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While sitting on a panel at a conference recently, someone asked about acquiring the skills needed for new IT architectures. The immediate response was “hire some young people.” I thought that was odd because I’ve always believed that diversity of experience and skills was important to proper software development. It was a stark example of ageism in IT. Add to that the recent spate of age-related lawsuits, usually revolving around the firing of experienced workers, and it’s pretty obvious IT has an age problem.

The same is also true for all the other “isms.” IT has a serious sexism problem (again — lawsuits) and people of color and persons with disabilities are highly underrepresented. As much as I hate to admit it, IT is still, more than 50 years after my father entered the profession, male, white and trending young.

Related Article: Addressing Gender Bias in the Workplace: A New Approach

IT Needs to Do Better

Not sure if this is true? Here’s some data. According to census data available on Data.com for 2016:

  • In the computer and peripherals segment, which includes software, roughly 72 percent of personnel are male. In addition, women make, on average, $47,000 a year less than men.
  • Software developers who identify as “Black or African American” earn, on average, roughly $46,000 vs. $137,000 for white developers. I had to go back and recheck that. It was that startling.
  • Approximately 72 percent of the computer, engineering and science occupations are held by white people. That means three quarters are white and three quarters are male. Notice a pattern?
  • The average age of computer programmers is 42 for men and 44 for women. The distributions, however, skews younger with a massive drop occurring after 45. The number of people working as programmers at 55 is nearly the same as at 25, when most people are just starting their career.

There are so many assumptions about why we see such disparity in IT. Women can’t code and don’t do STEM. Minorities don’t do STEM either. Older workers can’t learn new material or new methods. None of this is supported by evidence. No matter how you look at the data, white men under the age of 50 do better than everyone else and by a lot. It’s more plausible to think that the environment is such that anyone that isn’t a young, white, male is unlikely to thrive.

To ignore the data, especially in an industry that prides itself on “hard” skills such as math, is more than just denial. It helps to perpetuate a toxic culture lacking a moral compass. It’s also terrible for business.

Related Article: Can Artificial Intelligence Weed Out Unconscious Bias?

What We Lose With Biased Hiring Practices 

Legal and moral issues aside, bias also causes:

  • Loss of professional experience: Experienced professionals are often the most productive. They can see what will or won't work based on patterns in IT and business that they have seen before. This keeps companies from reinventing the wheel.
  • Lack of diversity: Monoculture of any sort ensures a limited understanding of people problems. It’s a terrible way to create software. Life experiences matter when creating applications that must apply to a wide range of people.
  • Groupthink: When everyone is the same age and from the same background, they all think alike. Everyone sees a problem domain the same way and big problems are missed until they become acute. It’s basically lemmings running off the cliff, one after the other.
  • Bias narrows the applicant pool making it harder to hire. Give how companies constantly complain how hard it is to find IT professionals, why would any company turn someone away? It makes much more sense to judge solely on skills and aptitude not race, age, gender or anything else. Even supposedly blind hiring is subject to bias. It is the interview from mostly young, white males that tip the scales.
  • The best people will look elsewhere. A culture based on inequality will not attract or keep the best people. A perceived lack of justice will not help in hiring or retaining the type of people IT needs the most — the creative and innovative. A culture of bias means degradation of capabilities over time.

It’s easy to dismiss bias against any one group through a series of excuses. Claims like "Young, white men always do better than everyone else in IT" fall apart under the weight of the data and meta-analysis. Being an excuse-monger hurts both people and the business.

Wake up IT, and change the prevailing attitude. Otherwise, accept that you are willing to cause damage to your businesses in order to be unethical. But please, stop with the excuses.