The diversity dividend of multigenerational working

Age is not everything, but it’s not nothing and it shouldn’t be avoided in the recruitment process, a recent webinar on multigenerational working heard.

CV keyboard and mouse on a yellow background


People shouldn’t be discouraged from putting their age on their CV because employers should be looking to fill any age gaps they have in their workforce, a webinar on multigenerational working heard last week.

Daniel Jolles from LSE’s Inclusion Initiative said employers should encourage older workers to apply where they identify gaps in their age profile. “Age is not everything, but it is not nothing either,” he said, citing research showing older candidates who have the same skills and experience as younger ones face substantial bias.

He added that any reskilling programmes for older workers need to be linked to job opportunities at the end. “We need to ensure that when we are reskilling people there are jobs available they can fill and that we are not just reskilling people and sending them back to market where they are not on a level playing field due to age bias,” he said, adding that in some sectors, such as technology, older means anyone over 35.

Denise Burke, co-founder of United for All Ages, stated that it is important that the current focus on getting older people back to work does not end up forcing them into low-paid jobs that younger people don’t want to do, such as working in the care sector. Instead it should help them pick up where they left off if possible.

The webinar, organised by software company Frog Systems, also heard from Michael O’Reilly, founder of the Age Diversity Network, who said it is important for employers, particularly the senior leadership team, to understand the benefits of a multigenerational workforce. Jolles spoke about older workers’ human and social capital, including their access to networks built up over years, saying this represented a ‘diversity dividend’. He said employers need to guard against the assumptions made about who can do certain roles and about what career trajectories should look like.

Burke was keen to emphasise some of the similarities between what older and younger workers want from their employer, such as flexible working. Many may be older parents with young children while also having caring responsibilities for older parents, for instance, and many older workers trying to get back into the workforce face similar issues to parents who had taken time out to look after young children, such as lower confidence and knowing how to present themselves after a career break.

Addressing assumptions

All the speakers said it is important to confront ageist assumptions and barriers, such as the idea that older people are less ambitious or can’t learn new skills and that age dictates how good you are at technology. Jolles said while younger people may be more enthusiastic about technology, older people might be more judicious. “We need to ensure we are not mistaking tech enthusiasm for tech prowess,” he said, adding that good training in technology is good for everyone. O’Reilly said a lot of jobs have too many must haves related to technology which can be trained for.  Older workers also struggle with what is meant by transferable skills, what they should leave out of their cvs and applicant tracking systems, he stated.

Other suggestions for employers included:

  • Focus on the skills needed to do a particular job
  • Consider setting up a multigenerational employee resource group
  • Understand that there is expert help available to build age diversity in an organisation
  • Make sure your policies are inclusive of all ages
  • And, most important of all, change your mindset.

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