Thoughtworks has a long-standing and intentional commitment to diversity and inclusivity that is a huge part of our social fabric. As a company, we’re committed to looking beyond age, recognising the maturity, life experience and critical foresight that our employees bring no matter what career or life stage they’re at.
There are at times however, industry assumptions that older people have less to offer. That technology is a ‘young person’s game’ and as a result, an older person cannot possibly keep up, or worse still, has no interest.
We challenged this assumption in this article by looking at how a diverse workforce can use age to its benefit.
A dimension of diversity
Technology, like all work, is best realised by bringing together diverse minds with a common purpose. From the very beginning, we’ve seen diversity as essential for generating rich ideas and the best quality outcomes for our clients. We are a diverse group of people with a shared passion for technology.
There is no homogeneous type of Thoughtworker who works the same way and conforms to a single way of thinking or working, and because of this we’ve become known as an employer of choice for women and gender-diverse people, winning numerous awards.
The Australian Human Rights Commission recently reported that a significant number of employers are reluctant to employ people over 50 and that many older people suffer subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination. There are also regular reports of age discrimination across the technology sector, in companies large and small, where there is a view that technology is the preserve of young white males who all think and behave alike.
Advantages of hiring mature employees
There are many benefits to ensuring your workforce is as diverse in age as it is in other ways. Mature-aged employees have usually spent many years in the workforce, often in more than one domain, and sometimes in several completely different careers.
This experience brings with it a breadth of perspective, a high tolerance for ambiguity, change and uncertainty, and the ability to accept that there are no right answers. Life and work are not black and white and ‘that depends’ is a perfectly reasonable answer to just about any question.
Another often overlooked benefit of hiring mature people is that they can be more resilient than their younger colleagues. By the time someone is in their third or fourth decade in the workplace, they have already experienced (and survived!) all the things that could go wrong – often more than once. Their lives are often more stable, and they are less likely to be impacted by bumps in the road, and more often able to avoid the bumps in the first place.
While a mature brain may not always fire as rapidly as a younger brain, other aspects of cognition improve as people get older. The ability to think strategically and see the big picture improves over time. This, coupled with experience and an increased ability to apply it, is cumulative.
Besides, another key benefit of including more mature employees in your workforce is their ability to mentor and teach less experienced employees. Older employees often have the patience required to explain a concept in different ways and can draw upon a larger pool of examples and experiences to support this.
While, technology is seen as a rapidly changing, fast-moving field, the truth is, it’s evolutionary – still based on ones and zeros at the end of the day. Names change, techniques evolve, things go in and out of fashion, but many of the fundamental concepts are still the same as they were thirty years ago.
A mature technologist will have a really solid grasp of these fundamentals and is at an advantage when it comes to building upon something well understood.
I joined Thoughtworks in my 50s after many years of activity including academic study, singing professionally, administering IT systems and creating software. I had known about Thoughtworks for a long time and when I worked with some Thoughtworkers at a client company, I considered that becoming one might suit me. I was excited to join an organisation so strongly aligned with the views I had developed over time. I was also delighted that my ideas and experience were valued and that my age was not seen as a disadvantage.
I feel like I’ve found my tribe at Thoughtworks – people who think deeply about technology and who care about the impact of technology on society. I wish I’d joined years earlier! I am always learning things from my younger colleagues and I believe they sometimes learn things from me too.
I joined Thoughtworks just weeks before I turned 50 after having been contacted by Thoughtworks recruitment about an open role. I had met many Thoughtworkers through the agile community and I had the impression that it was a company of young super smart folk. So I could not have been more shocked when I was offered a job. I will admit I was really worried that I wouldn’t fit in because of my age and was experiencing a fair bit of trepidation about this when I joined. Additionally, I was getting my head around the idea of actually being 50, my youngest child was finishing high school and I was suddenly more free from family demands.
After an awkward couple of months, I realised that the only person who was worried about my age was me! More importantly, I realised that it was a place where I could just be myself surrounded by a diverse (in every sense) group of humans who were also just being themselves.
Thoughtworks is an organisation where ambiguity is not seen as a difficulty but rather as an opportunity to explore different approaches and perspectives. I think being older helps with that because it doesn’t worry you.
Like Michael, I learn new things every day and have been offered many opportunities to build upon my existing skills and knowledge but also to share some of that experience.
Our experience is summed up nicely in the words of our colleague, Mark Richter:
Thoughtworks is fertiliser for my soul. I obtained my first professional certification at age 62 here. I learned pair-programming and perfected agile methods. The last eight years have been one of the most intense and fruitful learning periods technically of my life.
Having a diverse workforce is important to Thoughtworks, and age is one dimension of that. Diversity is important for organisations to produce their best work and to grow, and the rich experience that older employees bring is an important part of that. We’ve both benefited greatly from our time at Thoughtworks, knowing that our prior experience is highly valued.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.