Former IBM Vice President of Human Resources Alan Wild admitted the company fired as many as 100,000 employees in ”just the last several years” to improve the corporate image to Millennials, according to a lawsuit deposition uncovered by Bloomberg,
IBM faces several lawsuits over age discrimination directly related to its culling of older professionals. In the deposition for this particular case, Wild added that IBM wanted to position itself as a “cool, trendy organization” rather than “an old fuddy-duddy organization.”
In a statement to Bloomberg, IBM retorted: “We have reinvented IBM in the past five years to target higher value opportunities for our clients. The company hires 50,000 employees each year.”
The Texas case involving Wild was brought forth by Jonathan Langley, a 61-year-old who claims IBM fired him due to his age after more than a quarter-century at the firm. "Had Mr. Langley been younger, and especially if he had been a millennial, IBM would not have fired him," the lawsuit claims.
Langley’s lawsuit is separate from a class-action suit brought against IBM in federal court claiming the company is in violation of the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) of 1990. That lawsuit asserts the company began firing older professionals to “correct its seniority mix” as early as 2014.
IBM hasn’t stopped terminating workers, either. Just last month, it laid off another 2,000 employees who were not performing at “a competitive level.” The company added at the time: “We are continuing to re-position our team to align with our focus on the high value segments of the IT market – while aggressively hiring in critical new areas that deliver value for our clients and IBM.”
This seems to be IBM’s spin, too: it lays off ‘under-performing’ staff while refreshing the workforce with younger talent. But who underperforms (and specifically what “underperforming” is) remains opaque. In March, we related the story of Cheryl Witmer, an IBM employee from 1984 to 2016 who was forced into retirement after one unexpected negative performance review. Her boss told her in no uncertain terms she would be retiring following that review.
Ironically, the company has also positioned itself as a stable employment option for millennials. In a 2015 newsroom article titled, “IBM Study: The Real StoryBehind Millennials in the Workplace,” the company claimed, “Millennials want financial security and a diverse workplace just as much as their older colleagues”... even as it was reportedly firing older professionals en masse.
Around the same time it published that blog entry, IBM spokesman Ian Colley told USA Today that a report it would be laying off up to 100,000 of its staff was “ridiculous” and “baseless.”
But people are being laid off, and Wild’s deposition (if taken at face value) strongly suggests IBM is in the midst of an overhaul meant to eliminate older professionals while the company actively engages a younger crowd. The optics, and the evidence, are just not good. (Especially when paired with data suggesting that IBM already pays many of its senior software engineers less than other big, "old school" tech firms.)