Diversity tips for understanding age diversity

So. As you can see from my LinkedIn profile photo, I am no longer 30 and I have lived long enough now to understand some of the differences between age; and more importantly, the differences in how the same language is perceived by different age groups.

Yesterday, I had an experience with a neighbour which I think demonstrates some of the differences between my understanding of language and its meaning, what I would call normal social behaviour, and what someone younger might understand from the same words or phases. In the apartment block where I live, we have three garages under each apartment and a space where a car could pull up immediately in front of them. You would normally be able to park a second car in front of these garages if it weren’t for the fact that the actual driveway onto the street is just a single car width which means that if you are the garage on the side and a car parks in front of the garage in the middle, you can’t get your car out. The residents have agreed that we don’t park in front for this purpose, but occasionally someone does and if I am at home, I ask them to park really close to the middle garage door so I can get out. Not ideal, enough said. So yesterday, this young women (maybe late 20’s) and her boyfriend were doing stuff out the front of the garage and I poked my head out to ask if they were from the apartment directly above me which would mean that was their garage. I had seen other people parking there just recently and thought this young women must have moved out, as I had met her previously when she moved in about a year ago. I said hello but she didn’t look at me, instead she spoke directly at the man she was with, and said; “is there a problem here?”. I spoke to the man that she was with and she (without acknowledging me), said, ‘he’s just moving in, so you need to bear with us’. She no doubt thought that I was going to complain, but I told her about other people parking in that spot so I thought she had moved. After a little bit of discussion I was able to confirm that she was the person who belonged to that garage and went inside, but the encounter left me disturbed.

We often hear the same phase or word in a different context based on our own experience

For me, her question, “is there a problem here” seemed aggressive and dismissive. To her, it was no doubt standard terminology. I have noticed that this phase is used more often by Gen X and Y’s. For me, the approach would have been first to acknowledge me and say ‘hello’ with something like, “I’m Sarah from number 7 and we are just moving Paul in. Won’t be too long but just let me know if you need us to move the car”. Instead, I have come away from the experience feeling dismayed that this person is my neighbour and wondering what else will be in store for me with this person living upstairs from me.

Similarly, I was recently talking to someone at work about respect, saying that a management behaviour that we were discussing was fundamentally about respect. It became apparent that what I know as ‘respect’ was different to this person’s idea of respect. They saw any opinion about their behaviour or actions as a criticism and thought that they should be ‘repected’. In this case it was them as a Manager taking it on themselves to start tasking staff in another Manager’s area without any discussion with the staff members manager. Their idea was that I should be ‘respecting them’ by allowing them to do whatever they wanted to without any opinion to the contrary because they wanted to get something done and they thought it was perfectly ok to start tasking team members in another management team. I said that this was probably a management 101 concept even forgetting about the respect idea, and secretly wondered how we would manage to achieve any outputs in this type of management paradigm.

The different responses and beliefs of different age groups can impact management decisions

I’m not saying that we need to respect people simply because of their age, in fact, I think that you earn respect, it is not simply given because of your age or position. When I was young we were taught to respect our elders and I think (rightly or wrongly) this gave us some sort of measuring stick for behaviour. That is; there was this hierarchy of respect with people like bank managers, lawyers and teachers gaining an almost automatic respect because of their position in society. Conversely housewives and carers were not respected in the same way, but none the less were given a degree of respect by their children because of their age and their family role as carer. Of course there was also an intersection of the degree of respect you had in relation to your gender and race that moderated other peoples behaviour and in some cases, of course, blatant racism and sexism still prevailed then as it does today.

In my work I assess, and assist many organisations to develop their diversity strategies to better leverage performance in their organisations and one of the most common findings that I see is that age diversity is not understood, nor is a strategy implemented. Instead, most of the rhetoric is aimed at the needs of younger employee’s which is of course important but it is not diversity. It seems that much of the diversity strategy or approach for more mature employees is relegated to the assumption that they might be ‘carers’ and that’s as far as it goes.

What I am saying is that age diversity is about more than the need for organisational diversity programs to make sure that a carer program is provided for (often) mature age women to avail themselves of in order to provide care to ageing parents or spouses.

Using a broader brush for age diversity

In this article I have presented just a couple of examples of the way that language, context and age work to form completely different pictures and approaches to the same conversation. This provides an example of how diversity, if managed well, faciliates different approaches to the same problem. In the first example where I am speaking to the young woman about the car parking, her response in language, attitude and delivery would put off your mature age clients, whereas to someone her own age might be a none issue. For me, it would be enough to make me go to another provider because it demonstrates a lack of understanding of the client base and a lack of connection to other people which many older people think is really important customer service. Or rather, it used to be, but that is another discussion. Remember that when people like me started working in the early 1980’s, customer service was big business and we were all routinely trained in its application including ‘how’ we answered the phone. Much of this training has stayed with me, and no doubt is important to others my age, but it is less important to younger people.

When you are developing your diversity strategy broaden your brush for age diversity, its not all about flexibility for carers, or education and training. Look at common language used in your organisation. Is it really skewed to ‘hip, buzz words’, with the culture of the organisation being ‘young, energetic, a fast paced environment, etc’. You can surely hear the job ads whilst I am speaking, but who is likely to be your client? This is another area where more mature workers don’t fair well and many times I consult to organisations about the wording and placement of information in their job ads as they will screen out older people and it doesn’t go unnoticed when sometimes this is the intention. Its not that older people don’t have the skills, its that they may not present them in the same way and put the same emphasis on what a younger worker might think is more important.

Consider how teams are put together and how the dynamics play out when you are doing team activities or working through strategies and problem solving. Is it driven by an ideal of youth, i.e. focus on energy, coolness and speed with little personal connection or is there a balance? Maybe you don’t want a balance in your organisation, this is also something to consider.

During my assessment consulting work with the DPRF, one of the most consistent findings is the presence of bullying and harassment. It seems to be getting worse and more sophisticated in the way that it plays out. Sadly, much of this harassment is from young senior female managers targeting older subordinate women. It happens to men as well, but, in my experience plays out slightly differently. This trend is disturbing and, in my experience is increasing.

If you would like more information about how to devise a holistic diversity and performance strategy, please contact me at susanne.moore@ambidio.com.au or susanne.moore@gendereconomics.org

References

Job Hunting Tips For The Mature-Age Workerhttp://careerfaqs.com.auIf you are over 45 and suddenly find yourself made redundant or seeking a career change, the thought of having to hit the job trail and compete against people years younger than yourself can be downright scary.

http://www.moneycrashers.com/benefits-hiring-older-workers/

https://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/get-your-50-plus-resume-right

First DPRF Assessment in NSW Government

DPRF International Badges

The first DPRF Assessment is currently underway in NSW Government with one of the large agency cluster’s undertaking the assessment to ‘baseline’ it’s diversity capability prior to developing their Diversity Strategy.

Find out how your organisation can also benefit by contacting info@gendereconomics.org

The Benefits of Diversity to perspective and decision making

I think that this quote from a book by Friedman that talks about friendship and moral growth can be easily applied to how greater gender balance and cultural diversity can make a difference to organisational decisions.  If you take out the word, moral, this quote highlights how diversity can give those in our organisations autonomy to make the right choices and decisions, based on a wider range of inputs.

“The greater the diversity of perspectives one can adopt for assessing rules, values, principals and character, the greater the degree of one’s autonomy in making moral choices” (Friedman 1993, pg.; 202)

Reference

Friedman, Marilyn (1993), ‘Friendship and Moral Growth’, What Are Friends For?’ in Feminist Perspectives on Personal Relationships and Moral Theory. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, pp. 187-207.

Diversity – not just a Business Case

Organisations need new and innovative ways to progress and create shareholder value and as the available workforce changes organisations have to transform at an increased pace, meaning managers must develop new skills to perform in these complex environments.

Diversity is a business imperative; it is a fundamental and necessary part of contemporary business.  Evidence exists that points to gender diversity as beneficial to organisations, but in order for this to really be of consequence, diversity needs to be more than just a program, it has to become part of the fibre of the organisations workings.  By ‘maximising’ diversity instead of just ‘managing it’ organisations will become more adaptable and flexible, (Ospina 1996).  Organisations must develop skills to manage complexity, adaptability and volatility, creatively, resilience and innovation.  To do this, organisations have to equip their managers to manage diversity and to shift it from a nice to have to a must have competency.

Diversity is about the management of complexity, building resilience within your organisation, embedding sustainable leadership thinking that enhances integration and cohesion.  By making new and diverse connections within your workplace, organisations harness and promote innovation and creativity.  Far from being a cost to bottom line profitability, diversity is a strategic imperative.  It is the new resource to increase revenue by using effective diversity programs to integrate the attributes of complexity and resilience, then leveraging them to create new environments for change and business transformation.

The question should no longer be, “Should we have a diversity program”, the question should be “how do you leverage difference and create new connections to differentiate yourself”.

Reframing ideas of diversity

Konrad (2003)[1] discusses the limitations of the business case by linking it to what she claims is an outdated “trait model of diversity”: the business case argument often ignores the destructive impact of stereotyping, prejudice, and institutional and interpersonal discrimination. Ospina (1996)[2] refers to “maximizing” diversity as opposed to “managing” diversity to acknowledge that diversity can actually push the organization’s frontier if effectively leveraged.

Reframing diversity and placing it squarely into strategy sees it working across difference as a core leadership task, getting diversity right by welcoming each person’s unique contributions, leading to a more adaptable and nimble organization in the face of today’s complex world.

Compliance to gender diversity legislation is a starting point but the real value comes when compliance converts to proactive action, realising the benefits of diversity.  The economic hit to the bottom line transcends diversity economics at an organisational level, stimulating economic growth at a macro level.

The Diversity Program Review Framework™[3]developed by Susanne Moore is a diagnostic tool that assesses and measures the effectiveness of a company’s diversity program by deploying the following  five organizational assessment dimensions; Program Management Capability, Cultural Integration and Acceptance, Organisational Vision and Strategy, Innovation through Diversity and Performance.

The Diversity Program Review Framework™ incorporates a widely accepted set of Global Diversity & Inclusion benchmarks previously developed in a US federally funded research project (O&R) by O’Mara and Richter (2011)[4].  The framework uses these benchmarks as a foundation, and builds on them to address a whole of organizational approach to Business Transformation.

The Diversity Program Review Framework™ allows organistions to;

  1. Baseline their diversity program against known benchmarks
  2. Assess the health and effectiveness of their diversity program against the five organisational dimensions
  3. Monitor the progress of the program along a capability maturity growth path
  4. Develop and Identify proactive interventions for improvement in areas where performance and innovation could be discovered or improved,
  5. Report against the programs progress and current country legislation

Find out if your organisation is on track to reap the benefits of diversity, book a complimentary, ‘coffee break session’ with Susanne today using the contact form, or call my partners, The Principal Structure for more details.


[1] Konrad, A. (2003). Defining the domain of work- place diversity scholarship. Group & Organization Management, 28(1), 4–17

[2] Ospina, S. 1996. Bringing Opportunity Back In: Organizational Inequality and the Study of Work Attitudes Journal of Administrative Theory and Praxis, 18:1, pp. 27-40.

[3] The “Diversity Program Review Framework™” (Moore, S 2012) incorporating the “Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks: Standards for Organizations Around the World” (O’Mara, J, Richter, A 2011)

[4] “Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks: Standards for Organizations Around the World” developed by O’Mara, J, Richter, A (2011),

Compliance Provides a Competitive Edge

This article highlights the benefits when companies adhere to compliance standards for employment.  This not only reduces risk of litigation, but in terms of gender diversity, your organization is more likely to attract a full pool of skilled workers who see your organization as more attractive.

In terms of company governance, reducing risk by ensuring your organization is meeting (and hopefully exceeding) its compliance requirements will increase performance because you are reducing the potential to be exposed for non compliance.

See the rest of the article here – Compliance Provides a Competitive Edge.