Last week, Fortune released its annual “40 under 40” list, and, as is always the case, writes its assistant managing editor, there was blowback about who was featured. One complaint about this year’s list is that there are just 15 women, which, she acknowledges, is “not parity – far from it.” However, she still defends Fortune’s reasoning, saying the business achievements of women under age 40 don’t match men of the same age group.
The silver lining, continues the editor, is that “when you look at women between 40 and 44, the universe of powerful women explodes in number — and their roles are much bigger. The sweet spot for women in business, I would argue, is ages 40 to 44.”
Maybe we’re supposed to slow clap here. Instead, we’d like to propose to Fortune and other outlets that they stop ranking businesspeople by age. Age lists are absurd on almost ever conceivable level.
If you’re still in your twenties, you might not appreciate how weird it is that leading business publications celebrate professionals based on the year in which they were born. But it’s a fairly ghoulish obsession and worse, it feeds into society’s growing disregard for everyone over the age of 40.
That’s a whole lot of people. According to U.S. Census Bureau figures from 2010, 30.6 million Americans, or roughly 10 percent of the population fell between the ages of 18 and 24 years, while 82.1 million or 26.6 percent fell between 25 and 44 years of age and roughly the same amount of people were between the ages of 45 and 64 years old.
It isn’t fashionable to care about age diversity. Google didn’t disclose its employees’ ages in its diversity report. Neither did Facebook, Yahoo, LinkedIn or Pinterest, and there wasn’t much of an uproar about the subject. Everyone was too focused on how white and male-dominated each company appears to be.
And, people like lists; they drive traffic and ad revenue. We get it.
But the relentless focus of Silicon Valley and the broader business press on wunderkinds is discrimination, pure and simple. It’s also terrible for business given the skills of older employees and entrepreneurs.
In Fortune’s postmortem about its “40 under 40” list, its editor proposes numerous reasons for the “long list of incredibly powerful women in their early 40s,” pointing to women’s busy early childcare years, as well as the comparatively thin numbers of female entrepreneurs as compared with men. She closes by saying it’s her hope that “one day the 40 under 40 [list] will reach parity.”
Our hope is that Fortune spends a little less time worrying about business leaders’ birthdays when celebrating business leaders. That’s the real problem. And it’s remarkably easy to avoid.
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