Finally, A Tech Company Ready To Tackle Ageism

Age discrimination in the tech industry is the "elephant in the room."
Aubrey Blanche of Atlassian calls age discrimination in Silicon Valley "the elephant in the room."
Aubrey Blanche of Atlassian calls age discrimination in Silicon Valley "the elephant in the room."
Photo by Sam Rollier

Software maker Atlassian has released data on the age breakdown of its employees in an effort to shine a light on age discrimination in the tech industry. The tech industry has long been criticized for its lack of gender and race diversity, but until recently age discrimination has been excluded from the conversation. Tech companies have been resistant to hire older workers -- or even to tell the world how few of them they have on staff. The median age of Facebook's staff is 28; Google's is 26, according to Payscale.

But then along came Atlassian -- offering a perspective on the value of having an age-diverse staff and promising to do even better. Of Atlassian's 1,500 employees, 13 percent are in their 40s and 2 percent are in their 50s. Nearly every team at least one person 40 or older.

The Huffington Post emailed with Aubrey Blanche, Atlassian's 27-year-old global head of diversity and inclusion, after it released its age data.

Question: Why did you add age to your diversity effort? What do you think older workers bring to the table?
A large part of our diversity strategy is focused on understanding, recognizing and celebrating the unique viewpoints and perspectives each person brings to our company.

Age is an important category because it plays a large role in shaping our identities and perspectives. It's also important to highlight given the obvious patterns, but lack of transparency about ageism in the tech industry. It's the elephant in the room.

The stereotype about who's successful in tech -- namely, younger, white men -- affects the way we interact with people who have more experience. It can cause people to think they're less creative and innovative, though we know that is not true. David Galenson, a researcher at the University of Chicago, showed that younger and older workers are innovative in different ways. In fact, older people tend to be better at solving more complex, deep-rooted problems, because they often have a deeper level of understanding of current systems gained over the course of their careers. It's when those very different ways of thinking come together, diversity of thought, that teams are able to reach their true potential.

Tech companies have been difficult nuts to crack for older workers. What do you think about the convention that considers older workers not very tech-savvy?

I'm young, and the most technical thing I do most days is send emails. The notion that older workers are not tech-savvy is an unfair stereotype. Software has been around for decades. Look at Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page. There are many generations of people with strong technical skills. Companies that don't recognize the value in the 40+ talent pool are robbing themselves of deeply rich experience that can make a big impact within a team and across a company.

Likely a big reason many tech companies skew young is because of the way they advertise their culture. Instead of focusing on stereotypical tech perks like ping pong and beer after work, we try to promote the type of benefits that attract a wider variety of candidates, such as great health insurance, Foundation Leave time or support for work-life balance.

What's it like for you to work in a mixed-age environment?

I'm 27, which is on the younger side for our company. It's clear to me that Atlassian is eager to hire people with extensive experience in addition to younger folks who are eager to learn and grow. Having the opportunity to work in such a mixed-age environment has made me a stronger contributor. I benefit immensely from the knowledge my co-workers bring, and they help me see things from a different perspective.

Creating that kind of environment is important for fostering highly effective teams, which is why I think our industry should start having more open, honest conversations about these issues. That's the only way we're going to be able to figure out how to effectively tackle these challenges.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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