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Is Ageism a Problem in the Startup World?

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By Barbara Beauregard   |    October 11, 2016   |    9:40 AM

In the startup world, ageism has become a common issue, especially for tech companies, who often view younger employees as more innovative and energetic. 

In countless business arenas, age can quickly turn from a major asset to a significant liability. 

In many instances, this limited point of view can actually hamstring a budding business. To give your company the best chance at steady growth, learn how age diversity can strengthen your staff.

A Widespread Issue

The New Republic’s Noam Scheiber recently caused quite a stir when he published an expose featuring compelling evidence of rampant ageism in Silicon Valley. In the piece, Scheiber paints a dreary picture of talented entrepreneurs unable to secure funding or employment due to their age. While this story was limited to tech companies on the West Coast, similar problems exist in countless industries throughout the country.

What Are the Causes?

It's not difficult to see why investors and employers might view younger generations in a favorable light. They are the ones most likely to have been exposed to computers in early childhood. They also appear to have boundless potential, with most of their lives still ahead.

What's more, they appear to have history on their side. Some of the biggest startup success stories began with people in their early 20s. This has led many investors to look past older entrepreneurs in search of the next Mark Zuckerberg. It's also caused many entrepreneurs to populate their staffs with younger employees who are typically seen as more catalytic.

Is Youth Really an Advantage?

While youth may account for increased vigor, it's not always the advantage it appears to be. Temperament, grit, maturity, wisdom, education, discipline and resources all take time to develop. From an employer's point of view, these characteristics are vital to creating a steady, streamlined working environment free from egos, arguments and mistakes.

Older employees aren't just more adept at sidestepping youthful errors; they are also more likely to demonstrate loyalty, when younger staffers are looking to upgrade to new positions with competing companies.

From an investor's point of view, the trappings of youth are especially attractive, when you consider just how many high-profile startups began with young people. It's important to remember, however, that these success stories are exceptionally rare. In reality, because startups fizzle the vast majority of the time, there are tens of thousands of young failures for every Zuckerberg, Mullenweg and Chahal.

In the end, when it comes to funding a startup or staffing a new company, age diversification can pay great dividends. To enhance the odds of success, investors and entrepreneurs would do well to ignore traditional narratives and view candidates exclusively on their unique abilities and ideas.

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