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Learning Corner With Jeffrey Pfeffer: Why It’s Important to Include Age in Diversity and Inclusion Efforts

Jeffrey Pfeffer

Professor of Organizational Behavior, Stanford University

At Stanford University, during the 2018-2019 academic year, virtually every meeting of the faculty senate included a report—or two—on the university’s diversity efforts. Yet ageism was never addressed—and continues to go unnoticed. According to a faculty colleague, the former dean of the School of Engineering, who is now the Provost, appointed a strategy committee packed with young faculty members simply because, to use her highly inopportune phrase, "they are the future."

Clearly, diversity and inclusion are becoming a priority for all types of organizations. As of February 2018, diversity and inclusion roles, as a share of all job postings, were up by 35% from two years prior, according to Indeed. Meanwhile, PwC’s 18th Annual Global Survey noted that talent diversity and inclusiveness were now core components of competitiveness, and 77 percent of CEOs already had or intended to adopt a strategy that promotes D&I. Technology companies like eBay have even gone the extra step to regularly report their diversity statistics.

But, like with Stanford, virtually absent from most of these D&I conversations and action items is any mention of age. The arguments for valuing older employees are identical to the logic for emphasizing diversity and inclusion for other groups: In addition to being a matter of human rights (all people deserve equal opportunities and equal treatment), companies actually benefit from having a diverse workforce—and that includes diversity in age. After all, different perspectives often lead to more creative solutions and practices. Still, ageism in the workplace is a common and almost socially acceptable practice. It’s time for that to change.

Ageism Is Real

Ageism is a substantial workplace issue we need to address—especially because by 2022, more than one-third of the U.S. workforce will be over the age of 50.

In an AARP survey of adults over 45, 61% of respondents said that they had seen or personally experienced age discrimination. A review of academic studies of age bias in hiring and promotion concluded that "study after study has shown how employers... may not objectively evaluate job candidates’ potential productivity."

But it’s more than being passed over for career opportunities. A study by the Urban Institute found that of adults aged 51 to 54 who were employed full-time, some 56 percent subsequently experienced an employer-initiated involuntary job separation, with typically devastating financial consequences (not to mention psychological repercussions).

Much like racism and sexism, ageism not only harms its victims, but it also infects a company’s culture, creates a less inclusive workplace and deprives organizations of the talent they need to compete and innovate. And it’s why companies need to include age as they work on broader D&I initiatives.

Many Myths About Older Employees Are False

So what exactly is driving this discriminatory behavior? Stereotypes about older workers that are as pervasive—and harmful—as those about other demographic groups. But, as is often the case, these beliefs are inconsistent with the evidence.

Contrary to popular mythology, youth is not a key attribute for founding a successful business. One study found that the average age of entrepreneurs was 42. Even considering just the top 0.1% of startups based on revenue growth during the first five years, founders started their companies, on average, at age 45.

There’s also no evidence to suggest that age is related to productivity. Stephen Cole, a sociologist at SUNY Stony Brook, reported decades ago that mathematicians, who, it was assumed, did their best work while young, experienced "no decline in the quality of work... as they progressed through their careers." And another review of studies found that productivity was constant as scientists aged.

Such evidence suggests that companies can and do benefit from encouraging the hiring and retention of older workers, just as they can benefit from hiring and retaining women and people of color. In all of these instances, companies access a broader and better pool of talent.

Companies Should Expand Their D&I Efforts to Include Age

So how should we attack the problem? Fundamentally, research shows that measurement is important in influencing behavior. What gets measured gets managed. As companies increasingly report their D&I statistics for women, people of color and other groups, they should also report the data for the age distribution of their workforce.

There are other things companies can do as well. We know that language matters—that we see things, in part, by the way we refer to them—and that words can hurt. Many companies have banned racist, misogynist language and call out those who use terms that inflict psychological distress on others. A similar sensitivity to ageist language (even the use of more subtle terms like "energetic and fresh" or "digital natives" to describe a company’s ideal employees)—would be a nice step in the right direction. Stereotypes about older workers and disparaging comments about them remain too common, as numerous surveys attest.

When symphony orchestras wanted to hire more women, they did blind auditions where people could not see the gender of the person performing. When companies sought to build more inclusive workplaces, they focused on eliminating interview questions or signals that would not only harm someone’s chance of gaining employment, but also their likelihood of accepting an offer because the questions made them feel unwelcome. Consider taking dates off of resumes and banish questions that call into doubt someone’s energy or commitment just because of their age.

The parallels with other diversity and inclusion initiatives are many and direct. When companies do for age what they have already begun to do for race and gender, they will be well on their way to building a more diverse and welcoming workplace.

Until workplaces take ageism seriously, it will continue, depriving employers of wisdom, experience and talent, and inflicting unjust behavior on people simply because they have "too many birthdays."

Image: Creative Commons

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Great moments, shared as a team

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Great moments, shared as a team

As April whizzes past, we sit down with some of our Cornerstars, who are currently celebrating their work anniversaries, and ask them to reflect on their experiences at Cornerstone so far. In our previous blog, the focus was on the people and how it’s the employees at Cornerstone that make it such a great place to work. And this shared ethos of working together and helping each other has been talked about by each Cornerstar we’ve asked. “It’s about the teamwork, a team you can depend on, people that go the extra mile, helping and being helped. Our greatest asset is our people, I state this in every meeting I have with prospects and clients” said Max Schroeter, Regional Sales Manager at Cornerstone. Hanns Horvath, Delivery Manager, agreed and said “I like the people. They are all the best.” When we asked our Cornerstars what has been there favourite moment so far, it is no surprise that they struggled to name just one. However, the event that came up the most was Convergence. Each year we hold a conference for clients and colleagues alike to come together and connect. “Getting all our clients to come to the dancefloor and dance. It’s one of the many reasons they like coming to Cornerstone events, being able to party with the Cornerstars!” said Max Schroeter. For Christiaan Weurding, Regional Sales Manager, the overall support and activities at Cornerstone are a highlight “there is a lot of time invested in personal development, support in my daily job and great activities like development day, anniversary and Convergence.” And it’s being able to share exciting moments with their teams that drive our Cornerstars to challenge themselves. Fermin Arbea, Implementation Consultant highlights: “At Cornerstone you find a great working environment, with colleagues always willing to collaborate. Also, it is a place to find challenges where you can grow both professionally and personally.” It is this shared team spirit at Cornerstone that drives colleagues to help one another and work together to generate success. Oliver Normand Account Manager Strategic, EMEA said “it was a great team success when, after 18 months of negotiation, we signed an important contract with one of our major clients in Europe.” Overall, it is this shared culture that drive our Cornerstars to succeed. Fermin Arbea believes that “the greatest moments are ones that we share among the whole team, collaborating with initiatives in which we can help other people. These are moments in which we all unite a little more and return home with a shared smile.”

Kindness in a crisis

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Kindness in a crisis

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt and dominate our lives, feelings of anxiety are completely normal during times of uncertainty. Each person will be impacted in a different way and it is important to remember that you are not alone. Already there are so many stories emerging of human kindness and compassion and people pulling together to help and support each other. Already there are some wonderful examples of where people have demonstrated such kindness and compassion and that it is so heart-warming. I did however, read in the BBC news last weekend about a man who apparently wouldn’t give an elderly lady just ONE of a number of (the last) packets of dry pasta he had selfishly grabbed from the shelf. He said no when she asked him politely. Then this morning in the supermarket the toilet roll aisle was being policed by supermarket staff and I actually saw a woman in a wheelchair struggling to get through! We need to be supporting and looking after the elderly and vulnerable. This is a time when the power of human kindness can and will shine through. We are all in it together and this is not every person for themselves. There is no doubt about it; the world would be a better place to be if there were more consideration and kindness about. It certainly seems that over the last few years there has been a deluge of animosity, ugly fake news, bullying behavior across social media, bitter electioneering, and at times, relentless volatility and overwhelming pressure with burnout. Now we have been presented with a challenge that has turned most of lives upside down and we need to be kind and support each other more than ever. History demonstrates that a crisis will bring out the very worst or the very best in people. We all have a choice and choosing kindness will benefit everyone in one way or another This is the time to be kinder to ourselves, kinder to others and kinder to our environment. Against the backdrop of fear, isolation and inevitable loss and grief, we must not lose our quintessential traits such as empathy, compassion and kindness. Being kind is a way you can spread goodness in the world, and it’s those small thoughtful gestures, added together, that will indeed make the world a better place to be. Acts of kindness are one of the greatest ways to inspire others and those around you will take note and your kindness will be contagious and create a ripple effect. Here are ten things ways that you can be part of the kindness revolution… 1. Be kind to yourself Self-care and self-compassion are so important when it comes to being healthy, happy and resilient. Investing in your personal well-being is kindness in itself because when you feel better about yourself you will set a positive example, which will positively influence others to be kind to themselves too. 2. Make kindness a habit You are essentially what you repeatedly do and, in many ways, kindness is a habit and is one that everyone can cultivate. A great way to build the habit is to focus on kindness every day for a month. Set out to do kind things for yourself and for others. Then set aside time at the end of each day to reflect and write down some of the things that you have done. 3. Gift people your time Time is a very precious commodity and giving people your time is a valuable gift. Being truly present and listening to someone, by avoiding all distractions, and giving a person the time of day is one of the greatest acts of kindness. Take the time to truly absorb yourself in what the other person is saying before responding and demonstrate to the person that you appreciate their unique situation. 4. Be compassionate Sometimes, people may not be very nice to you and it could well upset you. It is always worth reminding yourself that often this is born out of unhappiness, insecurity, loneliness, stress or fatigue. Extending the hand of human kindness in these situations can be challenging, although this is the time when people need your kindness the most. 5. Empathise Empathy and understanding are part of an emotional process that builds connection between people. It is about ‘reading’ another person’s inner state and interpreting it in a way that will help the other person to feel supported and it also has the added benefit of developing mutual trust. 6. Avoid gossip Social media can be a playground for toxic behaviour and a place where gossip mongering is rife. Even just reading some of the cruel and unnecessarily hurtful comments about other people fuels the bandwagon and can contaminate your own thinking. Being critical, judgmental and gossiping about other people is not about kindness. You will feel much happier when you actively seek out the good in people and practise tolerance and empathy. If you haven’t got something positive, helpful or constructive to say about someone else it is better to say nothing. 7. Be optimistic Be optimistic and seek out the good in others and in the world around you. This will also help you to be resilient and deal with adversity and life’s inevitable setbacks. Optimism is the bedrock of kindness and will continuously restore your faith in humanity. Cultivating an optimistic outlook and a positive mindset will ensure that acts of kindness are delivered with genuine joy rather than with reluctance or out of a sense of duty. Now more than ever we need to focus on the positives, because even the biggest problem can bring with it opportunities. 8. Be grateful Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is a fundamental part of being kind. It is so important not to take anything for granted and thank people and let them know how much you appreciate them. Kind people are easily able to express gratitude and make a habit of being more grateful. 9. Be kind to the planet Climate change is impacting our planet and raising awareness of how much waste you can potentially create is a good place to start to counteract it. If every individual and every business made an effort to reduce their impact on the environment then together a real difference can be made. The changes that you make don’t have to be huge either and there are so many simple things that you can do at home or in the workplace that will help to save the planet. 10. Be part of the kindness revolution In a world that can sometimes be cruel and unkind, it is time to start a revolution … A kindness revolution! Wherever possible (and it is always possible), be kind. Every day of your life there will be ways you can practise kindness. So go out there and discover what they are. Life is a precious gift and every living human being has the opportunity to make a positive difference in just a small and unique way. Note from the author – Liggy Webb We are experiencing unprecedented times and there is a great deal of advice and information circulating, some of it very valuable and important, some of it is not. It is important to balance your intake of news and for every negative thing you hear or read, make sure that you actively seek out positive stories that will uplift you. A healthy balance is so important for your mental health and wellbeing. By following the advice and guidelines from the government, who are doing everything they can to keep us safe, we will get through this challenging time. The lessons we learn along the way will make us stronger and fitter for the future. By taking each day at a time and doing the small things that are in your control will help to ease the build of anxiety. Most important of all be kind to yourself, take one step at a time and remember you are not alone, we are all in this together, and this will pass. For free access to Liggy’s bite sized book on kindness and resilience please email liggy@liggywebb.com

Liggy Webb mood boosters and how to feel better in stormy times

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Liggy Webb mood boosters and how to feel better in stormy times

2020 has been a challenge for most and as much as we were very hopeful about 2021, it feels like a déjà vu. Lockdowns everywhere, the “new norm” seems like it is here to stay, face masks and hand sanitiser. We have had to learn to be resilient, it is not so much about hoping things get back to normal, but to adapt and embrace change as part of our daily routine. It is here to stay. Why is my boss in my living-room? Liggy Webb has been sharing some incredible ideas with us on how to embrace wellbeing, kindness and stay mentally healthy during this pandemic. Organisations need to champion these behaviors too. We have seen HR departments embrace our free online content modules; especially the pieces around wellbeing and health, which were the most requested courses, as my colleague Mark Lamswood shared with us in his piece “Why content… and why now?”. The line between work and life has disappeared, for those that can work remotely – and whilst we are thankful for that, it can be hard to find balance in our lives. Is this the responsibility of an employer, though? To a certain extent, it really should be. Questions around resources have been circling for some time now, do we have a laptop for every kid to connect to online classes? Do we have a spare office in the home to work? Who will take care of the kids if both parents are working remotely? Why is my boss in my living-room? Constant Zoom calls, webcams on, screaming children in the background and the lack of privacy are taking a toll on us. Here are some positives to this new cozy office set-up: I have to confess I am not embarrassed to put the webcam on while in my pyjamas with certain colleagues and the conversations around hairstyles, pets and home décor have brought us together. Please – send help! Stress used to be a big one. Non-stop travelling, meetings all day, commuting to the office and then – if time was left - your private life. Now all those different departments of our existence, have been squeezed in one home for almost a year and stress is even more acute than it used to be. “Worrying about contracting Covid-19, feeling lonely, and not thinking positively were all strongly associated with how anxious and depressed people became.” BMJ Open report In a nutshell, we are more stressed than ever. We are worrying about survival. More vulnerable to fall into unhealthy habits and the uncertainty of not knowing when and if this will be over is not helping. As Dr. Sarah Campbell explained in this video not everyone has the resources to adapt to this massive change and HR departments can help. But let us look in the mirror first and own our responsibilities. Walk the talk – together | This is not a one-size-fits-all approach but there are plenty of little things we can do! Using Liggy as my main inspiration – this is what has worked for me: Show some teeth | As lame as it may sound, I am reminding myself to smile each day. A great way to do so is by creating an e-coffee or e-lunch call with some of the team members and chat about anything BUT work. Or join a laughter group, like this one here created by a artist friend of mine called “Laughter Yoga for Creatives” in which we connect, turn the webcam on and do laugh therapy together. See the sky | Some of the lockdown rules are very strict and we do not all have the same space at home. But having a dog forces you to make that commitment to go for a walk every day. Make that commitment to yourself if you don’t have a pet, book the time in your diary and stretch, meditate, dance in the shower to your favorite tune. Studies show sedentarism is bad for your health. Get a standing desk, sit on an exercise ball or even better – get Stand Up! The Work Break Timer. Eyeliner to start the day | I am a feminist but … starting the day with lipstick and eyeliner makes me a better feminist. And it really does! It helps me get into the office mood and to not panic when I am asked to turn the camera on.  Be kind | To boost my mood and give back I am always creating online donation campaigns for causes that are dear to my heart. It keeps me busy with something different to work, it connects me with other people that feel the same and it helps me channel my energy into something positive. Join us too! Start your joruney and boost your mood in this turbulent moment! Get your e-book for free today here and share your experience with us along the way!

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