5 Ways To Be A Better Ally for Older (And Younger) Workers

Each week, we share five simple actions to create a more inclusive workplace and be a better ally.

Older person using a notebook and laptop in a modern office
Older person using a notebook and laptop in a modern office
Photo by Elle Huges via Canva

* Editor’s note:

The theme of this week’s newsletter is ageism. While the following 5 actions can help make more inclusive workplaces for both older and younger workers, we’ve barely scratched the surface. Reply to this email if you have more actions to share. We’d love to hear from you.

1. Set a goal to increase age diversity

In his book Wisdom @ Work, Chip Conley describes how, at age 52, he was tapped for his hotel industry experience by Airbnb’s 20-something founders. When he joined, he was twice the age of the average Airbnb employee.

Chip believes that wisdom and experience are on the brink of a comeback.

Were happy to hear this, because, after all, ageism bias is real. It shows up in thinking about who can best contribute to a fast-paced work culture. About who can learn the latest technology. About who can succeed in a noisy open floor plan.

This bias also impacts younger workers. “She looks too young to be a full professor.” Or manager, tech lead, etc.

While disrupting ageism bias hopefully feels like the right thing to do, there’s also research showing that age diversity can help with complex decision-making tasks. Plus, given today’s tight labor market, attracting workers of all ages could be a strategic advantage.

Does your company track age diversity? Is there a goal to increase it? Think about how you can make this happen, if not for your company, then at least for your team.

2. Don’t ask for milestone dates when hiring

Take a look at your job application form and applicant tracking system. If you ask for milestone dates such as when someone earned their degree or other certifications, you are increasing the chance for ageism bias. Unless there’s a business reason to collect these dates, don’t ask for them. Read more.

3. Organize age-diverse interview panels

The next time you’re invited to be on an interview panel (or organizing one yourself), push to make the panel age diverse. If everyone is roughly the same age, recommend swapping in some younger and older colleagues (assuming you’ve got some on your team).

This approach builds on a best practice that companies use to hire more women or people of color: Make sure candidates meet at least one interviewer of their same gender or ethnicity. At Cisco, this practice resulted in a roughly 50 percent increase in the odds that a woman would be hired for a given position. Read more.

4. Seek mentors of different ages

In Disrupting Aging in the Workplace: Profiles in Intergenerational Diversity Leadership, we learned about companies who promote cross-generational mentoring. Not only do these programs facilitate knowledge transfer (a critical need for many organizations), they also can improve engagement and belonging for older workers.

Regardless of whether you have access to a formal cross-generational mentoring program or not, allies can seek mentors who are both younger and older. Think of what you want to learn from them, and ask if they’d be open to sharing their experience. Chances are, you’ll learn more than you initially set out to do.

5. Measure engagement by age

Many organizations run regular pulse or engagement surveys. But do they track respondents’ ages so they can understand how the employee experience differs by age?

Before your next engagement survey, ask if age will be recorded as part of the anonymous responses. Identify actions to take to improve engagement for different age demographics.

Being an ally is a journey. Want to join us?

Together, we can — and will — make a difference with the Better Allies™ approach.

Everyday actions to create inclusive, engaging workplaces. Together, we can — and will — make a difference with the Better Allies® approach.

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