Of course tech companies should strive for age diversity, and for the same reasons they should strive for racial, ethnic and gender diversity. First of all, it’s the right thing to do. But like other forms of diversity, it’s also just smart business.
People’s lived experience can be the key to a company’s competitive edge, particularly in the innovation economy. That’s why at Kapor Capital, our best entrepreneurs draw from their own backgrounds to identify the problems that tech can solve. They are creating new markets as they develop solutions. That’s innovation.
There is a reason that the app store on your phone is overloaded with services that cater to youngish, upper-middle class folks with the money to spend on things like concierge food services and sock delivery: app designers are themselves largely youngish, single, upper-middle class techies. They are creating tech solutions for the problems they’ve identified in life, but if their lived experience is one of privilege, those problems can be relatively trivial.
Just think about all the issues associated with aging: everything from health care, retirement planning, financial planning, dealing with the loss of a spouse — there is a huge market there. Older people are steeped in these realities, and their experiences will be invaluable to shaping solutions. In fact, direct experiences with parents and grandparents have been the founding inspiration for at least three of our Kapor Capital portfolio companies: TrueLink, a company that protects the elderly from aggressive telemarketers and scammers; Birdi, a smart home air quality/smoke monitor; and Honor, which is reinventing the home health care field .
Of course, age bias differs in many ways from other biases. For one thing, everybody ages. Getting older isn’t restricted to any particular population. And since most of us have an older person who we care about, empathy isn’t an obstacle here the way it can be with race, ethnicity, and religion, biases which remain incredibly persistent in the workplace.
In the recent discussions of “Colorless Diversity” or “white feminism”, we’ve seen that the overwhelmingly white male leadership of tech companies has an easier time understanding the experiences of white women since those are more likely to be the women they know as daughters, sisters, and wives.
Similarly, age bias may be more relatable once we bring up the conversation. One study conducted across Europe, for example, found that people were far more likely to report unfair treatment due to age (35%) than gender (25%) or race (17%). But there still is very little research on age bias to see know whether other factors — like an innate fear of one’s own aging — might counteract the empathy.
The good news is that tech may already have some solutions to mitigate age bias. Companies like interviewing.io, for example, are helping filter out identifying demographic information for job applicants so that technical interviewers can evaluate candidates on merit alone. These tools, designed to eliminate race and gender bias, could also help out the 72 year old coder as well.
The best bias mitigation techniques, though, are based on research. Given that aging is an experience most of us will face, there has been surprisingly little research. We don’t yet have all the tools to mitigate the problem, but perhaps that’s another tech opportunity.
Maybe if we had a few more old folks in Silicon Valley we could come up with a solution faster.