6 Ways to Include Age in Your Diversity and Inclusion Work
Focusing on your hiring process, team management and communications can reduce biases
by Heather Tinsley-Fix, AARP, March 15, 2021
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| For years, organizations have acknowledged the business case for diversity. Having a more inclusive workplace makes sense because it stimulates innovative thinking and allows employers to tap into a bigger pool of potential talent. Yet more than half of the 6,000 global employers surveyed by AARP in 2020 revealed that they do not include age in diversity and inclusion policies. Those that don't leverage age diversity are at a disadvantage in terms of innovation, institutional knowledge, employee engagement and workforce stability. Generational diversity in the workforce is here to stay, so it makes good business sense to foster an age-inclusive culture within your organization.
Whether you have an established diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) function or are in the process of building one, adding age as an element doesn't have to be difficult. Here are six areas to consider when incorporating age as an element of diversity and inclusion.
Be deliberate about age as a diversity element
Specifically noting age as an aspect of diversity is a foundational step to take in the process of including it throughout your DEI work. If you don't name it, you won't address it. And specifically referencing age sends a clear signal that workers of all generations are valued. Here are three immediate actions you can take.
- Make sure you mention age in your official statements on diversity. This includes the common equal employment opportunity (EEO) statements as well as communications that explain your organization's stance on the value of diversity in all forms.
- Review diversity policies to ensure age is included. This could mean language explaining company culture and values, an overview of DEI goals and action plans, statements from leadership, and information on non-retaliation policies.
- Sign the AARP Employer Pledge. Doing so publicly affirms your commitment to building an age-inclusive workforce.
Build age into anti-bias training
Whether you use individual modules or take a holistic approach, anti-bias training should acknowledge age as an aspect of identity that can be targeted, consciously or unconsciously, for discrimination. AARP research shows that despite a growing awareness of generational diversity in the workforce, age discrimination is still distressingly common. When evaluating different options, look for trainings that:
- Refrain from over-identifying personality traits with specific generations. While terms like “boomer” and “millennial” are often peppered throughout generational awareness training, they do more harm than good if they simply reinforce stereotypes about people based on age.
- Acknowledge that people can be discriminated against because they are too old or too young. Discounting workers’ contributions based on assumptions about their age can affect anyone.
- Break down the numerous and widely circulated myths and stereotypes that relate to age, such as the belief that intelligence peaks at 20.
If you can't find suitable or affordable off-the-shelf training, dig into your existing training to see if you can adapt workshops and exercises on other diversity topics to accommodate age.
Reexamine your hiring practices
Older workers experience age discrimination most commonly in the hiring process, with 45 percent of older applicants reporting that age discrimination is the major limitation to finding a new job. Spending some time and effort to de-bias your talent acquisition function will go a long way to supporting age diversity initiatives. There are a number of ways to address hidden age bias in the hiring process.
- Review job descriptions for coded language that comes across as ageist. Examples include words like “fresh,” “high-energy” or “digital native.” Replace such terms with more neutral language. AARP's guide “Say This, Not That,” can help.
- Reflect a mix of ages in your employer branding — on your careers pages, employee profiles and other recruiting collateral.
- Stop asking for date of birth or graduation in your application process unless you have a clear business need to do so.
- Ask your recruiting platform vendors to conduct periodic audits that scan for bias of all kinds, including age.
- Encourage your recruiters to push back against hiring managers who reject candidates based on age.
Establish age as a valued diversity element in internal and external communications
Part of building inclusion into the fabric of your organization is reflecting and celebrating the workforce you have (and want to create) as well as being mindful of common assumptions that may influence choices related to language, access to opportunity and public discourse. Two ways to signal support for a multigenerational workforce include:
- Elevate perspectives and voices across generations. This includes company-wide communications and internal sites as well as social media activity and statements from leadership on diversity.
- Communicate information about benefits, development opportunities and other programs (like internships) to all employees equally. Don't make assumptions that younger workers won't be interested in caregiving support or that older workers won't want to take advantage of upskilling opportunities.
Create opportunities for collaboration
One of the most effective ways for inclusive organizations to break down unconscious bias is to provide opportunities for diverse groups to interact and share a common purpose. There are a number of ways to increase the age diversity of existing groups and functions.
- When possible, create mixed-age teams. If your organization is highly matrixed, or if you regularly use cross-functional teams, achieving a mix of ages can be relatively easy. Research shows that mixed-age teams outperform less age-diverse teams on complex or creative tasks.
- Intergenerational employee resource groups are a great way to bring generations together, both to network with each other and to have fun. Alternatively, you can encourage your existing affinity groups to recognize and celebrate the age diversity within their ranks.
Whether conducted formally or informally, mentoring increases engagement and retention, and provides both parties the opportunity to learn from each other, regardless of age. Encourage bi-directional mentoring wherever possible.
Reexamine your management practices
In addition to ensuring your people managers have access to anti age-bias training, equipping them with management practices for age-diverse teams helps them foster inclusion and belonging. With as many as five generations in the workforce, it is not uncommon for managers to be younger than some of their direct reports. Best practices for managing multigenerational teams are not entirely different than those for managing teams in general. However, there are some nuances. Here are some things to keep in mind,
Heather Tinsley-Fix is a senior advisor for Financial Resilience at AARP, where she leads the organization’s work on employer engagement. With her background in marketing, innovation, and program management, she works with employers and job seekers to provide thought leadership on 50+ labor market issues and create resources that help employers capitalize on the value of experience.
- Promote training opportunities. Encourage everyone on the team, regardless of age, to take advantage of all offered training and upskilling benefits provided by the organization, including tuition reimbursement, interim assignments and job shadowing. And provide support for workers who might feel daunted by the prospect of developing new skills.
- Concentrate on the unique mix of skills and experience each team member brings to the table rather than on title or seniority. Whether through public recognition or private conversation, focus on the value each team member contributes and how that value stems from their unique skill set rather than from how senior they are. This is particularly important when managers are younger than some of their team members.
- Accommodate differences in communication styles. Some team members prefer text and chat to email; others prefer phone or in-person contact. Check in periodically on how communication is received, particularly with regard to word choice and punctuation. Some generational differences do exist, which can unintentionally result in offense or misunderstanding.
- Approach development conversations from a growth mindset and in a positive light. How can we leverage you? What do you need? Avoid inadvertently dismissing older workers with traditional approaches to development that associate growth with youth.