The benefits of a diverse workforce are no secret. A variety of perspectives is infinitely valuable when problem-solving, innovating, and brainstorming. In the past decade especially, we’ve seen a push for diversity in hiring practices and a number of important strides in the right direction. This endeavor, however, is far from over. When employers talk about diversity, the focus seems to remain on race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. While these factors are essential to consider, they are not all-encompassing. When it comes to company inclusivity, there is another crucial element to recognize: age diversity.
According to a 2015 survey by PwC, only eight percent of employers considered age in their diversity and inclusion efforts. This number is shockingly low, and the effects are tangible. In 2017, AARP reported that two-thirds of people between 45 and 74 have reported age discrimination. With the life expectancy increasing and retirement age decreasing, older generations are being forced into nothing short of an economic crisis. Ageism, however, does not solely affect the old. College graduates are often bewildered to find that many “entry-level” positions require three to five years of industry experience. In this market, the ideal hire is somewhere between 25 and 40, and the range may be even smaller than that.
Remedying this issue is essential, as studies have shown that an age-diverse workplace is a healthy one. Hiring candidates young and old reinvigorates a company, promoting a number of verifiable benefits such as increased productivity. The positives of an age-diverse workplace far outweigh any perceived negatives.
One of the larger concerns companies have with hiring older candidates is that they lack the technical — often technological — skills necessary for the position. Even if this fear is occasionally grounded in truth, there is usually no reason for this to halt a hire. Almost all technical skills can be taught. Moreover, the teaching process will benefit both student and teacher, causing the latter to sharpen their own understanding before transferring knowledge to another. In addition, crystallized intelligence increases with age, giving older candidates an edge when it comes to hard facts and general life experience. This is not to mention the vast social network older employees have cultivated through their years in the workforce, an asset many younger individuals lack.
Young candidates are just as valuable. Though they may lack the experience, this is not indicative of their potential for success. Requiring a certain level of experience can be problematic for a number of reasons. Most importantly, it discourages so many potential candidates who may be great for the position. In recent years, we’ve seen an increased emphasis on workplace culture. Does the candidate have the right personality for the position? Will they work well with the rest of the team? These questions are more important to consider than an individual’s level of experience. Hard skills can be taught; attitude cannot.
Experience — in any sense of the word — does not guarantee success within a company, a truth that should be kept in mind when considering candidates young and old. Hires from both ends of the age spectrum bring fresh perspectives with the potential to enliven your company. As Liz Ryan writes for Forbes, hiring someone without experience in a certain field or skill forces everyone to ask productive questions about how and why things are done. This protects against routines that have become ineffective or humdrum. Hiring candidates decades into their career or fresh out of college provides everyone with an opportunity for growth.
Age-diverse workplaces gain much more than fresh viewpoints. According to AARP, companies with a mixed-age group reported higher productivity. The Journal of Applied Psychology adds increased motivation to the list of benefits. To maximize these advantages, teams should be purposely intergenerational, as people naturally congregate with others their age. The results will be well worth the effort.
Welcoming candidates young and old has the power to change your company for the better. The perfect hire could be 30, 65, or 22. It is time to recognize age discrimination and advocate for a truly diverse workplace.