charges the company systematically got rid of older workers over several years to “boost its appeal to Millennials.” A former vice president of human resources backed the claims in a deposition, saying that IBM is grappling with “talent recruitment problems” and determined that one way to show Millennials it was not “an old fuddy-duddy organization” was to fire older workers. IBM’s consulting department told managers that Millennials were “generally much more innovative and receptive to technology.” The HR exec said IBM was trying to compete for young workers with Amazon and Google. Ironically, Google itself just paid out $11 million “to settle the claims of 227 people who say they were unfairly denied jobs because of their age,” said Timothy Lee in ArsTechnica.com. In 2013, the median age of Google employees was 29.
Isn’t it true that Millennials want flexible work schedules, while all Baby Boomers don’t know how to text? asked Rice University professor Eden King in the Harvard Business Review. Well, no. The evidence for generational differences in preferences and values is actually quite limited. But biases and stereotypes remain. We ran one study asking “undergraduates to train another person on a computer task using Google’s chat function.” We varied whether the trainer or trainee appeared to be old or young using photographs and voice-modifying software. “When trainers believed that they were teaching an older person how to do the computer task, they had lower expectations and provided worse training than when they believed they were teaching a young person.” The problem wasn’t the age or abilities of a worker; it was the stereotypes held by the trainer.
Even after successful age discrimination lawsuits, “the wheels of justice sometimes turn more slowly than usual,” said Paula Span in The New York Times. Consider the case of two veteran language teachers at Ohio State University. “Both instructors had felt forced to retire in 2014, years before they had intended,” after administrators had “made disparaging remarks about age in emails and office discussions.” Last summer, the university settled the age discrimination lawsuit, reinstating both teachers with back pay and benefits. But Ohio State has moved slowly on other important elements of the settlement, such as a pledge to amend the university’s process for handling future ageism complaints. Delays and apathy with regard to reform are why “correcting institutional biases can take years.” ■