Can ageism bust your company?
In an era of inclusivity and diversity, ageism is growing as one of the new challenges that businesses face. Ageism is defined as “prejudice or discrimination on the basis of a person’s age.
EU funded research found that roughly 25% of employees make judgments about their co-workers’ and supervisors’ abilities to do their job based on their age alone. This rate is as high as 39% among millennials, higher than any other generation. The research also identified that, in 2018, 69% of younger workers lack the business and life experience required for leadership positions. Working in-house for large corporations, scaling start-ups, or as a consultant, I’ve seen and felt the impact of age, expectations and management styles, and I’m regularly challenged to manage issues and differences across the age spectrum for my clients.
While millennials often have greater tech skills, having grown up with devices in their hands and easily adapting to changing technologies, boomers and Gen Ys are technically savvy, often thanks to the teachings of the youth in their workplace. However, what more-seasoned generations bring to the boardroom table is life and business wisdom, and the resiliency to weather the unprecedented pace of change.
While there’s still smoke surrounding the #MeToo movement, there is a strong sentiment that we are on the precipice of the creation of an ageist hashtag that will raise awareness of the need for inclusivity and diversity at all ranges of the age spectrum. The challenge is managing both a generation that wants to race up the ladder, skipping rungs, with another that has climbed up rung-by-rung.
Ageism is being experienced across the spectrum. Both demographics at either end claim they are misunderstood.
I recently worked with a Berlin-based start-up on evaluating a multitude of candidates for a strategic position in prepping series A funding. There was a concern that “older” candidates were too experienced, while “younger” candidates lacked sufficient knowledge and “been there, done that” experience to provide the necessary confidence needed in the role.
We not only have to fill gaps with candidates that can fulfil the present job, but with an uncertain future, we need to find candidates who can roll with the punches. This is less about age and more about continuous, constant, and consistent behaviors.
The desire to grow, learn, explore and develop personally and professionally is common to every age. While quick to offer development plans for the younger generation, we are often remiss in ensuring our ageing demographic remains sharp and motivated. As the population ages, development plans across all ages and stages of life and work need to be offered and implemented.
While this cliché rings true across a broad range of situations, it is perhaps most apparent in business, particularly with millennials and boomers. Given the two groups often experience parallel age-range challenges at home (parents versus kids), sometimes the dynamic extends to the boardroom. The kitchen table and the boardroom table are not the same. There are very different expectations and accountabilities in the boardroom, where the groups are peers and partners. With increasing, fast-paced requirements placed on businesses, it takes an egoless team of minds to keep up, let alone grow sustainable businesses boasting a competitive advantage.
Honor the demands of the opportunity at hand and consider nimble work teams that shift as requirements shift. The selection of team members should be designed to meet the objectives and who best to deliver them. It could be argued that in understanding the adoption of new tech, a team that skews younger may provide more relevant results. However, as the opportunity commercializes, the project may need to transition to suit an older team who have likely experienced a multitude of business models.
In conclusion, there are yin/yang benefits to optimizing the age spectrum.
While not everyone may see this experience spectrum as clearly, I am immersed, both physically and mentally.
At one time, I worried about a glass ceiling; I now evaluate whether a glass floor exists, run by a younger generation who – in the adrenalin rush of the new – lose sight of the value of business experience, which can help to weather the highs and lows caused by “always new” and “always on.”
As I reflect on our business world, I wonder if the generations within are as aware and respectful of the need for and benefits of age diversity. On one end of the experience spectrum, I work with start-ups predominantly composed of 20-to-30-year-olds who share the latest app, technology or new haunt on a daily basis. On the other end, with 50-60-70-years-old tech investors I see every day in the office methodically evaluating long-term business plans, oversee key investments and always add a new idea or approach to any business or client challenge we share.
As the number of years we spend in the workplace evolves, it will be interesting to note – and participate in – in how different generations respect, leverage and learn from each other’s talent. It is the dawning of the age of experience, and both ends of the spectrum have much to offer.
If you consider age before attributes, you’ll bust before you boom.