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4 Ways Inclusive Leaders Reduce Ageism

When we understand how age is operating in our companies, we avoid mistakes and limit risk. More importantly, through disciplined thinking and bringing a fresh approach to creativity and innovation, our people can contribute everything they can from their life experiences.

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My six-year-old granddaughter, Bella, truly enjoys calling me old. I always look shocked and then suggest that "I'm not old. I'm older." We have fun with the teasing.

Ageism is the unfair treatment of people because of their age. It can manifest in different ways, such as hiring or firing someone based on their age, discriminating against someone in the workplace or making assumptions about a person's capabilities because of their age. While all forms of discrimination are wrong, ageism is particularly harmful, as it can prevent older adults from getting ahead in life and contributing to society. Inclusive leaders work to reduce bias and create an environment where everyone feels valued and respected. Here are four ways they do this.

Related: How to Lead a Multi-Generational Workforce in the New Normal

Inclusive leaders must understand the age-related problems they are trying to solve

Ageism can be defined as prejudice or discrimination against a person or group based on age, especially when putting older people at a disadvantage. Such bias — whether unconscious or intentional — plagues many businesses, large and small. Without a clear understanding of how age operates in your organization, you're at risk of missing out on the experience and wisdom of older workers and the energy and fresh perspective of younger employees. You are even at risk of losing revenue if you fail to serve customers by considering age as a factor in customer service.

Experience and the cost we pay to secure it should figure into our job descriptions and how we hire and promote people. Age can be a factor in physical ability. But bias about age is subtle and can sneak into your decisions and culture if you don't attend to ageism. Such bias can be expressed in different ways, such as:

  • Assuming that older workers are less capable than younger workers
  • Assuming that older workers are insufficient for a task because they can't learn to use technology, or can't innovate, or they don't care about diversity, etc.
  • Assuming that younger workers are tech-savvy
  • Assuming that younger workers offer little wisdom and it will take them too long to learn what the job requires, they won't be loyal workers.

Related: What Business Leaders Are Getting Wrong About Bias Training

Get to know your employees as individuals, and equip them to work on age-diverse teams

Cross-generational teams can be highly effective, but only if team members understand and appreciate the unique perspectives and abilities that each generation brings to the table. Encourage employees to get to know one another as individuals and give them the tools they need to work together effectively.

Meanwhile, research shows that teams with a mix of ages are high-performing when well-managed. Don't miss out on the power of having employees across the age spectrum.

Create an age-inclusive workplace culture

Creating an age-inclusive workplace culture means setting expectations and policies for all employees without regard to their ages. For example, flexible work hours can help older workers attend to health needs or care for children in the family, while younger staff members may prefer more conventional 9 to 5 office times. Communicate flexibility in your company's benefits package. You should also evaluate what you offer based on each individual's desires!

Include age-based teaching in your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training

This step can be tricky because it's often a sensitive topic. We should ensure everyone knows what the law requires and prohibit discrimination based on someone's age. Show your employees that there are many ways companies value experience over youthfulness — this might come out when people aren't expecting new ideas from older employees who have been doing things one way forever.

Ensure your DEI training covers the definition of age discrimination, what behaviors could be considered discriminatory and how to avoid them. Also, emphasize that employees of all ages should feel comfortable reporting any incidents of discrimination they witness or experience. Finally, provide examples of how different ages can contribute to a company's success when everyone feels included and respected.

Age discrimination can take many forms, from assumptions about ability to concerns about someone's life experience. It's essential to be aware of your biases and create an inclusive workplace culture that values employees of all ages. DEI training should focus on age discrimination and how to avoid it. By understanding and respecting the contributions that employees of all ages can make, your business can reap the benefits of a genuinely diverse and high-performing workforce.

Related: 7 Ways to Remove Biases From Your Decision-Making Process

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