Growing a diverse, representative team is an important and popular topic for the majority of young tech companies today. At the Insurtech Channel we have written previously about gender and ethnic diversity, and it’s a topic quite openly and frequently acknowledged at industry events.
But one specific area that was brought into the spotlight recently is the issue of ageism, and the lack of age diversity in tech. The Guardian reported that Google paid an $11 million settlement after being accused of age discrimination by more than 200 jobseekers aged over 40 years old. While Google denies the allegations, ageism is widely recognized as a big discriminatory problem across the tech industry.
The 2019 Stack Overflow survey of professional developers found just under 75 percent of them are under the age of 35. While the median age of all US workers is 42, less than eight percent of surveyed developers were older than 45. Another report found that 68 percent of surveyed Baby Boomers said they won’t apply for tech jobs because they fear they’ll be seen as ‘too old’.
This lack of age diversity is not only a serious issue within the industry, but it has an enormous impact on the wider society that technology serves. With the large Baby Boomer generation already feeling shut out of this enormous sector, our largest generations ever-ageing, and the tech demographic continuting to skew so young - this is a major problem that looks set to only worsen without purposeful plans for diverse age hiring. And when your tech company’s working within an industry as old as insurance, striving for a diverse range of ages across your team is of even higher importance.
We see insurtech as being especially vulnerable to the disadvantages caused by not promoting age diversity. While new players may want to rightly disrupt the way insurance has been managed for centuries, and bring it up to date with modern society - the regulatory side of insurance is still a significant restriction for innovators, and having personnel with deep understanding and lived work experience within your team is invaluable.
Where small insurtech startups are being formed with a couple of founders and an initial team of developers, it’s entirely likely a company is comprised of entirely Gen X and Millennials. As the company grows, enticing the first older employee may be more challenging than you would expect - and retaining them as a valued, involved member of the team might be even more difficult. So ensuring a company can bring diverse staff on board as soon as possible is crucial in appealing to a broader range of talent as the team grows. A recent study published in Harvard Business Review found companies with higher diversity across multiple measures including age had higher innovation revenues, so striving for a diverse team across the board should be seen as essential.
So why is the tech industry so skewed towards a younger demographic, and how do we correct this?
For some, there is a real perception that older workers are ‘stuck in their ways’. But especially for insurtechs, bringing in experienced workers who have opted to leave the traditional insurance path is an invaluable perspective for your organization to include. As Leah Fessler wrote for Quartz, “Research repeatedly suggests that age diversity promotes productivity and performance, and that older workers take fewer sick days, have better problem-solving skills, and are more likely than younger workers to be highly satisfied in their work.”
When you decide to tackle the problem and seek to diversify the age of your team, be aware older applicants who may be interested in working for your insurtech, may be turned off by the use of language in job advertisements such as “digital natives”, and well as more subtle key words such as “fresh” and “bold” ideas. Reconsidering the language used in your job advertisements can be as simple as removing tech jargon and using plain language where possible, as well as emphasizing offers of mentoring and training. It’s also important to directly acknowledge your interest in a diverse age range when approached by recruiters with candidates, and to broaden the diversity across your hiring panel as soon as possible.
If you’re an early stage startup, you may be ready to dismiss a candidate with a work history that makes them seem overqualified or expensive. But their interest in working for a non-traditional company should make you take notice, and give them a chance to impress. An older worker choosing to engage with your business as a passion project could prove to be a significant asset to you.
Ensure you are giving candidates the opportunity to challenge assumptions and biases your panel might subconsciously hold, giving them the chance to answer questions about their flexibility and future plans.
If you have a topic you'd like us to cover, or you'd like to become a contributor, we'd love to hear from you! Please email our editorial team with an overview.