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Career Management Advice For Mature Professionals - Don't Be A Victim

older_worker_-_age_discrimination-1.jpgAn age-discrimination lawsuit was filed in mid-August against HP Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise  by four former employees accusing the pre-break versions of these companies of laying them off and transferring their jobs to younger workers.

The lawsuit also includes allegations that HP had a system in place to encourage the practice of moving out older workers to make room for younger replacements.

Here is a chart showing the average employee age at some of the largest tech firms in the country.

What stands out immediately is that each firm listed has an average age that is less than 40. In the case of HP, it shows that they are at the high end (average age is 39).

While I do not want to draw conclusions without evidence, it is interesting to note that (as quoted in Fortune):

, which seeks class-action status, suggests that these employees were deliberately targeted for dismissal because of their age (all of them were older than 40 when they were let go) as part of CEO Meg Whitman’s master plan to move to a younger workforce. As evidence, they cite comments Whitman made back in 2012 to analysts about HP’s need to “reshape and recalibrate” its labor pyramid to include more younger people: “If you don’t have a whole host of young people who are learning how to do delivery or learning how to do these kinds of things, you will be in [for] real challenges.”

Taken on its own, Whitman’s comment is pretty innocuous. Certainly, no one could blame any manager for hiring with future succession in mind. Or for looking for candidates who have experience in newer skills, such as digital design or social media experience. Or for looking at a whole gamut of factors—from salaries to past performance—as a divining rod for deciding who stays and who goes during periods of belt-tightening. The suit suggests, however, HP went too far to make room on the payroll for younger workers. And Whitman’s mention of recalibration could prove problematic.

This may be the beginning of many more legal challenges to come. A cynical review of current events would lead someone to believe that there is a systematic elimination of older workers. There is truth to this to some extent but the story is much more complex than that.

Older workers (of which I am a very proud member) need to look at this trend and see beyond the simplistic answer that firms are going with younger workers to reduce their payroll and get a more compliant workforce that will put in the long hours. While there is truth to this the deeper answer involves what skill sets are needed to succeed in our present workplace.

Rather than be the victim, mature professionals need to follow this career management advice:

Re-evaluate your skill set versus their younger counterparts to see what are the apparent gaps.

I can look to my own experience as the leader of a consulting firm where I needed to completely re-learn what it takes to be an effective marketer in today's economy. This journey has led me to learn about SEO, inbound marketing, content development, social selling, account based marketing amongst other things.

In a guest blog (How To Develop And Nurture Your Marketing Career) for Hire ProfileI discussed how professionals need to follow this simple rule:

If you stop learning – you will stop growing.

In the blog, I wrote about a CMO breakfast run by Agency Spotter where Tom Daly, Group Director of Global Connections for The Coca–Cola Company, talked about the never-ending need to constantly be learning, especially when you move into management positions where you become further removed from the actual work.

Tom has a massive job that involves being responsible for global mobile marketing for Coca-Cola . His mission is to do everything he can to enable Coke to connect with their consumers via mobile. In his discussion, Tom talked about how important it is for him to understand the nuts and bolts of mobile, not just the strategic and conceptual. He stressed the importance of this because he never wanted to become too far removed from how things are really done.

This need for learning gives him the added insights to be able to better identify opportunities and coach and manage his global team. This also is a great example of how a mature professional (my apologies Tom - I am not calling you old) can keep themselves relevant and vital.

Mature professionals - please do not let yourselves become the victim of ageism due to perceived skill gaps. Embrace and passionately become learners. Attack the challenge to become skilled and knowledgeable in what makes today's economy work.