OPINION: It’s time to commit to age diversity

Guest column by Gary Ingram, chief executive officer, TheDiamondStore.co.uk

I began this series of opinion articles in May with a conversation about age, so it feels appropriate to end the run on the same topic this month. The average age for retirement now in the UK is between 66–70. UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) research suggests that by 2030, British businesses will have ‘up to four generations working side-by-side’. That is only 12 short years away. It is high time to commit to age diversity.

Age discrimination is unlawful in the UK, covered by the 2010 Equality Act, but it still goes on because it is often hard to identify and prove. Younger employees may be surprised to realise their older colleagues feel undervalued or have become sidelined because of age. In the same way, more than half of UK’s under-18 employees report that they are not taken seriously at work.

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When we read about cases of age discrimination in the media, we often feel offended on behalf of people who have been wronged.

Unfortunately, it seems to be in our human nature to focus on a person’s inherent traits, like age, and make assumptions based on that. I’d venture to say that we all do it to a degree. Sadly, this creates stereotypes that are not based on fact and feed into our preconceptions – such as what being a Millennial means. I experienced this first hand, when I struggled with the challenge of marketing jewellery to Millennials.

What is the solution?

In an ideal world, we would solely focus on employees’ skills and strengths.

In practice, as human beings, it is sometimes difficult for us to ignore obvious attributes, like age. We may gravitate towards those who reflect our own age group because it makes us feel more comfortable.

Age diversity therefore presents challenges, which we must try to actively overcome.

To give you an example, TheDiamondStore.co.uk has 25 employees, including top management, with ages ranging from 20 to 70. Our ‘Senior Gems’ and ‘Young Diamonds’ (and all those in between) make incredible, unique contributions to our business every day. But different generations can also have very different values, work methods and styles of communication.

Age equality therefore ultimately depends on company culture and it needs to be nurtured from the top down. For instance, we should never make age-based assumptions about the energy, level of commitment or new technology skills of new recruits at interview stage. Equally, everybody at a company should cultivate a flexible attitude that celebrates achievements and forgives mistakes, regardless of age.

Apart from employees of different ages getting along better—which can greatly increase productivity and innovation—age diversity also has a huge impact on financial performance:

McKinsey, in their 2018 report Delivering Through Diversity, found that companies with the most varied employee bases (especially in terms of age and cultural background) were ‘33 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability’ than businesses that employ the most homogenous workforces. In fact, Fortune 500 companies tend to deploy exceptionally diverse players on the field.

Last but not least, it is definitely worth remembering that our customers include people of all ages… and an age-diverse workforce is critical to addressing their needs.

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