Strategic CIO // Team Building & Staffing
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7/7/2014
09:06 AM
Susan Nunziata
Susan Nunziata
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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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TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
7/9/2014 | 10:33:24 AM
Re: There's always
I think the 800 lb gorilla here is whether age in IT causes a decline in performance. Can older IT workers keep up with similarly skilled 30 year olds?

IT is not football, no physical requirements, but here is an analogy which makes my point. I live in Green Bay now and not that long ago they dumped "old" Brett Favre for young Aaron Rodgers. Wasn't that really age discrimination also? The difference is that you can measure the decline in performance much easier in football. IT performance is a very difficult thing to quantify, especially when comparing IT people.

So you can see HR's logic when they have to choose between two IT people with similar skills, why not take younger one, they should have more energy and longevity. Hard to say they are wrong.

As older IT worker, you have to be pragmatic. I have cousin who works for Microsoft. 10-15 years ago, he was always trying to talk me into joining MS, even though I'm an ERP guy who has always worked with IBM servers. Back then, MS would have no concerns retraining me to whatever they wanted me to do for them. Now at 56, that would make absolutely no sense whatsoever. And that would not be age discrimination on MS part, just common sense.

I made sure when I picked this company I'm at now (12 years ago) that they were financially viable to get me to retirement. I knew I would become less and less employable as I reached and crossed 50. Right or wrong, it is a fact of life we have to deal with and I don't expect laws from government can ever fix it.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
7/9/2014 | 7:06:20 AM
Re: The IDEA field of dreams
"However, despite the match on paper, he didn't look or act like any of the other people in that organization."

 

Personality can be a very big factor when you have a tight knit work group.  I've been part of a group that got along very well and the core of the group shared many interests.  Other employees kind of floated around the edges and while we didn't shun them they didn't mesh as well as others and those that didn't mesh did tend to leave sooner than those who did mesh well.  When interviewing I try to assess personality because people here will eat someone alive if they are the tentative type. 

 
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Ninja
7/9/2014 | 1:42:12 AM
Re: Wisdom comes with time
SusanN,

I used to know more about corporate culture in Japan, or at least, the knowledge was fresh. Now it has been dormant for many moons. However, I never knew for sure the age-earnings correlation and I never wondered about it until now that it was triggered by your article and a connection to some other things I recently read about Japan and gave me the idea that I should visit that part of the world one day.

I did a quick research now; it seems like when in a meeting in Japan the initial comments you make are always directed to the highest-ranking person in the room, to whom one always gives him/her due attention. 

The business culture in Japan values its elders for the wisdom and experience they bring to the company. The older the person, the more important he is. 

I found this corporate contrast between US and Japanese companies interesting. I can't find what we are looking for, though. :/ I will ask a couple of people I know who have been working in Japan; they might know. 

-SusanF 
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
7/8/2014 | 8:04:24 PM
Re: Too Old To Earn BIg In IT
These cases are extremely hard to prove - it used to be that if your company got rid of someone older than 50 and replaced them with someone younger it was presumed to be an age thing.  Now, since older folks typically are higher on the pay scale, the company can claim they are cost-cutting.

So these days, the discrimination has to be flagrant and overt.  Most people, not all, but most, aren't that stupid to say or write those things where it can come back and bite them.
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
7/8/2014 | 7:49:17 PM
Re: Tw o Comments
@Technocrati: I would add that in many organizations H.R. has really been defanged and is seen as nothing more than the place that administers benefits and handles 401K. That was certainly true in most of the places I have worked in the past 15 years or so, though I'm happy to say not so in my current company. I would love to do further study of this, and really chase down the numbers. I wonder if it's also the case that the laws concerning sexual harassment are more encompassing or clear than those concerning age discrimination. is there a lawyer in the house? 
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
7/8/2014 | 7:21:24 PM
Re: There's always

@TerryB     I see your point and congratulations  that you can even consider retirement, but for most - they will be working until their dying day and that is why the issue of Age discrimination is more important than ever. 

Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
7/8/2014 | 7:17:45 PM
Re: Tw o Comments

@S.N     I do think age discrimination is easier to ignore.   And just because it is ignored  doesn't mean the issue doesn't exist or loose it 's moral weight.   But often most H.R. department ignore this aspect as well.   

 The department is so hypocritical when it comes to this issue, if H.R. is going to deal with issues, don't just pick the easy ones.  

I am beginning to think that maybe there is a correlation between the number of harassment cases to the actual structure of most H.R. departments today, which are comprised of mostly women.  

What topics does one think this group will be well versed in ?   Age Discrimination ?  or Sexual  harassment ?

As they say,  "the numbers don't lie".  

Following this logic, unless a older person has been sexually harassed, then he or she should not expect too much more that "lip service" from their H..R. department.  

I often think my view towards H.R. is too tough or perhaps even unfair.   That they really are just doing a job, but who truly gate-keeps ?     

 

No-one.  And that is the problem.

Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
7/8/2014 | 7:14:48 PM
Re: The IDEA field of dreams
@SaneIT: Yikes, let us be grateful we don't all work in pharmaceutical sales. Judgment based on physical appearance is definitely rampant in entertainment and marketing industries as well, hence the botox. I don't think the problem of ageism in IT is one that based on physical appearance so much as preconceived notions about attitude. I've also found that the less experienced a manager is, the more likely they are to hire someone who is like them. As the saying goes, like-hires-like. I connected a male friend with a job opportunity that I thought would be perfect for his skill set. However, despite the match on paper, he didn't look or act like any of the other people in that organization. I can't say for sure the issue was his age, and nobody would ever say that, such things are often glossed over as the person not being the right fit for a culture.

 
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
7/8/2014 | 7:04:15 PM
Re: There's always
@TerryB: apologies if I have confused you. I rarely "police" the chat around my articles however there were some comments being made that didn't do anything to advance the overall discussion here and so I made the decision to remove them. @Rich and I discussed it offline and rest assured we're still friends.

:)

To your greater points, I admire your spirit and you're probably applying the logic that corporations apply in general toward persons-of-a-certain-age. I see it as a slippery slope, though. What age becomes too close to retirement?

In your case, I'd say 10 years is a good long time, why not promote you? How much could others in your organziation learn from you in the years that you choose to continue working? And how do we know when anyone is really close to being done?

I, for one, expect to be working well into my 80s, given the state of my 401K and our national social security outlook...

 
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
7/8/2014 | 6:53:03 PM
Re: Too Old To Earn BIg In IT
@zerox203: The loopholes in the laws do seem quite glaring, and some countries do not limit their age discrimination laws to those over age 40. In general, what I'm seeing is that while we are all agreeing that age discrimination is very real in the workplace, it's rarely cut and dry enough to make it an easy case to prove. And now that we have a Supreme Court eager to recognize corporations as "people" I'm rather alarmed thinking about what the future will hold.
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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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