In discussions of diversity and inclusiveness most people include gender, race, and ethnicity. We think in terms of whether we have enough women in technology positions or leadership positions. We think in terms of having more racial diversity, especially in higher level positions. One area that is seldom considered in diversity and inclusiveness is age.
Not Just Baby Boomers
Being right in the middle of the Baby Boom cohort I see examples of age discrimination all the time. As I visit high tech firms I feel like Methuselah when I see all the workers surrounding me. However, it is not just Baby Boomers who are in that boat. The leading edge of the Gen X generation is now in their mid-50s. There is a big wave of older workers that businesses are going to have to deal with. An article in The Drum points out:
“It may not be gender, background or ethnicity that is missing when you look up from your screen and around your office, perhaps it is that only the relatively young are represented. This can lead to huge knowledge and efficiency gaps. A CIPD study on age diversity suggests that between 2022 and 2032 ‘the population under 50 years-old increases by just over 10 per cent (from 50 million to 55 million) but the population aged 50 and over nearly doubles from nine million to 17 million.”
By not including older workers, by marginalizing them as they age, companies miss ideas and innovations that might come from an older point of view. Not all older workers profess “but we have always done it that way.”
Great Innovations Later in Life
A study on great innovations over the last 100 years, published in the National Bureau of Economic Research, showed that:
“…there is large variation in age: 42 percent of innovations came about when their creators were in their 30s, while 40 percent occurred when the inventors were in their 40s, and 14 percent appeared when the inventors were over 50…. there were no great achievements produced by innovators before the age of 19, and only 7 percent were produced by innovators at or before the age of 26.” Further the research found that “..the age distribution shifts over time, with the mean age of great achievement rising by five or six years per century.”
The researchers surmise that there may be many reasons for this shift, age, health, delayed education, or the “result of a substantial decline in the innovative output of younger individuals.”
Be Inclusive of Age
For a company to have internal innovation it is important to take a broader view of diversity and inclusiveness. We already have figures that show the economic value of it, just think of the value that can be derived from including age as one of the diversity factors. Don’t ignore employees just because they start showing some gray hair.