Editor’s note: Veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompson writes a weekly column about management and leadership as well as diversity and other important issues for WRAL TechWire. His columns are published on Wednesdays. Thompson of  The Diversity Movement was named an Entrepreneur Of The Year 2023 Southeast Award winner. 

Note to readers: WRAL TechWire would like to hear from you about views expressed by our contributors. Please send email to: info@wraltechwire.com.

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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Leaders around the world spend countless hours thinking about talent. Given the attention on recruiting and mentoring programs, it’s no stretch to imagine that much of that effort is devoted to training and developing younger workers. However, the results of a new global survey on midcareer employees indicate that employers need to “radically rethink” how they engage with those who are age 45 and older. 

According to global employment nonprofit Generation and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the global workforce is “aging on a scale never before seen in human history,” while simultaneously, “the world is struggling to adapt to an aging society.” 

If these statements seem dire, that’s precisely what they should signal. The implications are far-reaching – not only for individual organizations but the wider economy. The reverberations will be felt globally if senior leaders don’t take action to curb or eliminate the bias and discrimination at the heart of these issues. Action is imperative.

Photo courtesy of Donald Thompson

Donald Thompson

‘RADICALLY RETHINK’

At The Diversity Movement, we employ a holistic definition of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) that includes multigenerational diversity. Our leadership team values the range of experiences, viewpoints and values people bring to the workplace based on their generational cohort. Sadly, our interpretation is not the norm. 

Our work with clients has demonstrated that promoting multigenerational diversity benefits organizations, because they gain from the varied perspectives, experiences and skills. The range of potential outcomes includes better problem-solving, greater innovation and more effective decision-making – findings mirrored in the Generation/OECD research. Still, there is persistent bias against older job-seekers. 

The truth is stark: The overall health of the global economy is at risk if leaders and organizations don’t make real cultural change a priority. “Two powerful and persistent trends – longer lifespans and lower birth rates – all but guarantee that the average age of the workforce will continue to rise,” the report explains. “The implications are profound for the labor market, government finances, healthcare and welfare systems – and the billions of individuals whose hard work underpins these societal essentials.”

ACTION ITEMS – CHANGING FOR THE BETTER

In this age of widespread DEI initiatives, it is high time we change how we view and utilize older professionals. Inclusive workplaces value employees regardless of age, and we need to make this a reality at the ground level. Here’s how:

– Team-Building Activities for All: Team cohesion and collaboration are vital. When designing team-building activities, consider the diverse skills and experiences of your multigenerational workforce. Encourage intergenerational mentorship and knowledge-sharing. Bridge the generation gap with activities that foster connections among all employees.

– Challenge Age Stereotypes: Business leaders, particularly those entering or already within the “older” employee category, bear a unique responsibility. Challenge age-related stereotypes within your organization, and then advocate for policies that foster equal opportunities for career advancement. Emphasize that valuable skills and experiences are not confined to a specific age group.

– Promote Communication and Dialogue: Effective communication is the cornerstone of a thriving, inclusive workplace. Create channels for open and honest dialogue by encouraging the sharing of ideas and experiences. Mentorship programs can be an excellent way to facilitate culture change across age groups.

– Utilize Knowledge and Experience: Older employees bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the workplace. Instead of sidelining their contributions, leverage their expertise to navigate the company’s many challenges. Encourage older workers to guide younger colleagues and vice versa.

– Innovation through Diversity: The challenge isn’t just fairness – businesses drive innovation. Diverse teams approach problem-solving from varied angles, foster creativity and unique solutions. By embracing the insights of older workers, companies can tap into a deep reservoir of experience that sparks innovation and helps them stay ahead in a competitive landscape.

Not only are these tactics facets of good management, they are at the center of inclusive leadership, which can help overcome generational divides. “Inclusive leaders ask each person what they need to succeed, bring together everyone’s best skills and create a path for the team to excel,” explains Jackie Ferguson. “They focus on achieving success through strong relationships with their employees and colleagues that are built on trust and respect.” 

BREAK DOWN STEREOTYPES AND BIAS

The simple fact of the matter is that the labor force participation rate for the next decade shows all age groups under 75 years old holding steady or decreasing. In other words, if American companies hope to remain competitive on the world stage, they will need to drastically change how they recruit, hire and treat older employees. 

From this vantage point, diversity-led programming, which we often talk about as being driven by the changing ideas of young people, should be used to revolutionize workplace culture for older employees too. 

As the report indicates, however, it will take deliberate effort to overcome the bias against older workers who are having difficulty getting jobs, despite how well they perform once they are given opportunities. 

“Hiring managers cling to a deeply held perception bias against job candidates over the age of 45 – they believe members of this age cohort are less able to adapt to new technologies or learn new skills,” the Generation/OECD report notes. “On the other hand, those very same managers also acknowledge that when they do hire people over 45, those workers perform on the job just as well as or even better than their younger counterparts.” 

With a deeper understanding of the challenge they face, American executives have the opportunity to change the narrative by resisting the stereotypes and leading the way forward. From team-building activities to promoting stronger communication and dialogue, these leaders can build workplaces that support and value employees regardless of age. Eradicating age discrimination will take the collective efforts of executives who are willing to confront stereotypes and create new initiatives designed to transform workplace culture. 

What I envision is a thriving work environment that makes full use of all its generations. As executives, we have the opportunity to create a multigenerational workforce and create a strategic advantage. We are on the cusp of a transformation that will redefine how we view and utilize experience and wisdom in our workplaces.

About the Author 

Donald Thompson, EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2023 Southeast Award winner, founded The Diversity Movement to change the world. As TDM CEO, he has guided work with hundreds of clients and through millions of data touch points. TDM’s global recognition centers on tying DEI initiatives to business objectives. Recognized by Inc., Fast Company and Forbes, Thompson is author of Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success, hosts the podcast “High Octane Leadership in an Empathetic World” and has published widely on leadership and the executive mindset. As a leadership and executive coach, Thompson has created a culture-centric ethos for winning in the marketplace by balancing empathy and economics. 

Follow him on LinkedIn for updates on news, events and his podcast, or contact him at info@donaldthompson.com for executive coaching, speaking engagements or DEI-related content. To further explore DEI content and issues impacting your work and life, visit TDM Library, a multimedia resource hub that gives leaders a trusted source of DEI content.