Team BuildingToronto Startups

Ageism: The Elephant in the Office

By February 14, 2018 No Comments

We can’t escape father time. As we grow older, things will slow and sag. Many people identify wrinkles and grey hair as signs of incompetence, stubbornness, and being ‘old-fashioned.’ We frequently pass over maturity in favor of fresher faces. The reality is that older candidates represent an undervalued and untapped portion of the talent pool.

The Intern, starring Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro, is a cute and corny story of an elderly gentleman coming out of retirement, joining an eCommerce company, and absolutely killing it. While the lights and cameras certainly depict a glamorous scene, this feel-good story could be easily replicated by a team that’s willing to diversify its workforce.

We complain about the shortage of good talent, but often ignore the pool of mature professionals with an amazing work ethic, positive attitude, desire to learn, skills, experience, and maybe… a less-than-hip wardrobe. Our aging workforce has plenty to offer.


It’s interesting how we always praise maturity, experience and wisdom, but shun it in scenarios where those same attributes could provide so much value. Life knowledge doesn’t get its fair share of respect in the startup world, yet it’s preached and talked about everyday. Fail fast, fail often, right? Let’s practice what we preach.

I speak with professionals of all ages on a daily basis. One constant is that most 50+ year olds are open to having a conversation about prospective career opportunities; even if they’re not on the market. Experience has taught them to keep an open mind. Imagine what such an objective and curious perspective could add to your team?

Work Ethic

Due to intense competition and agile processes, most emerging tech companies don’t follow a 9-5 schedule. This is tough for a lot of the Gen X and older Millennials with young families. They’re working from home and don’t want to look at other opportunities that require rigid in-office demands. Remote work is gaining acceptance, and this is a beautiful thing. But, if you’re hiring for roles that require mandatory hours and attendance, why not look at the qualified people with less commitments at home?

There are countless people over 50 who are available to travel, work early/late and happy to contribute any way they can. There’s a misconception that wanting to make a difference and be appreciated is a millennial thing – it’s not. It’s a people thing. If you come across good applicants whose age is your only cause for hesitation, give them a shot. What they may lack in speed, they will make up for in work ethic.


Supposedly, it takes 10,000 hours to master something. I’d say it varies based on the person and the skill or concept you’re learning; but to achieve 10,000 hours… it’s going to take the kind of time that mature professionals possess.

Instead of praising their experience, we call them “overqualified.” Many hiring managers prefer grads straight out of school, or with minimal experience because they haven’t picked up so-called bad habits. This is good and well, but there are plenty of over-50 candidates who have developed and mastered great habits. They have thrived in various work environments, interacted with different personalities, resolved conflict, and possess the integrity that’s lacking in today’s workforce.

A lot of people envision what a startup should look like. The reality is that as our population ages (and thanks to better health, it will continue to do so) the picturesque startup team will look different. Potential hires should be evaluated based on their potential to contribute and perform well on the job. If a person happens to be an energetic 20-something, wonderful, but don’t underestimate someone with 20-something years of experience and a zest for life. You’ll be surprised and inspired to see how a lot of older candidates are more prepared and simply better than many of their younger counterparts. Empower our elders. Soon enough, it will be your turn.