Strategic CIO // Team Building & Staffing
Commentary
7/7/2014
09:06 AM
Susan Nunziata
Susan Nunziata
Commentary
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Too Old To Earn Big In IT?

If you're feeling like your IT career has passed its 'sell by' date, you're not alone, according to the results of our latest flash poll.

When we asked in a recent flash poll if you've witnessed age discrimination in IT, we never imagined that nearly 70% of you would respond with a resounding "Yes."

In the poll, "Has Your IT Career Passed Its 'Sell By' Date?," conducted between June 23 and July 1, 40.62% of the 901 respondents said they've seen age discrimination in IT. Another 29.19% said they've been victims of it. Only 30.19% of poll respondents said they haven't witnessed age discrimination in IT.

Before we delve into this topic, let's define age discrimination.

According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), "Age discrimination involves treating someone (an applicant or employee) less favorably because of his age." (For more on age discrimination laws outside the US, click here.)

The US federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act applies to people age 40 or older. Those younger than 40 aren't protected by federal age discrimination law, though state laws vary. The federal law "forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment." It's also illegal to harass someone age 40 or older because of his or her age, according to the EEOC, which clarifies:

Although the law doesn't prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that aren't very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted). The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.

Let's look at our flash poll responses again in light of those definitions of age discrimination: 263 of the respondents said that not only have they witnessed age discrimination IT, they have experienced it firsthand.

How is age discrimination manifesting itself in IT?

The 2014 InformationWeek Salary Survey, which received more than 11,000 responses from IT staffers and managers, shows that median base IT salaries peak at around age 46 before flattening out for staffers and declining 3.36% for managers.

Table 1: What is your annual base salary?

Age Range IT Staff % Change from Prior Age Range IT Management % Change from Prior Age Range
25 or younger $57,000 N/A $58,000 N/A
26-35 $73,000 +28.07% $92,000 +58.62%
36-45 $88,000 +20.55% $112,000 +21.74%
46-55 $93,000 +5.68% $119,000 +6.25%
Over 55 $94,000 +1.07% $115,000 (-3.36%)
Base: 5,945 IT staff and 5,717 IT managers. Source: InformationWeek 2014 US IT Salary Survey, February 2014.

We already know that plenty of you are dissatisfied with your salary. Can we view the above salary plateau as an indication of ageism in IT, and yet another reason to be unhappy with your compensation? Are the steep increases in compensation early in one's earning years a normal part of the career trajectory? Should we accept that these increases ought to get smaller as one grows older and climbs the career ladder, simply because it's financially impossible for an organization not to contain salaries to a certain level overall?

The flattening of salaries by age range maps to national data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In first quarter 2014, the BLS reports, median weekly salaries for those age 25 to 34 was $727 ($37,804 a year), increasing 22.5% to $891 ($46,332 a year) for those age 35 to 44 before leveling off in the $800-to-$900-a-week range for those age 45 and older.

Is lack of job movement partly to blame for the flattening of salaries as one ages? IT staffers responding to the InformationWeek 2014 Salary Survey report a median of 18 years in the field, while IT managers report a median of 20 years. IT staffers report being in their current positions for a median of seven years; managers, a median of eight years. One third of staffers (66%) and nearly three quarters of managers (74%) say they've worked at only one or two companies in the past 10 years.

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Susan Nunziata works closely with the site's content team and contributors to guide topics, direct strategies, and pursue new ideas, all in the interest of sharing practicable insights with our community. Nunziata was most recently Director of Editorial for ... View Full Bio
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DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
7/7/2014 | 5:56:53 PM
Re: The ADEA field of dreams
Yep ADEA not IDEA of 1967 sorry about that typo.
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
7/7/2014 | 5:54:04 PM
Re: The IDEA field of dreams
@DDURBIN1: Thanks for the additional information. Just to clarify: You are referring to ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act)? My understanding is that IDEA is the acronym for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Please let me know if I'm missing another law that I should be paying attention to!

To add to your point, here's an interesting article from Bloomberg last month about a change in IBM's policies regarding employees over age 45 who are :

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-05-12/old-fired-at-ibm-trendsetter-offers-workers-arbitration.html

While the article focuses on IBM, it also includes some interesting stats overall (again, these are not specific to the tech sector but give us additional insight into the scope of age discrimination in the U.S):

Age-discrimination claims filed with the EEOC rose 29 percent to 21,396 in 2013 from 16,548 in 2006. The EEOC enforces federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against an employee or a job applicant for a variety of reasons, including race, religion, and age if the person is over 40. The organization investigates discrimination claims, works to settle charges and has the authority to file a lawsuit.

And..

Workers in employment discrimination cases win against their employers about 21 percent of the time in arbitration cases, less than the 36 percent win rate in federal court, according to a Cornell University study that analyzed 1,213 arbitration cases from 2003 to 2007. These statistics didn't include cases that were settled, which is about 59 percent of arbitration cases and 70 percent for litigation.
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
7/7/2014 | 5:38:29 PM
Re: There's always
@Rich: Yeah, but it's freakin cold in Russia!

:)
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
7/7/2014 | 5:37:12 PM
Re: Let them Know
@sferguson1001: I'm not a lawyer, so I can only answer your questions anecdotally. Based on some of the other comments here and conversations I've had off hte record with people, age discrimination is extremely difficult to prove in court and even more difficult to win such cases. if harassment is added to the mix, it does become a bit easier as harassment laws are somewhat tougher. Even then, though, it can be expensive and painful for the claimant. The most egregious cases are often settled out of court because a company will want to avoid the bad PR of a lawsuit.

The more cut-and-dry one's situation is, the easier it is to handle. For example, let's say you are an IT employee aged 50something, and you have a 30something colleague who is constantly harassing you and making disparaging age-related comments, creating a hostile work environment. In that case, if you have an enlightened manager and HR dept, you can file a complaint and be protected by anti-harassment laws.

However, what I'm seeing and hearing about is more of a systemic ageism that pervades the entire tech culture, and that is something that is extremely difficult to prove in court.

 

 
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
7/7/2014 | 5:25:27 PM
Re: Age discrimination DOES exist
@BigUglyMike: Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I'm sorry you had to go through that, and based on what I hear you are definitely NOT alone in what you went through in the latter part of your career. Major kudos to you for not letting it keep you down, and for staying busy and current even during the period after your layoff. I was unaware of that rule about layoffs of over 100 people, good to know.

What advice do you have for others in our community who are in a similar situation in their careers?
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
7/7/2014 | 4:46:17 PM
Re: The ADEA field of dreams

The Supreme Court's IBM rulings on ADEA affect all industries.  The Supreme Court has given corporations a free ride to displace older workers whether a sales agent, marketing manager, purchasing buyer, or an engineer.  IT workers, however, are hit with a double whammy as technology changes every 5 years or less.  Most employers nowadays resist investing in IT employees making aging IT workers face out dated skills when shown the door.   Even if their skills are up to date, it is still hard for 40 plus IT workers (and other careers) to find a job regardless.  I believe one of the key reasons for this is self-insured healthcare coverage.   Most corporations have healthcare coverage that's self-insured where they pay healthcare bills out of their own pockets and the risk is spread only over the corporation's employee base, not spread over a nationwide health insurance company such as Blue Cross Blue Shield.   BCBS, Humana and others are just the paper shuffler for these corporations.   So I don't see things' improving for older workers until Congress puts more muscle in IDEA and solves the problem with corporations' efforts to reduce their healthcare cost risks by displacing and not hiring older workers.  I don't see either happening anytime soon as Congress and the Supreme Court have been more pro-business than pro-citizen for the past 30 years.

sferguson10001
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sferguson10001,
User Rank: Moderator
7/7/2014 | 3:23:47 PM
Re: Let them Know
@Susan: is there any sense from the readers, or the surveys that you write about, of people going to actually complain about this in a legal way? Do IT managers have conversations with the HR department about these issues? Do they try and bring a lawsuit against the employer when discriminated against? How hard is it to prove what people are saying?
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
7/7/2014 | 2:46:24 PM
Re: Let them Know
@Gary_EL: That flattening of salaries is indeed disturbing, and of course it is based on a median. There are also variables such as region of the country that are not accounting for. Nonethelss, overall it's quite evident that there is a hard stop to one's earning potential in IT, and anyone who has incurred educational debt should be aware that the opportunities to earn do have their limits. I am ambivalent about these results. On the one hand, it depresses me that those over 45 don't appear to have any great opportunities for advancement. On the other hand, I can see where a company would need to create some baseline limits for salaries across an organizaiton, so perhaps those over 45 are just hitting the ceiling as far as earnings opportunites go in the field.

What interests me most about our salary survey results is the  number of people who have served in positions outside of IT, and I think that as we move to an increasingly digital business model, those who begin their careers in tech may have more oportunities than those who came before them to cross over to the business side of things. One CIO friend of mine was named VP of Sales at his organization when he was in his late 40s because of the work he'd done improving sales operations thru tech.
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
7/7/2014 | 2:38:52 PM
Re: The IDEA field of dreams
@Ariella: I've heard similar stories, and across many different industries. Though it seems particularly acute and perhaps more blatant in tech these days. Your friend has  my sympathies, and I find it rather ridiculous that one is not valued for their experience. The assumption I see made also is that older employees are not as agile and flexible in their thinking and in my experience that is 100% NOT the case. I've encountered employees of all ages who were agile and I've encountered plenty of younger employees who were extremely rigid in their thinking and completely in capable of ciritical thinking or function on their own without being told what to do.

Job Perfromance has so much more to do with mindset and attitude than it does with physical age. And that is true for all geneations.
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
7/7/2014 | 2:34:10 PM
Re: The IDEA field of dreams
@DDURBIN1: And if that's not depressing enough, have you seen this: "The Brutal Ageism of Tech."

In reseraching this piece, I fell down a rabbit hole in looking at laws in other countries related to ageism. The general consensus in the legal profession is that the U.S. has some of the best age discrimination laws in the world! No small consolation considering the examples you site, and the stories I hear anecdotally any day.

In my experience these issues are not exclusive to IT; I know folks of all job descriptions over 40 who have suffered career slumps or outright unemployment since 1999. Anecdotally specaking the economic upheaval of the early 2000s seems to have affected the over-40 population very dramaticlaly, despite the slightly more positive picture painted by the recent employment stats.

Do you think we'll see a turaround as the economy improves? Will experience every have value again in our tech economy?
<<   <   Page 5 / 6   >   >>
2014 US Salary Survey: 10 Stats
2014 US Salary Survey: 10 Stats
InformationWeek surveyed 11,662 IT pros across 30 industries about their pay, benefits, job satisfaction, outsourcing, and more. Some of the results will surprise you.
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