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Why hiring "digital natives" may be age discrimination

Age discrimination typically isn't all that overt. Companies do not put out ads saying they won't hire anyone over 45 or that only people in their 20s should apply. They know well that age discrimination is illegal.

That does not mean they don't do it. They try to hide it. They try to cover it up with something else and make it appear not to be age-based at all.

For a time, companies would do this by saying they only wanted to hire "new graduates." Technically, since anyone can go to college at any age, this made it appear that they didn't care about a person's age. They cared about hiring someone who recently got out of college. Quickly, though, it became clear that this could lead to discrimination since the vast majority of new grads are 22 or 23 years old.

While companies have moved away from this, experts warn that they have a new catchphrase that basically does the same thing: digital natives.

The implication

This phrase often sees use in technology spaces. The implication is that a digital native is someone who is very familiar with digital technology and essentially grew up with it. To this person, things like social media and online access are part of the way the world is, not something new that has developed over the past two decades. The person is very familiar with computers, tablets, smartphones and all related technology.

Of course, while it is understandable that tech companies would want employees who understand digital trends and technology, the problem is that only someone in their early 20s can really be a digital native. A worker who is 45 years old may have studied and learned just as much, but he or she is simply too old to count, often qualifying as a "digital immigrant" instead. Age does come into the equation -- and not just skill, as some may argue -- because of the age of these technologies.

When asked about the term, a vice president at NAVEX Global said that the full implication, which makes her want to cringe, is that "only young applicants need to apply" for those jobs. The companies may not come right out and say it, but the fact that anyone reading that ad knows what it means could then push older applicants away from the job. Even if they felt they were qualified and could do that job very well, they would fear that they'd never get hired based on their age.

Your options

It is important to understand how age discrimination gets disguised, which this example does very well. If you get discriminated against, be sure you know what legal options you have.

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