- High-level executives at IBM demonstrated "highly incriminating animus against older workers," a court filing in an age discrimination lawsuit against the company revealed (Lohnn v. International Business Machines Corp., No. 21-cv-06379 (S.D.N.Y., Feb. 11, 2022)).
- The partially redacted filing included email communications between executives and other groups, such as one executive's HR team. One email revealed an exec's intent to "accelerate change by inviting the 'dinobabies' (new species) to leave" and make them an "extinct species."
- Another email showcased an executive's concern that IBM's millennial population was small compared to that of its competitors. "The data below is very sensitive — not to be shared — but wanted to make sure you have it," she wrote. "You will see that while Accenture is 72% millennial we are at 42% with a wide range and many units falling well below that average. Speaks to the need to hire early professionals — and to avoid using downbanding of existing employees as a way to fill jobs. Honestly I think we should stop this practice — it means over-paying, creates blockers and inhibits bringing in new thinking from the outside."
The emails revealed by the court filing showed "a top-down plan to retain younger workers in an effort to improve IBM's demographic makeup," the document claims. It references one email that explained a "mandatory" rule that no early hires would be eligible for mass layoffs within their first 12 months of hire.
"We are not making the progress we need to make demographically, and we are squandering our investment in talent acquisition and training," the email read.
Ageism claims aren't unfamiliar to IBM, however, nor in the tech industry at large. In 2018, ProPublica reported that IBM used arbitration to dodge ADEA requirements. The company was hit with a lawsuit that same year that claimed a 59-year-old worker was let go because of his age. That lawsuit led to a deposition in which a former vice president claimed that as many as 100,000 IBM workers had been fired as part of the company's attempt to seem more "cool" and "trendy" to incoming younger workers.
Tech companies are particularly susceptible to ageism because of the nature of their work, HR analyst Josh Bersin told HR Dive in an interview via email. "Tech companies have a large degree of 'youth bias' because new technologies and tools are always being reinvented, so there is a steady stream of new engineers coming out of school who 'know the new stuff,'" he said. "These companies also have brutally hard work ethics, which often lead older workers to 'tap out' if they don't want to keep up the pace."
Changing products and long hours shouldn't serve as an excuse for ageism, Bersin cautioned. "Companies like Intel, Cisco, Microsoft, and IBM are filled with some of the world's best engineers in the world, and engineers can refresh their skills very quickly," he said.
Bersin suggested tech companies look to combat age discrimination in two ways. "First, let more tenured or older workers take on new projects, learn new technologies, and directly interact with the young 'hot shots' that seem to know everything," he said. "Second, promote young workers into management so they start to understand the wisdom and value of their peers. CEOs have to be very sensitive to these issues and help make sure older workers are given lots of opportunities to grow."