I love technology and media. It’s in my DNA. After a distinguished run at both CBS News and NBC News, I’m looking forward to the next stage in my career. But shockingly to me, my enthusiasm has been met with mostly ageism and sexism. Is it possible there’s a generational cut-off for being tech-savvy?
Experience & Passion
I started my career at CBS News armed with a major in journalism and a minor in math. When I saw that newsrooms were going digital, I wanted in. So, I went back to school. Armed with a new IT degree, I had an opportunity to facilitate newsroom digitization and digital media at NBC News.
I have always been an early adopter and change agent. When most TV executives were cursing DVR and TiVo technology, I made a case for how the technology could positively transform the broadcast industry. I used an intern’s credentials to first log into Facebook when it was just for college students. I tested augmented reality for the TODAY Show. I was one of four who launched mobile video newscasts in 2004 for the NBC Mobile initiative. I’m an expert when it comes to OTT, speaking and writing about cutting the cord and the need for better discovery. And I learned to code at General Assembly. I’m a gadget geek and an HQtie with a very respectable social media following.
Silicon Valley’s Blindspot: Older Workers
Why are tech employers so blind to their ageism and sexism? Why are they so hesitant to hire older women? The median age of the American worker is 42. But Silicon Valley skews much younger. According to research group Payscale, the median age is 29 at Facebook, 30 at Google, 31 at Apple and 30 at Amazon.
This from Axios, 5/29/18.
“The disclosure that Intel is under investigation for age discrimination highlights what many see as an unspoken truism of the tech industry: it’s a young man’s game.”
And there was this on CNBC.com.
“This is a total blind spot [hiring older workers] for technology companies,” said Katy Fike, co-founder of Aging 2.0, a group that supports entrepreneurs in the aging space.
Fike said these companies should particularly consider hiring and interviewing more older women.
“Women tend to live longer and continue to make buying decisions for their families and aging parents,” she said. “This is the polar opposite group to the young, male tech worker.”
Choosing Youth Over Experience
I’m a positive person. I’m proud of my career achievements so far and I’m excited to move on. I’m perplexed, though, and trying to make sense of things during this professional transition. It’s been an education, and not in a good way.
I wasn’t prepared for how much the current employment environment, especially in media and even more especially in digital media, prizes youth above all else. I didn’t want to think that ageism, bad enough in and of itself, is worse for women. But it is. I didn’t expect it to affect me, but it has.
I have trouble even using the word ageism. I’m the baby of the family and was always the youngest in my class. When did it start applying to me?
Am I now just a formality? Am I the token older female included in the interview process so hiring managers can check a diversity box?
A Fresh Start That Has Gone On Too Long
After my goodbye dinner, all my colleagues at NBC enthusiastically offered glowing references and recommendations. They encouraged me to look for what would make me happy. I was at the crossroads of two growing fields – tech and media. Social platforms and news distribution models were exploding. I was in the right place at the right time and ready to reinvent myself.
I have a spreadsheet with hundreds of names of people and companies I’ve contacted. My calendar filled with meetings, coffees, and interviews. I’d scan posted openings, apply for jobs, make it several interviews deep and then… nothing. When I did get a return call, it was to advise me they’d gone another way.
Switching Gears: Consulting & Passion Projects
So, I went another way too. I tried the consulting route. I went to meet-ups and summits drumming up business. It was energizing and fascinating and fun. But I was expected to offer my expertise and advice for free. More than once, I got stiffed in the process. I’ve had tirades directed towards me for even having the nerve to ask for money when all they wanted was for me to introduce them to some of the people I know.
Next, I immersed myself in passion projects to which I’ve long wanted to devote more time. I launched Theater Streams and I devoted myself more fully to my voice over career.
There’s stiff competition in the voice-over world and I’m not booking as much as I’d like. I’m committed to it but didn’t expect to be told not to even bother auditioning for a tech, car, or other types of product because I won’t get it. They’re looking for young and, often, male.
I Am Not My Demo
I’ve been thinking about writing this piece for a while, but I held back. I didn’t want to be perceived as bitter after having my full-time position eliminated. But at this point, I can’t help but wonder, is there an age limit in the tech industry? There seems to be a gap between my actual expertise and some people’s suppositions about it.
I continue to pursue what’s next. Perhaps there’s a CDO role in my future or more consulting and teaching. I continue to advocate for streaming theater and look forward to doing more voice-overs and writing. I’m trying to face the future with optimism.
And if you are a hiring manager in the tech industry reading this right now, please know this: I have so much I want to do. Don’t assume I can’t. I am not my demo.
thanks for sharing your story. i obviously don’t know the whole story, but based on the info you provided i this article, i have some comments.
15-30 ago, being an executive who was excited about technology was enough. for example, your mention of testing Facebook or VR. embracing technology and rethinking their buiness was a major step back then and employers needed executive champions. but now employers, in my opinion, want and need more than enthusiam or experimentation. they are looking for current success stories and awards. you mentioned taking coding classes. did you get a degree or certification? did you use your new coding knowledge to build build something cool? did it win any awards?
in the tech industry, knowledge and project success is a race that never ends. everytime we hire a new person at the company, i’m shocked at how much knowlege they have. they are light years beyond where i was at that age. personally i have to constantly keep myself up to date on current trends and technology. i have 12 certifications right now including Python 3, Spring Framework, and Maven Java Web. it’s a stuggle to both learn fast enough to keep up with work and be a single mom.
also i’d suggest that you move. because you have both nbc and cbs on your resume, im guessing that you work in either new york or LA. except for our legal council and CEO, at 39, i’m one of the older employees at my Austin, TX-based tech company. but im not a token tech female as you suggest. our company is about 60% female. and many of the top companies in austin have major female leadership. you’ll probably find similar opportunities elsewhere in the country.