Does Apple have an ageist problem when hiring for its Apple retail locations? If so, it’s not institutional, and the situation that sparked the original story doesn’t actually back up such a claim.
The New York Times has an excellent piece on ageism, which is having a prejudice against a given age range. Ageism is often experienced by older American workers, from unskilled workers to highly skilled professionals. Lots of places don’t want to hire older people because of a broad range of stereotypes, few of which hold up under scrutiny.
Ageism is a thing. Silicon Valley is rife with it. The tech culture is seemingly obsessed with hiring young engineers, designers, and other professionals, and there are plenty of stories on the subject.
Is Apple one of them? Maybe, but there is salt and pepper sprinkled in with the many fresh faces on Apple’s campus. The story that gained traction today was about JK Scheinberg, the superstar engineer who first ported OS X to Intel’s x86 architecture.
At 54, Mr. Scheinberg retired from his engineering gig at Apple. Ashton Applewhite, the author of the above-mentioned New York Times piece, used Mr. Scheinberg as an example of ageism. Mr. Scheinberg applied to be a Genius at an Apple Store several years ago after retiring from Apple corporate. He got in on a first round mass interview, which went well.
“On the way out, all three of the interviewers singled me out and said, ‘We’ll be in touch,'” Mr. Scheinberg told the reporter (who is a friend of his). Here’s a Labor Day tweet from Mr. Scheinberg:
— JK Scheinberg (@tiltdad) September 5, 2016
The original version of the story said he didn’t get an offer for a second interview, and that’s when the stories ran about Apple having an ageism problem. The Times has since corrected the ageism piece to mention Mr. Scheinberg was offered a second interview, but had already stopped pursuing the job. A correction notice is at the bottom of the article reading:
An earlier version of this article included a quotation by JK Scheinberg, a retired Apple engineer, saying he was not contacted after an interview for a position at an Apple store Genius Bar. Mr. Scheinberg and Apple now say that the company did send an email asking to schedule a second interview.
Not surprisingly, that didn’t sweep out across the world in a fan of CSS and HTML the same way the original story did.
Ageism at Apple Retail?
I started poking around on this story this morning, wondering what kind of fire might be behind this smoke. Ageism is a real problem, one where experience, skill, stability, and all of the other great qualities that go along with aging are bizarrely devalued. American culture has upended humanity’s longer track record of valuing our elders for their wisdom and replaced it with a youth obsession.
At the same time, retail is dominated by youthful workers. That’s in part because retail generally-speaking pays poorly and is often seen as a starter-job. It’s the kind of thing you do while you go to school, or because you can’t go to school.
Apple is different, of course. For one thing, Apple pays better than many retail jobs. For another, many people want to be part of the Apple thing, including retail. But still, BusinessInsider wrote, “Apple, notoriously, employs very young workers in its stores.”
“Notoriously” is a bizarre word choice to make, considering the makeup of retail workers across the country. If anything, my gut says the average age of an Apple retail location’s work force would skew a little higher than the average age of the retail industry as a whole. I could be wrong. My gut has lied to me before. But notoriously? I call shenanigans on that.
The broader point is even more important, though. My understanding is that ageism is not an institutional issue at Apple retail. There’s no doubt it exists in some form at some individual locations because individual humans are making the hiring decisions. And, as noted above, ageism permeates our culture in a myriad of ways, and that’s bound to have a subconscious effect on many people.
But institutionally, Apple hires based on people’s ability to connect with other people. That’s the metric, not age, race, creed, sexual orientation, attractiveness, height, weight, hair color, or which hand is dominant.
Apple is building its retail experience around human connections. Mr. Scheinberg may or may not have gotten a fair shake when he applied to be a genius back in 2008. We may never know because he didn’t accept his offer for a second interview. That he got that offer, though, is anecdotal evidence that ageism isn’t an institutionalized problem at Apple retail.