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April 21, 2021

Why Age Should Factor into Diversity Programs.

A company that only hires men or only promotes white people would raise eyebrows. So would a firm that chooses to layoff all the employees who follow a specific religion. Not only would these actions be identified as discriminatory, but everyone would agree that they’re at odds with a growing trend towards diversity in the workplace. That’s because it’s becoming increasingly common to see the value of people of various genders, sexualities, races, and religions. 

But what about individuals of varying ages? Would there be equivalent alarm if all the 50-plus employees were targeted for layoffs? Probably not because people continue to see older workers as burdensome and less valuable.

Even in the face of an aging workforce globally and particularly in North America and Europe, people are reluctant to hire or retain mature employees. Research shows that older workers are often excluded because of misconceptions about their abilities. At the same time, more mature people want or need to continue working. Furthermore, companies that embrace mature employees reap significant benefits.

It is our view that recruiters and managers need to pay special attention to age as they seek to make their organizations more diverse. We also believe that companies need to go beyond diversity to foster the inclusion of various types of employees. Organizations simply cannot afford to lose the experience and wisdom of mature workers.

Diversity vs. Inclusion – Aren’t They The Same?

These terms are often used interchangeabl,y but no, they aren’t the same thing. Diversity focuses solely on the makeup of the workforce, i.e., hiring people with varied characteristics and backgrounds. However, inclusion is about creating an environment that allows those workers to participate in the decision-making process. 

Research shows that diversity does not automatically result in inclusion. Laura Sherbin and Ripa Rashid concluded that while it was easy to measure diversity with a simple headcount, more robust methods were necessary to assess inclusion. Per the authors, the Center for Talent Innovation uses a combination of quantitative surveys, focus groups, and individual interviews to get a clearer understanding of how employees feel. 

Benefits of a Diverse, Inclusive Workforce

Diversity helps to drive innovation, and it improves customer service. One study by the Boston Consulting Group found that diverse leadership teams generate 19% more revenue. Companies with a diverse, inclusive workforce are more in tune with what their customers want because they have input from people with varied backgrounds and life experiences. They are also better able to generate ideas that are new and counter to the mainstream.

However, it’s important to note that inclusion must be a feature at all levels of the decision-making process to reap optimum results from diversity efforts. According to one Cloverpop white paper, teams that are inclusive make better decisions as much as 87% of the time. Also, they arrive at decisions twice as fast while holding half as many meetings.

In order to get a clear picture of how diversity can improve your bottom line, both employees and leadership teams must be diverse and inclusive. You will also need to actively confront personal biases and biased organizational systems and processes before you can make the necessary changes. Given how easily age-related biases can go unnoticed, this is especially important if you want to build an age-diverse and age-inclusive workforce.

The Link Between Sustainability and Ageing

What we’re looking at here is social sustainability which refers to the ability to identify and manage the impact an organization has on people. These people include direct employees, individuals at all levels of the value chain, and even the community at large. It should not come as a surprise that you need to be cognizant of how your organization affects older people.

Sustainability impacts a company’s success and its bottom line. Businesses that practice social sustainability improve employee morale, boost productivity, and develop new products and services. They are also more likely to impress consumers who want to know that they’re doing business with companies who make the world a better place. If you become known as an employer who treats 50-plus employees unfairly, you could lose social capital, and your reputation could take a hit.

Addressing Age-Related Problems in the Workforce

Co-editor of Ageing, Organizations and Management Iiris Aaltio points out that although experience and wisdom are viewed positively, they are also linked to stagnation. In Managing a Diverse and Ageing Workforce, Aaltio said it was “simplistic and incorrect” to assume that getting older results in an overall decline in health. 

She noted that management usually responds to aging employers by re-evaluating the type of work they can do or training them to address an assumed loss of ability and skill. However, she suggested that mature employees should be seen as a potential fountain of innovation and a valuable resource.

According to this author, even though organizations often include aging in their diversity programs, mature employees are often the first to go when they downsize or restructure. With workers needing to stay in the workforce longer and labor shortages occurring in some industries, Aaltio says organizations need to make sure that older workers can continue to work.

Advantages of Multi-Generational Teams

There are five generations in the modern workforce today. This is the first time this has happened in history, and many believe that managing multiple generations in one workplace is a significant challenge. While there are some difficulties associated with 20-somethings and 70-somethings sharing the same space, there are also benefits to be derived.

For the founder of the Extreme Sports Channel Alistair Gosling, teams made up of different generations simply need to be managed correctly. His core team consists of younger workers, who he says bring lots of passion and energy to the job. However, he also has a small team of senior employees who bring a sense of “grounding” to the organization. 

Gosling acknowledges that disagreements sometimes occur since younger workers want to put everything on the table for discussion, while mature employees favor tried-and-tested solutions. However, he says he focuses on facilitating the conversation and bringing out the best in each person. Gosling says he enjoys working with people over 60 since they have a calm demeanor that’s highly valuable.

The value of mature workers has not gone completely unnoticed. In 2017, then Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning Eluned Morgan cautioned businesses that if they didn’t take the right steps, they would lose the skills and experience that mature employees develop over a lifetime. She was speaking as the Welsh government launched an awareness campaign entitled “People Don’t Have A Best Before Date.”

This indicates that there is growing awareness that 50-plus employees are not automatically dispensable because of their age. Rather, they have a lot to offer both in terms of institutional wisdom, skills, and personal life experience. Far from being discarded, they should be embraced and encouraged to mentor and train younger employees. This benefits junior workers, organizations, and the mature workers who want to feel like they’re making a contribution.

Tips for Improving Age Diversity and Inclusion in Your Workplace

Age diversity is just as important as other types of diversity when seeking to build a successful team that values a wide range of perspectives. According to the Executive Director of the Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging, Ruth Finkelstein, companies suffer when they choose to avoid mature employees. They lose experienced individuals with a strong work ethic who would stay loyal to the organization. 

There’s a lot you can do to attract and retain 50-plus employees in your organization. In many cases, companies take a gradual approach rather than trying to achieve a complete overhaul in one go. Here are some of the things you can do.

Take a Look at Your Executives

The composition of your executive team says a lot about the values and culture of your company, whether you like it or not. It communicates a message to the rest of your employees as well as your customers and partners. In today’s world, where consumers pay particular attention to businesses’ diversity efforts, you need to make sure that your leadership team is made up of a wide cross-section of individuals, including those who are 50-plus.

Root Out Age Discrimination in Hiring

Several studies show that ageism continues to be a problem in hiring despite laws or recommendations against discriminating against individuals because of their age. If you’re a recruiter or hiring manager, you need to include age in your diversity and inclusion strategies in the same way that you probably include gender and race. 

In addition, you need to pay attention to emphasize the language you use in your job descriptions. If you advertise for a “digital native” or someone who is “energetic and bold”, you’ll likely turn off 50-plus employees. However, if you autonomy and mentorship abilities, you’re more likely to attract mature jobseekers. You should also look for employees outside of career fairs and avoid asking applicants to state their birth year or graduation date.

Create a Culture in Which Everyone’s Voice Is Welcomed and Respected

As we noted before, it’s not enough to just hire diverse talent. You also need to create a space in which they feel that their unique attributes are valued. If you hire 50-plus employees but fail to facilitate their full inclusion in the organization,  they’ll feel disconnected, and you’re likely to experience “the drift.”

This is when mature workers feel so disengaged and unmotivated that their performance suffers, and they eventually leave the organization. Employees need to feel like they can express themselves freely and share their unique views without being victimized or ridiculed. 

Support a Multi-Generational Workforce

Each generation of workers is shaped by different world events, and they may develop various attributes as a result. Understanding their views, needs, and beliefs can help you to provide the support they need. At the same time, you need to steer clear of stereotyping. Not all baby boomers or millennials are the same, and there are likely to be differences even within generations. This means you need to get to know your employees on a more individual basis so you can determine what they expect from their jobs and their employers.

Make Sure Gatherings Reflect the Preferences of People of All Ages

Holiday events and birthday parties are a staple at many organizations. However, they can make some employees uncomfortable. In the same way that you may try to make your end-of-year holiday party suitable for people of all religions, you also need to ensure that older workers aren’t disadvantaged. An employee who is turning 25 may gladly state their age during birthday celebrations, but a 71-year-old may not want a party at all. Providing food and music that caters to diverse groups can also go a long way. Another thing to consider is that you may need to make it clear that the office party is optional since these events may not matter all that much to older workers.

Hire a Third Party to Help with Your Diversity and Inclusion Efforts

Everything that we’ve discussed so far may seem complicated, especially if your human resources department is already stretched. It can also be difficult to detect bias and discrimination in your own organization. Hiring an independent team to assess your company can make a big difference. Your employees may feel more comfortable talking to a third party about the things they observe or experience as far as age discrimination is concerned. Instead of trying to improve the diversity and inclusion practices in your company on your own, get help from an expert in age-related HR matters.

Contact WiseForce Advisors Today!

Let us help you to unleash the opportunities that come with attracting, hiring, and retaining 50-plus employees. We’re well aware of how organizations suffer when mature workers drift away and how they thrive when these workers are supported and encouraged. If your diversity and sustainability efforts haven’t included age, now is the time to make a change.

WiseForce Advisors has the tools to get you started on a new path. Our Age Management Readiness Questionnaire will assist you in determining whether you are capable of managing a multi-generational workforce. Our Corporate Awareness Sessions will help you to identify and address age-related challenges, and our Age Management Workshops for Managers will give you the tools to promote collaboration across age groups. If you’re interested in a customized solution for your business, reach out to us at info@wiseforceadvisors.com and schedule a consultation.