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Tech startups are biased towards hiring younger professionals. In one sentence that perfectly sums up the tech mindset, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg infamously declared, “Young people are just smarter.”
No doubt about it– big tech’s obsession with youth is startling.
According to this survey by Stack Overflow, the average age for a developer is 29 years old. In fact, almost 60% of developers are under the age of 30 years old.
It’s this type of thinking that repels 30+-year-olds from applying to tech startups in the first place. Having said that, we all know that age can’t define one’s value, and 30+-year-olds have a lot to bring to the world of startups.
But, not all tech companies want to hire younger professionals. Some companies appreciate the diversity of age (along with ethnicity and gender). While the average age for employees at Facebook is 28, many Australian companies have chosen to embrace the benefit of hiring across the wider age range, understanding that diversity in the workforce equals higher financial returns.
Companies who appeal to a wider audience understand that their employee workforce should reflect their customer base.
Ajay Bhatia, Managing Director Consumer Business at Carsales, believes that stereotypes are the enemy to hiring the right people. “Good talent is not male or female, young or old– good talent is just simply ‘good talent’. We all need to move away from our biases if we truly want to seize the opportunity that comes with a talented workforce.”
In this post, we’ll explore the top five unspoken barriers that prevent tech startups and 30+-year-olds from working with each other. We’ll also offer solutions for overcoming those barriers. Let’s get started.
One of the biggest barriers is misconceptions on both sides.
On one side, many tech startups discount 30-year-olds. They feel they’re not agile or flexible enough to work in the often fluid environment of a startup.
On the other side, many 30+-year-olds have a faulty idea of what it’s like to work in a startup. “[They think] that we all ride skateboards, work 70 hours a week and drink every night. That’s the snapshot anyway,” shares Scott Crowe, the Tech Recruiter Lead at Canva.
So why is it that 30+-year-olds believe working at a tech startup is all ping pong tables and whiteboard walls?
That’s the way startups are advertised.
While some things that attract a below 30-year-old may appeal to 30+-year-olds as well, older people generally look for more materialistic perks. They’re also seeking an alignment with their passion and interests, so they see a future with the company. Perks like flexible hours and a flatter management structure are universally appreciated. It’s the bean bag chairs, soft drinking vending machines and the casual dress code which 30+-year-olds couldn’t care less about.
Solution: Communication + Research At Both Ends
The solution is all about communicating the right message. If a startup wants to create a more diverse workplace, hiring managers will need to expand their message to emit a more age-inclusive vibe.
If flexible hours are one of the perks of your company, package it in a way that appeals to all life scenarios, irrespective of age or gender.
Conversations with an Android Engineer at Canva revealed that allowing employees the flexibility to work from home and spend more time with family is a massive emotional benefit. Doing so creates a more age-inclusive environment instantly. It’s so important that you use multiple employee scenarios to illustrate your company perks.
But responsibility doesn’t stop with the startup. The 30+-year-old professional has a responsibility, too. Experienced professionals shouldn’t be quick to shun all startups. A 30+ experienced professional may decide they don’t want to work up the corporate ladder but continue to develop their operational skills – start-ups offer a great environment for this where progression does now always mean leadership.
Startups are oftentimes under-resourced. Executives are expensive. That’s quite the conundrum.
While youth seeks out jobs for experience and fun perks, age has a way of dismissing everything that doesn’t affect the security of the bank account. Catered meals? Personal enrichment programs? Those are all great benefits to have, but for a grizzled 30+ professional, it’s salary and professional distinction that drives interest.
Before attempting to attract seasoned professional, a startup needs to be on surer footing. Three things need to happen before courting the 30+ crowd:
The startup should be able to demonstrate a promising future, through customer traction and growth. The startup needs to have raised money to afford experienced talent. There also needs to be a market fit for the product.
All of these things will provide a much-needed income guarantee.
But, an upfront payday isn’t the only way to lure an experienced professional. Some are willing to take a pay cut in exchange for more equity or stock options. Owning a piece of the business can make up for the loss in income. By owning equity in the startup, the 30+ professional is also more incentivized to make the startup a success.
Risk appeals to youth. But if you have mortgage and mouths to feed, the risk is a lot less appetising. Many startups like to pursue a big, bold vision with very uncertain conditions…in uncharted territory. No one knows if it’s going to work out, and that can be exciting. But for the risk averse 30+ crowd, risk sounds a lot like failure.
Everyone knows that risk is inherent in startup, so there’s no need to make that a selling point when head hunting for the 30+ professional. While startups should convey the risks involved, startups should also openly communicate their vision and attract talented professionals on that basis. They must make it clear that the candidate should join only if they believe in the startup’s vision.
If you were to close your eyes and imagine a stereotypical tech startup, what would you see? Who works there?
Chances are, it’s largely male, all young, all impossibly smart. We all share the same idea: startups are for tech wizards fresh out of an ivy league college, going at a rapidly fast pace, testing new ideas and iterating along the way. And, unfortunately, there’s less room for women in the stereotypical startup.
Ajay Bhatia agrees. “Lack of females in tech is the single biggest issue.”
And who really wants to work in a male dominated culture? As you cross over the invisible line of 30, diversity becomes a more important ideal to aspire to, balancing masculine, feminine, older and younger staff dynamics.
Here are some insights from Ajay Bhatia:
“If we truly represent our customer set in our workforce we are likely to have a wider perspective and this will lead to better-aligned products and services for our customers. Diversity itself is not enough, it is equally important that we include our entire diverse workforce. For me, the most important thing is to start with the top of the organisation.”
Bhatia continues, “If we can get the leadership team to believe in the benefits of diversity and get them to champion it, we will have a much better chance of getting there. Here at Carsales, the leadership team has gone through unconscious bias training. This has been particularly helpful and set the tone right from the top. Our diversity champions include our CEO, Cameron McIntyre.”
The fifth barrier happens to be a tug-o-war over talent. Startups and corporates are always fighting over for the best talent. The obvious goal of every company is to attract the best, and good people are infinite supply.
What do employees look for? Often it’s a feel that the company is doing well, growing and successful in its business. If the company shows good growth it is an indication that the upper management has clear vision and is able to drive it in right direction.
It’s also important to have an opportunity to work on products that impact people. Candidates enjoy feeling a positive impact of their work.
More importantly, startups offer ‘real progression’ by allowing employees to master their craft and being challenged with growth. This is fundamentally different from following the traditional path of ‘climbing the corporate ladder.’
The benefits of cultivating a diverse workforce are many. A workforce that mimics your customer base offers more solutions and a broader perspective that will enrich the customer’s experience. Seasoned professionals need to accept that all employment comes with risk, but risk can be minimised by gaining experience and forging lifelong connections with other motivated individuals.
And burrito Wednesdays don’t hurt, either.