IBM executives planned to “phase out” older employees in a bid to shift the company’s workforce younger, according to a New York Times analysis of unsealed court documents.
Those documents, made public in Federal District Court as part of a class-action suit against the company, feature one IBM executive referring to older workers as “dinobabies,” while another mentioned a “dated maternal workforce.”
In a statement to the Times, IBM denied engaging in “systemic age discrimination,” and said any layoffs were due to “business conditions and demand for certain skills, not because of [employees’] age.” A company spokesperson also claimed the company had hired more than 10,000 employees over the age of 50 between 2010 and 2020.
The unsealed emails show IBM executives’ concerns about attracting younger technologists to the ranks. “We discussed the fact that our millennial population trails competitors,” one read. “The data below is very sensitive—not to be shared—but wanted to make sure you have it. You will see that while Accenture is 72% millennial we are at 42% with a wide range and many units falling well below that average. Speaks to the need to hire early professionals.”
The suit alleges that IBM began firing “older professionals” as early as 2014 in a bid to “correct its seniority mix.” That behavior would violate the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) of 1990.
IBM has faced other allegations of ageism. In 2020, for example, it reached a “join stipulation” with a former employee who claimed he was fired due to his age. During that case, in a deposition uncovered by Bloomberg, former IBM Vice President of Human Resources Alan Wild suggested that the company had fired as many as 100,000 employees “over the past several years” in order to make its workforce seem younger.
Meanwhile, IBM is struggling to compete against tech giants like Microsoft in key areas such as A.I and the cloud. A recent Protocol article suggests that, in a bid to develop enterprise-scale cloud products that could rival offerings from Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure, IBM pursued multiple projects in parallel—which quickly turned disastrous due to poor project management: “For almost two years, two teams inside IBM Cloud worked on two completely different cloud infrastructure designs, which led to turf fights, resource constraints and internal confusion over the direction of the division.”
After years of touting its Watson platform as the future of A.I., IBM has been forced to scale those efforts back. For example, a years-long effort to turn Watson into a cancer diagnostic tool encountered severe setbacks and canceled projects with hospitals.
In the meantime, ageism remains an issue across the tech industry. For older technologists, it’s important to position yourself as a “sure bet” for hiring managers and recruiters, with an emphasis on your extensive skills and experience.