Originally published on Entrepreneur, January 30, 2023
Diversity Is Broader Than Just Race and Gender. This Is the Often-Overlooked Piece of the Puzzle.
Generational diversity is diversity. Diversity is broader than just race and gender. We often oversimplify diversity to attributes we think we can see — like race and gender, yet the richness of diversity goes beyond our skin color and gender identities. Most attributes of diversity are fluid — gender, race, ethnicity and age — they can change over time or people may associate along a spectrum or identity with multiple categories within a dimension.
Age is a fluid dimension of diversity as it’s constantly changing.
Our workforce currently has four generations participating in it. Although there is no formal authority to define generations, generations are commonly defined by birth year:
- Baby Boomer Generation: People ages 56 to 75 (born between 1946 and 1965)
- Generation X: People ages 41 to 55 (born between 1966 and 1980)
- Generation Y (millennials): People ages 25 to 40 (born between 1981 and 1996)
- Generation Z: People ages 9 to 24 (born between 1997 and 2012)
Gen Z is the most diverse generation of all time
Because Gen Z grew up in a time of peak immigration in the U.S., they had more exposure to other racial groups and ethnicities. They also grew up in a more welcoming and accepting environment for the LGBTQ+ community.
Gen Z expects inclusion
In a recent study by Monster, 83% of Gen Z individuals stated an employer’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is significant when choosing where to work. Another poll found 75% of people in Gen Z said they’d reconsider applying to a company if they weren’t satisfied with their diversity and inclusion efforts. It is common for younger generations to ask about diversity efforts at organizations during the interview process. They want to know if it’s simply window dressing or if it’s authentic and is quick to decipher authenticity.
Age bias is the biggest area of bias
According to Project Implicit, the most common bias people have is age. Most people have more positive associations with younger people than older people and 93% of older Americans have experienced age bias, one study said. As with many dimensions of difference, there are common stereotypes about age:
- Older people are poorly skilled with technology (and younger are better)
- Younger people are entitled (and older people work harder)
- Older people are more conservative (and younger people are more liberal)
These are just a few commonly held beliefs about people based on age. While biases and stereotypes can be rooted in some truth, it is important that we don’t apply a stereotype about a group of people to an individual. Here are some problematic ageist statements/actions with potential corrections:
- Giving the social media project to a young person vs. Delegating the social media project to a person with the most expertise/passion, regardless of age.
- “I don’t want to hire them because I am afraid they won’t work as hard” vs. “Let’s have objective criteria to determine fit rather than using outdated stereotypes.”
- Thinking “I know who they voted for” based on their age vs. Getting to know the person and their beliefs.
One of the biggest challenges with ageism is that we have a primal fear of getting old. We discriminate against our older selves. In Ashton Applewhite’s Ted Talk, they discuss why we fear getting old and how the stigma of being “old” manifests itself in our culture. This fear can lead to unhelpful behaviors that discriminate against older employees.
In fact, ageism does not make sense. Most research shows that we are the happiest at the beginning and end of life given the data on the U Curve of Happiness. Happiness bottoms out in the mid-40s and often increases with age. Coupled with research on Blue Zones, studies find having a strong community as you age has the biggest influence on longevity.
Generational differences are a part of the diversity conversation, yet often overlooked or not included. By including generational diversity in the overall diversity, equity and inclusion conversation you bring more human experiences and potential allies into the work.
At Next Pivot Point we have lots of resources to help you facilitate successful diversity and inclusion training. Schedule some time with our team today to discuss where to start or how to do better. You can also check out:
- Our available workshop topics for developing inclusive leaders.
- Our online, self-paced inclusive leadership training program.