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Why does the tech sector not hire elders?

By: Julie Ann Soukoulis
March 2, 2018
Navigating the aging journey

The technology sector is the job sector most guilty of keeping their workforce under the age of 40. Most technology company founders remain in this age group even today. The argument is that they need people with deep digital experience and expertise. To these groups - age and experience don’t seem to matter.

Chip Conley, a 56-year-old entrepreneur, is a global hospitality strategic advisor and argues that this will be their Achilles’ heel. 

Imbalance in industry

For eons, societies have depended on their elders to deliver wisdom and the lessons delivered from direct experience. Today, though, as industry expands through a digital focus - power is being delegated to younger people faster than ever before.

To expect this age group to excel at leadership is simply unrealistic. Some argue it is a practice destined for failure.

Finding roles for the modern elder

Today’s modern elders need to be able to do much more than just disseminate wisdom to their juniors. They need to be able to learn, apprentice, guide, integrate new information and then disseminate this information in an effective manner.

This also means listening carefully to those they are assisting with decision making. Much like the Yoda versus Luke Skywalker relationship, wisdom has traditionally been passed “down” from elder to youth.

In today’s world culture, however, technological advances have come so fast that in order to keep abreast of things that are literally changing too fast for anyone with any wisdom to control or reflect on - our elders need to become adept at discovering what is being overlooked. They need to be able to apply direct experience to questionable outcomes.

Sage, student, professor, intern, advisor

All of this is simply theory, really, except that Conley is a modern elder himself, who has been actively transforming the Airbnb industry.

He founded a boutique hotel chain at 26, and sold it at 50. This is when he got a call from Brian Chesky, founder and CEO of Airbnb. In 2013, Airbnb was not yet a household name.

At the age of 31, Chesky was new to the hotel industry. Yet in 2013 Airbnb was fast becoming a challenge to this industry. His company, made up of almost all millennials, needed Conley’s set of experiences and knowledge in order to continue to compete and grow. Conley, of course, had never even used an Airbnb.

“I was an ‘old-school’ hotel guy [but] had never used Airbnb,” he wrote in a recent essay for the Harvard Business Review. “I didn’t even have the Uber app on my phone. I was 52 years old, I’d never worked in a tech company, I didn’t code, I was twice the age of the average Airbnb employee, and, after running my own company for well over two decades, I’d be reporting to a smart guy 21 years my junior. I was a little intimidated. But I took the job.”

Things a modern elder doesn’t understand

Conley occupied the position of head of global hospitality and strategy. He quickly realized he knew nearly nothing about Airbnb’s core function of mobile and web development.

“At a meeting on my first day, they were talking a language I just didn’t understand,” Conley recalls. “I realized that the only way this was going to work was if I stayed open to evolving my identity.”

According to Conley, the most important place for this identity change was in his relations with Chesky. According to Conley;

“Brian had asked me to be partly his mentor, but at the same time I had to be his intern. So my job was to help him be as effective as he could be. But my name wasn’t going to be in the media — and that helped me right-size my ego”.


Conley possessed deep knowledge of the travel industry. Soon it became extremely useful to the company. He revved up a comprehensive online training Airbnb that now offers its two million “hosts” in 190 countries.

He created the annual Airbnb open meeting that brings hosts together. He helped the company improve its user reviews, tracking host and guest behavior.

He also organized a series of two-day retreats. These were designed to teach company managers to become better leaders.

Of course, in the coaching industry - the more experience you have the more weight you pull. And emotional intelligence is often what the millennials are trading in for knowledge. But if you don’t have the emotional intelligence to properly utilize your knowledge - well, that’s where wisdom comes in.

For jobless workers who gave up looking after more than four weeks, the 55-plus unemployment rate is a whopping 12 percent. Looked at another way, 2.5 million older Americans want a job but do not have one.

Age discrimination is illegal under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. But most of the complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission focus on age-bias terminations rather than hiring—simply because hiring discrimination is so difficult to prove.

If you are wondering why the rate of isolated elders and elders living below the poverty line are so many - please realize that our culture no longer supports people who need to work long enough to save enough to live comfortably into the years where in-home support will become mandatory.  It is truly a crisis of cultural conscience.


Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’s love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.