The phrase “digital native” is a fairly new term that is being employed by a number of companies, particularly in the media, digital, start-up and tech worlds. Doing a quick google search for “digital+native+jobs”, I found the following:
“An ideal candidate is a digital native, who has a passion for learning and always uncovering new opportunities in the digital space, and who has a solid grounding in the world of digital media and technology.” – for Sr. Digital Strategist at Saatchi & Saatchi LA
“The Social Media Manager is a digital native, skilled in onsite attendee engagement in a face paced environment.” – for Social Media Manager at Oracle
“Requirements: Digital native and experience with Google Docs or Microsoft Office” – for Administrative Assistant at Revzilla.com
These are just a few of the many came up. So what is a “digital native”? According to the Oxford Dictionary a digital native is “a person born or brought up during the age of digital technology and therefore familiar with computers and the Internet from an early age.” On the surface it seems like a harmless phrase to throw on to a job description, in fact, it seems likely that an employer might want someone like this for a Social Media position; however, if being a digital native is a requirement as seen in some of the posts above, are you unintentionally sending a message of age discrimination?
Would you consider someone who was born 40+ years ago (1975 or before) to be a digital native? To put this in perspective, Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft on April 4, 1975. So would you classify those born in this year as having been familiar with the internet and computers from an early age? Not to say that skills and competencies can’t be learned, but by definition, the term digital native seems to point more to a specific generational group.
The EEOC has not yet had a claim of age discrimination based on this qualification, but with claims of this type on the rise, I would venture to bet it is on the horizon. Furthermore, as we’ve seen in several cases, especially in California, statements such as the ones mentioned above can have an adverse impact on one (or more) protected classes by disproportionately hiring candidates under the age of forty.
At this point in time, I would use this phrase at your own risk, but seriously consider how and in what context you are using it.