Google, Ageism, and the Business of Plastic Surgery in Silicon Valley

Google recently posted the demographic makeup of its employees, revealing that most Googlers were white (61%) and Asian (30%), while 70% were men. Those statistics sparked several debates about the perceived lack of diversity at Google, with critics claiming that blacks, Hispanics, and women were not afforded equal opportunities in high-paying Silicon Valley jobs.

Yet Google left out one important and controversial statistic -- the median age of its employees. Bloomberg reported last July that the median age of a Google employee was only 29, while a recent PayScale survey discovered that out of the 32 most successful U.S. tech companies, only six had a median age over 35.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Several tech companies, including Google, have been sued in the past over allegations of age discrimination. Perceived ageism has also notably caused the number of plastic surgery procedures among male tech workers to climb in recent years, according to a March report in New Republic.

Therefore, let's take a closer look at the intersection between age discrimination, the tech industry, and the plastic surgery industry to better understand the key challenges that older workers in the tech industry face today.

Is the tech industry ageist?
The tech industry's attitude toward age can be best defined by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's controversial statement at Stanford in 2007: "Young people are just smarter."

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Meanwhile, Benchmark Capital's Peter Fenton once stated that his venture capital firm, best known for its prolific tech investments, prefers to keep the average of its most-active partners under the age of 40.

In 2010, former Googler Brian Reid sued Google for age discrimination, based on claims that co-workers mocked his tech knowledge as ancient and called him an "old fuddy-duddy" and other age-related insults. Reid, a former associate professor of electrical engineering at Stanford, was laid off in 2004 at the age of 52. The case was eventually settled out of court for undisclosed terms.

These examples highlight an interesting question -- why are Millennials, who are often criticized for being pampered and undisciplined, considered the ideal employees for tech giants like Facebook and Google?

Google certainly pampers its employees with six-figure salaries, free gourmet food, top-notch health insurance, on-site kindergartens and gyms, and five months' paid maternity leave -- but its employees only stay for a median of 1.1 years, according to PayScale. Does that indicate that Google prefers the fleeting innovative input of young individuals over the stability of older, more experienced workers?

The relationship between ageism and plastic surgery
The tech industry is not the only sector with age discrimination issues. The number of resolved age discrimination cases across all U.S. businesses has risen 22% from 18,279 in 1997 to 22,371 in 2013, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. However, more than two-thirds of all cases over the past three years (68% in 2013) found in favor of the employer, finding "no reasonable cause" to believe that discrimination occurred.

Therefore, it's not surprising that the number of plastic surgeries in America climbed 12% year-over-year in 2013 to 11 million cosmetic procedures, according to the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS). Men accounted for 9% of that total, or 1 million procedures, representing a whopping 273% jump from 1997. ASAPS reported that the top three surgical procedures for men were liposuction, eyelid surgery, and nose surgery.

It's easy to see how the growth of Silicon Valley, the rise of age discrimination lawsuits, and the dominance of younger men in the tech industry has supported the growth in the plastic surgery industry.

The growth of the cosmetic drugs industry
Regardless of whether Google, Facebook, and other tech companies are justified in their hiring practices, companies like Botox maker Allergan and Valeant Pharmaceuticals have clearly benefited from the rising demand for cosmetic drugs:

AGN Chart

Source: Ycharts.

Back in 1997, Allergan only reported $90.1 million in sales of Botox, its popular muscle relaxer. In 2013, Botox sales hit $1.98 billion -- representing 12% growth from the previous year. Sales of Allergan's medical devices, which mainly consist of facial and breast aesthetics products, also climbed 12% year-over-year to $856 million.

That kind of growth has made Allergan a lucrative takeover target for diversified health care giant Valeant, which has been building up its aesthetics portfolio with inorganic growth over the past several years. Valeant is currently attempting to acquire Allergan with a $54 billion hostile bid.

The Foolish takeaway
Age discrimination might have led to a rise in plastic surgery in Silicon Valley, but I heartily disagree with Zuckerberg's claim that "young people are just smarter." Certain younger employees might be more creative and willing to take risks, but they can also be less loyal to a company, as seen with Google's abysmal employee retention rate.

In conclusion, tech companies certainly reserve the right to hire whomever is best suited for the job -- regardless of race, gender, or age. However, in the tech world, plastic surgeons are now replacing pasty-faced geeks with sharp-looking hipsters, making it brutally tough for older workers in the field to remain competitive.

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The article Google, Ageism, and the Business of Plastic Surgery in Silicon Valley originally appeared on

Leo Sun owns shares of Facebook and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool recommends Facebook, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), and Valeant Pharmaceuticals. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), and Valeant Pharmaceuticals. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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