Diversity v. Experience in Silicon Valley
I had too much history...
is thriving in Silicon Valley.
In Silicon Valley, there are precious
few jobs available for high-tech workers right now. In the past
two years, hundreds of companies have folded and many thousands
of workers have been laid off. Many who came here in the late 90's
for the dot-com rush are gone. Some have gone back to Iowa. Many
more have gone back to India.
Earlier this year, I was laid off for the second time in two years. I
began reviewing job openings in my field. Im a technical writer,
and I have more than 20 years of experience.
First, I looked at companies I knew. I found one that was looking for
a technical writer. I reviewed the job description, and it closely matched
my skills and experience. I clearly met the requirements listed for the
job. And I was interested in working for this company. Two years ago
when I was first laid off this company was looking for a technical
writer, and I sent them my résumé. They didnt respond.
So I sent a cover letter and a copy of my résumé. My cover
letter indicated that I was familiar with the company and its products,
and that I had lots of experience in its market. My résumé
testified to it all. And I sent along a link to my Web site, which contains
information about me and samples of my work.
The company didnt bother to respond.
And why not? It seems to me that anyone could review the job description,
compare it to my résumé, and see a very good match. So what
was the problem?
Based on my job-hunting experience these past two years, I hypothesized
that the problem might be this simple: I had too much experience; in other
words, I was too old. That, I imagined, might be why they didnt
respond when I submitted my résumé two years ago.
To test my hypothesis, I created a make-believe person: someone with half
my experience; someone 15 years younger than me; someone from Asia. I
submitted this persons cover letter and résumé. And
guess what? The company responded, indicating an interest and asking for
I responded on behalf of my make-believe person. I advised the recruiter
that I simply created this person to test my hypothesis. The recruiter
responded with an invitation for an interview; he wanted to find some
good reason why I was not a good candidate. I accepted; I wanted to hear
his reason for responding to my make-believe person, but not me.
At the end of the interview, he told me the reason was this: I had had
too many jobs. In fact, I had five jobs in the past 20 years; my make-believe
person had three jobs in 10 years. My hypothesis was holding up.
This was interesting. When I looked at the companys Web site for
job postings, I noticed that it like many other high-tech firms
here in the valley was actively recruiting college students: people
with no work history. It seemed I had too much history.
Why would a company prefer to hire a person with no experience? Why prefer
recent college graduates to people with 20 years of experience? And if
experience comes with age and theres no denying that it does
then isnt this preference effective age bias?
Is there anything wrong with this bias? Sure. Its like refusing
to hire someone just because he or she is Black, or Jewish, or Chinese.
Its like refusing to hire a woman to do a mans job. Its
Despite the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which prohibits discrimination
against workers over 40, age discrimination is thriving in Silicon Valley.
To catch a glimpse of it, review the employment sections of the Web sites
of high-tech companies in Silicon Valley. Most often, they describe a
fun workplace. This is clearly an appeal to younger workers, as mature
workers tend to be more interested in a well-run company than in one that
Look at the employment section of a high-tech companys Web site,
and youll likely find a description of a corporate culture, one
that promotes dignity and respect for each individual. In
the corporate culture section, youll also find an emphasis on diversity.
High-tech, Silicon Valley companies offer workers not only fun places
to work, but diversity as well: the opportunity to work with people from
The Web site for one well-known firm offers this apt description of diversity:
Walk into the cafeteria on any given day, and you will hear conversations
in English, French, German, Russian, Vietnamese, Cantonese, just to name
Heres how Carly Fiorina, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, emphasizes diversity:
The value proposition for diversity is very clear:
* Diversity drives creativity.
* Creativity drives invention.
* Invention drives profitability and business success.
These companies advertise their commitment to diversity and to equal opportunity.
They say they have a diverse work force and their goal is to make it more
so. But commitment to diversity veils a preference for young foreign workers.
Its a way of making age discrimination sound like a noble cause.
Visit the campus of some high-tech, Silicon Valley company on a work-day
morning. Watch the workers on their way in. What youre likely to
notice is that the vast majority of the workers are young: in their 20s
and 30s. Youll also notice that very many of the workers are
Visit the engineering department, and youll find that most of the
workers are Asian. Youll find that few, if any workers Asian
or otherwise are over 40. And why is that?
Why would a company prefer younger workers to older workers? Why would
it prefer workers with less experience over those with more? Ive
heard all sorts of reasons:
* older workers demand higher salaries
* older workers lack energy and enthusiasm
* older workers are too set in their ways
To me, these sound like the myths that used to keep women from doing mens
jobs, or blacks from supervising whites. These myths are alive in Silicon
© Mr. Thorne (www.misterthorne.org)
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