Is “Digital Native” Code for Ageism?

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Is “Digital Native” Code for Ageism?

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Companies that advertise job openings for “digital natives” may think they’re simply appealing to the most tech-adept candidates out there. But they aren’t. When an older worker—even someone in their late thirties—spots that term in a job listing, they’re likely to think applying is a waste of time. This is a loss for organizations.

Even unintentionally, recruiting for “digital natives” represents a form of bias, often called ageism. The descriptor wasn’t meant to be discriminatory, of course, or even to indicate a particular technological prowess. Marc Prensky, who coined “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” in 2001, has even clarified that the “Digital Natives/Digital Immigrants metaphor is NOT about what people know, or can do, with technology. Everyone has to learn in one way or another. It’s more about culture and attitudes.”

Yet when Fortune ran a quick survey of the leading job sites in 2015, the term “digital native” turned up everywhere from Zipcar and CBS TV affiliate to Wunderman (part of Young & Rubicam Brands) and StratusLIVE, which posted forthrightly, “ideal candidate must be a digital native.”

Is Digital Native Always Ageist?

Is it ever okay to use “digital native” in a job posting? If a company was looking for an entry-level employee with a strong knowledge base in, say, online media, wouldn’t this term be appropriate? What does the tendency to search for “digital natives” say about an organization’s culture?

Read my recent article in Fast Company to find the answers to these questions, as well as valuable insight from Cornell University and experts in the field. 

Digital Natives Anne Loehr

Would you apply for a position seeking a “digital native”? Why or why not? Let me know in the comment section below, send me an email or find me on Twitter.


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