Trading in

The headline flashed across Financial Times recently: “Lego removes CEO after 8 months for younger replacement.” Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, Lego’s chairman who served as CEO for 12 years until last December, told the Financial Times Padda’s short tenure was to do with his age and the likelihood he could only do the job for a few years. “Lego A/S has jettisoned its chief executive after just eight months in the job, appointing a younger leader with technology experience in a surprise move” wrote the Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, BBC World published a segment on a 82-year old self-taught “golden coder” making games apps. This would put a smile on your face.

Unconscious Bias

Unfortunately, ageism is more common than we think. According to research by the BBC, over a quarter (27 percent) of 55 to 64 year olds believe they have experienced ageism in the UK. 3 in 10 Brits who report experiencing ageism say they have encountered it at work (31 percent), while 15 percent say they have experienced it applying for jobs or at a job interview. And as expected, women also face the double discrimination of ageism and sexism.

One of my recent Lyft drivers was a veteran dev ops techie working for Yahoo. After his layoff, he had a hard time finding another tech job in the Silicon Valley. So he did what a few other “older” adults have been doing: Start his own business.

According to research firm PayScale, the median age at Facebook is 29 years old, and the median age at Amazon is 30 years old. Google has about 30% female employees, while Apple has about 31%. Now imagine how it would be like if you were an older female trying to get into one of the male-dominated tech companies in Silicon Valley. Unsurprisingly, there is no shortage of “advice” on how to act younger or omit elements on your resume in order to make it more appealing to the tech culture that celebrates youthfulness. But is this really the behavior that we condone?

Too Old to be Cool

When you look up “startup founders” in Google search, the most likely images you will see are those of young male entrepreneurs. However, according to the 2017 Kauffman Index of Startup Activity, older adults are a growing segment of the U.S. entrepreneurial population. Individuals ages 55 to 64 represented 15 percent of new entrepreneurs in 1996, versus 26 percent in 2016.

 

The Strait Times ran a story recently on three “elder-preneurs” who discovered their new calling post retirement. Whether due to necessity or driven by a sense of purpose, it has become more common for older people to start their own business. As I have written before, we are all living longer healthier lives. With that, the way we approach “aging” and “retirement” needs to be changed. In Japan, a country faced with rising share of older population, advocates are recommending raising the retirement age to 75, and classifying those aged 65-74 as “pre-old” age. This has vast implications not just on the social system, but also on the society’s interpretation of “old”: People beyond the “typical” retirement age could be empowered to contribute to the society.

Why Now

The general (and incorrect) perception is that you start to lose touch with the world as you get older. As is the case with tech innovations, which tend to focus on younger demographics based on the outdated perceived notion that older people do not use tech. I’d argue though, being older makes you more well-equipped to take the plunge and start your own venture. And here are a few reasons why.

  1. You have a wealth of experience. Having been in corporate life for 20 years, you have probably seen it all. You have witnessed first hand what works and what doesn’t. This life experience is not something that money nor Ivy League education can buy.
  2. You are comfortable in your own skin. With 25+ years under your belt, you should be very well aware of your own strengths and weaknesses. You are likely more comfortable with who you are as a person, and be smart enough to know when to ask for help when needed.
  3. You know what makes you tick. By now, you should have a good idea on what you are passionate about and what drives you. The value system and determination are important as you will need a solid vision to guide you forward properly.
  4. You have established a good network. Having a well-established network is crucial for the success of your startup, since it can provide a resource pool to tap into or a group of potential partners for distribution and expansion.
  5. You are more financially secured. Compared to new graduates, you are likely more financially secured, as you have had quite a few working years to accumulate wealth and pay off your debt. This will allow you to get the business running more easily.

In short, humans are like wine: We get better with age.

Age Is A Number

There are over 72,000 Americans aged 100 or older, and according to census data, they are almost all female. At the current rate, the population of centenarians is expected to increase to 1 million by 2050. While the number in the UK is much smaller, similar trend persists, with people over 90 being the fastest growing segment of the population in the UK. Maybe I am old fashioned, but I was brought up in a culture where older people were cherished, respected, and valued, rather than viewed as a drain on the society. Did we not remember at one point, the so called “old people” were once innovators that helped build our society?

With all the focus on diversity in the tech industry today, we talk a lot about gender and race. But we must remember, age is also an important element in the diversity discussion. People from different age groups bring different perspectives and experiences to the workplace. For businesses to thrive, we need people with diverse backgrounds, including ethnicity, gender, and age.

Lest make aging not a story of decline, but one where we are empowered to make smart choices, so we can continue to live the life that we want.

“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.” ~ Henry David Thoreau


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