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Veteran IBMers given cold shoulder as Big Blue promotes millennials

IBM’s older workforce have taken legal action as they are dropped in favour of younger employees during the company’s attempts to reinvent itself as a ‘cool and trendy’ place to work

Up to 100,000 “oldies” have been removed from Big Blue as IBM attempts to reinvent itself as a cool company.

A number of ex-IBMers have filed civil complaints against the computer giant, which has had a track record of reinventing itself.

Under Ginni Rometty’s tenure as CEO, IBM reinvented itself as a company focused on cloud, analytics, mobile and social media technology (Cams).

According to court papers, a presentation, titled “CAMS are driven by millennial traits”, was made at a 2014 IBM event in New York.

The slides in that presentation claimed that millennials typically exhibit desirable work attributes, such as placing trust in data and reaching decisions through collaboration and consensus, while individuals over the age of 50 typically exhibit undesirable work attributes, such as being “more dubious” of analytics, placing “less stock in data” and being less “motivated to consult their colleagues to get buy in”.

Quoting a deposition filed on July 29, 2019, Bloomberg reported that Alan Wild, former vice-president of human resources, claimed IBM had culled up to 100,000 staff in just the past several years.

In the deposition quoted by Bloomberg, Wild said IBM wanted to attract millennials and be seen as “as a cool, trendy organisation” such as Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Inc.

In a complaint against IBM filed on 29 March 2019, former IBM employees Cheryl Witmer, Steven Estle, Lance Salonia, and Margaret Ahlder listed a number of instances illustrating how the company discriminated against older staff.

The court paper stated: “In the past six years alone, IBM has discharged over 20,000 US employees who were at least 40 years old in pursuit of a company-wide practice of using forced group terminations, referred to as ‘resource actions’, to accomplish its goal of removing older employees from its labour force.”

The paper also described how a 2016 presentation prepared for its executives called for managers to exempt all “early professional hires” from layoff, regardless of performance. The long-serving, older employees were provided no such exemption.

The court papers also described how IBM took an “aggressive performance management posture”, which doubled the share of employees given negative evaluations. This was then used, according to the court filing, to sack 3,000 employees, the majority of whom were later replaced with “early professionals”.

Read more about IBM’s cloud strategy

  • IBM’s second-quarter 2019 results show a 4.2% decline in revenue, but the supplier is betting big on hybrid cloud and cognitive computing.
  • At IBM Think 2018, CEO Ginni Rometty discusses ways and tools to overcome AI problems and bottlenecks.

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