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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Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
7/7/2014 | 10:53:12 PM
Re: Tw o Comments

@Number 6     I agree with second point.  Age discrimination is rampant and certainly not exclusive to IT, but the point you make about H.R. is one of my pet peeves - H.R. is always spouting about the rights of employees, particularly in terms of perceived harassment - but age discrimination, oh well that is the elephant in the room that they quietly condone.

Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
7/7/2014 | 8:00:41 PM
Re: There's always
@rich: I'm flattered that you see us as youthful. I won't reveal my colleagues ages, they're welcome to do that on their own if they want. I assure you that I am well within the age range allegedly protected under ADEA. 
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
7/7/2014 | 7:55:38 PM
Know the Law
If you're interested in hearing more from an attorney on this topic, please check out our archived radio show "Age Discrimination in IT: Know the Law," featuring employment attorney Monrae L. English. 

Extremely useful information during the audio session and the text chat. She says:

The cases that make it to court have to do with the firing process...
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
7/7/2014 | 7:44:33 PM
Re: There's always
@Rich, no need to rag on my colleagues here. let's keep the discussion focused on useful info, ok? 
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
7/7/2014 | 7:28:40 PM
Re: There's always
@Rich: We'd love to add a few more, except it's illegal to employ 12-year-olds in the U.S. right now.
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
7/7/2014 | 6:00:58 PM
Re: The IDEA field of dreams
@DDURBIN!: NP, thanks for clarifying. We could get another heated discussion going about IDEA-which also falls short according to parents i know. But that's a topic for another day. Thanks for all the info you're sharing, it's really an important topic and good to know the many extenuating factors we're facing.

I have to say since the 2000s, my own career has been less than linear, more like a series of peaks and valleys. Having also spent time working in the entertainment and marketing media I knew people who were getting botox on or before their 30th birthdays. One young woman I worked with then said "It's never too early to start!"

I wonder if these issues are uniquely American--is it because our culture is youth-obsessed in general? Do other cultures have more repsect for their elder employees?
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.

 

 
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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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