How to Combat Age Bias in the Workplace

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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

In today’s workplace, we are working with the largest number of generational cohorts all together at once in the history of working. Because we’re living longer and we like having money to do things like eat and have roofs over our heads, the average employee works way past the traditional (historical) retirement age of 65. In fact, by 2024, about 25% of the workforce is projected to be over the age of 55, which is double what it was in 1994.

Here’s a quick review of the generations we’re looking at (some sources have it listed a little differently, we’re going with our trusted resource, Mental Floss):

  • Traditionalists – born 1928-1945 (ages 74-90)
  • Baby Boomers – born 1946-1964 (ages 55-73)
  • Generation X – born 1965-1980 (ages 42-54)
  • Millennials – born 1981-1996 (ages 23-41)
  • Generation Z – born 1997-present (ages 0-22)

We’re seeing age bias appear not only in traditional companies such as IBM, but also in startups, which tend to favor younger people over their older colleagues. Conversely, we’d be surprised if you haven’t heard anyone say “ugh, Millenials are the worst” when it comes to work ethic. Much like race and gender bias, age bias is not only quite real, but also one might argue more accepted. We rarely see people taken to task for saying that someone older might not understand new tech or for saying that younger generations complain too much. And when we take intersectionality into account and factor gender and race into to age conversation, perceptions of how people ‘are’ or ‘should be’ are magnified. Think of an older female CEO portrayed as bitchy or cruel (The Devil Wears Prada), for example.

So how do we fight our tendency to think that someone from a different generation is really very different from us? The same way we do when we think about someone who is different from us in any other way – we get to know them, have empathy, and refrain from relying on stereotypes and prejudices. Here are some practical ways you can support cross-generational team building, particularly if you are a manager of a team of people with diverse ages.

  • Mix teams so that people are working with others in different generations.
  • Customize your management style to fit their needs. Take the platinum rule approach.
  • Provide equal opportunity for stretch projects across the team.
  • Create opportunities for mentorship across generations. This can work both with traditional and reverse mentoring.

What if your team is primarily all from the same generation? Here are some tips to get you thinking about ways to bring in people from different generations:

  • Ask yourself if you think that someone might not be qualified if they have too much or too little experience. If that’s the case, you may want to reconsider your position and recognize that bias when you review their resume and interview them. Remember that it’s about matching skills and values.
  • If you struggle with bringing in older people, consider that you may have a bias and recognize that their years of experience could provide a much needed perspective with the team.
  • Don’t assume that older employees have nothing to offer. They have a wealth of experience that can prove to be incredibly valuable. And on the flip side, as a manager be aware that some older employees may not want to be mentored to progress further in their careers. A one size fits all approach is not always the best way to think about supporting a diverse team.

Do you have a story about what works at your company that you’d like to share? Contact us so we can feature your story and others can learn from you!

Watch SGO Co-Founder Felicia Jadczak and SGO Director of Business Development share their thoughts on age and gender discrimination in the workplace.

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