How Silicon Valley’s Ageism Can Result in a Deep Pool of Small Business Talent


Recently, Steve King, Emergent Research partner and a regular contributor to SmallBusiness.com explored for us why age discrimination is one of the reasons for a rapid growth in business ownership among men and women over 65. In this follow-up, Steve looks at some of the recent coverage of an industry where ageism is especially prevalent: Silicon Valley tech firms. How prevalent? It has already become the clichéd premise of a movie, the Internship, with a simple plotline regarding how hilarious it would be if two 40-somethings tried to get jobs at Google.


My last corporate job was running marketing for a Silicon Valley tech firm. This was long ago during the internet boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s. I turned 40 during this job and one of my coworkers jokingly pointed out that I may have been the firm’s oldest employee. After a bit checking, I discovered at age 40 I was the sixth oldest out of roughly 900 employees: Welcome to Silicon Valley.

Bloomberg’s It’s Tough Being Over 40 in Silicon Valley captures the youth worker culture of the valley.

Key quote:

“Older workers are trying lawsuits, classes, makeovers—even surgery—to keep working.”

Age discrimination and a preference for younger workers have always been part of the ethos of Silicon Valley and the tech industry in general.  Tech firms and industry participants often don’t even try to hide this. The Observer’s When It Comes to Age Bias, Tech Companies Don’t Even Bother to Lie covers how one tech company’s CEO talked about not hiring older people in a New York Times interview.

Other examples include Mark Zuckerberg famously saying “young people are just smarter” and, one of my favorites, A-list venture capitalist Vinod Khosa saying, “People under 35 are the people who make change happen. People over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas.”

Despite there being vast amounts of research showing these comments and beliefs are not true, ageism appears to be becoming even more prevalent in the tech industry. And since there are a lot of talented boomers and Gen Xers in tech, expect to see growing numbers of them ending up self-employed.

VIA | A version of this article also appears on SmallBizLabs.com


At age 32, Mic Jagger said, “I’d rather be dead than sing ‘Satisfaction’ when I’m 45.” Today, at age 73, Mic Jagger not only is singing Satisfaction at stadium concerts, he is anticipating the birth of his eighth child in December.


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