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Studies on age discrimination inconclusive

Published on September 2000

Two agencies call for further research into the perceived preference for hiring younger workers

Are technology workers age 40 and older targets of age-based employment discrimination? It's difficult to say, according to the results of two recent studies by technology organizations.

Despite federal and state laws to protect workers from age discrimination, age bias remains tough to prove in court. Workplace violations are often unreported, as well, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an agency that tracks and investigates complaints and enforces federal statutes prohibiting employment discrimination.

Nonetheless, there's a widely held belief among older techies that, because of their age, they're first to be laid off and are slow to be rehired.

Agencies take study initiative

Statistical and anecdotal data on age discrimination in the IT workforce fails "to establish either the presence of or absence of age discrimination in the IT sector," according to an Oct. 21, 2000 report from the National Academy of Sciences.

A committee reviewed testimony from IT workers and data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the EEOC, and AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons). The committee suggested that future studies include information about the skills, qualifications, and job duties of workers to better determine the level of age discrimination in the tech sector.

In Oct. 2000 the IEEE-USA, a career enhancement and technology think tank associated with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc, released the results of a telephone survey of more than 528 engineers and HR professionals. The survey results showed both positive and negative biases about older engineers.

Tech supervisors and HR professionals perceived that engineers 45 and older are better communicators and problem solvers than their younger colleagues, according to the survey. But both survey groups believe younger techies have an easier time adapting to and keeping up with new developments in technology and business. Only 1 percent of older engineers surveyed believed they'd had a negative employment experience in the past five years because of their age or age discrimination.

Changing attitudes?

"Perhaps we are seeing a change in perceptions about older Americans in the workplace," says Shank T. Lakhavani, past chair and current IEEE-USA workforce committee member. But Lakhavani says that although the IEEE-USA survey suggests employment conditions for older techies might be improving, employers should not be complacent. There's work to be done, he says "to ensure the career vitality"of older technology workers.

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david southgate
writing for living.