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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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El talento de los empleados LGTBQ+

Publicación de blog

El talento de los empleados LGTBQ+

Vivimos en un mundo cada vez más globalizado y conectado, lo cual lleva a encontrarse a gente de todas partes del mundo en las empresas. Aunque esta diversidad puede aportar muchos beneficios, la verdad es que no es fácil conseguir que conecten personas muy distintas. Para ello es imprescindible que las empresas apuesten por programas y estrategias que promuevan la harmonía y la cooperación. Con motivo del día LGTBIQ+ el 28 de junio, queremos llamar la atención a este colectivo severamente castigado socialmente. Aunque es cierto que hoy en día se han hecho muchos avances en temas de legislación para reconocer sus derechos, y la sociedad se ha vuelto más tolerante con su presencia, todavía existe discriminación en varios ámbitos sociales, incluido el laboral. Según Harvard Business Review a día de hoy el 85% de las 500 empresas en el top de fortuna ha implementado políticas de protección sobre orientación sexual, un aumento del 34% respecto al 2000. Sin embargo, como la historia ha demostrado varias veces, las leyes y la práctica no siempre van juntas. Según un informe del sindicato UGT “Las personas LGTBI en la negociación colectiva. Análisis de la protección laboral de las personas LGTBI” solo tres de cada diez convenios colectivos de las empresas españolas han establecido cláusulas destinadas a la protección del colectivo LGTBI. En Cornerstone siempre hemos estado comprometidos con la meritocracia, y el rechazo a un trabajador por su orientación sexual no únicamente es poco ético, sí no también un desperdicio de talento. No tiene ningún sentido para una empresa discriminar a posibles trabajadores solamente por pertenecer a este colectivo, malgastar recursos valiosos por prejuicios no es una buena estrategia. Así pues, con el objetivo de ayudar a este colectivo y a las empresas, hemos elaborado una lista de todos los beneficios que los trabajadores pertenecientes a la comunidad LGTBI+ pueden aportar a una empresa. Aumenta el compromiso de los empleados. Pasamos muchas horas del día en nuestro lugar de trabajo y como resultado, si la empresa en la que trabajamos está comprometida con la sociedad, hará que nosotros de una forma u otra aumentemos también nuestro compromiso con ella. Mejora del entorno laboral. Fomentar la diversidad entre los empleados hará que estos sean más tolerantes entre ellos y se sientan más respetados y acogidos por su empresa. Esto dará como resultado un clima laboral mucho más acogedor que se traducirá en empleados más fidelizados con la empresa y una menor rotación. Favorece a la imagen corporativa de la empresa. Los empleados han cambiado a lo largo de los años, ya no buscan solo ganar más dinero en una empresa, sino que buscan empresas comprometidas, que contribuyan con su labor a la sociedad y que posean valores significativos para ellos. Por lo tanto, es fundamental que las empresas posean esta imagen de compromiso y diversidad, si la tienen muchas más personas desearán trabajar en esa empresa. Hacen las empresas más productivas. Según un informe global de McKinsey, las empresas situadas cuartil superior en cuanto a diversidad étnica y cultural entre sus ejecutivos en 2019 tenían un 36% más de probabilidades de tener beneficios superiores a la media que las empresas menos inclusivas. Está claro, a más diversidad de talento, mayor beneficio.

El líder ágil: Consejos para mantener a los empleados comprometidos, conectados y productivos

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El líder ágil: Consejos para mantener a los empleados comprometidos, conectados y productivos

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Workplace Diversity: ’The Era of Colorblindness is Over’

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Workplace Diversity: ’The Era of Colorblindness is Over’

Workplace diversity is a pressing topic among HR pros. It's heavily scrutinized in blogs, at conferences and during training sessions. That attention often focuses on how diversity affects the company — but what about how minorities' experiences affect people personally and professionally? Google employee Erica Baker addressed that question recently on Medium with a first-person account of her experiences as a minority in the tech industry. Here, Dr. Kecia Thomas, a professor of industrial-organizational psychology at the University of Georgia, explains how individual workers' experiences can reverberate throughout an organization: How do the experiences of minority workers affect the entire company? The concerns of under-represented workers often represent the concerns of other workers, as well. The issues that minority workers might experience are not all that different from the experiences of people who were the first generation to go to college in their families, or people who might come from a lower economic class. Attending to diversity actually helps to improve the workforce overall. Some of the challenges for ethnic minority workers, for example, are that they often find themselves as one-of-a-kind in their workplace. I’m talking about high-level professionals, people with graduate degrees and above. There are implicit biases that might hinder their access to informal networks, to mentoring or to professional development opportunities that could subsequently impair their performance and career development. I think there are also experiences that newcomers face in regard to feeling invisible and voiceless. How do these biases affect people in the majority? It’s not a stretch to say that the lack of exposure for many white colleagues can also be a source of anxiety that can inhibit their opportunity for authentic interactions with a new colleague who is different, ethnically or culturally. Any time we have those barriers to communication or to establishing authentic relationships, it’s a potential barrier to our performance and our ability to work together productively. Whose role is it to consider these issues within a company — and to take steps to address them? When it comes to any type of organizational change, it always begins at the top. Leaders have to understand demographic shifts in their labor force, how those shifts might be reflected — and the needs and priorities of their workers. When leaders are committed to a diverse and inclusive workplace, HR is empowered to put in place the strategies that are equally effective across a diversity of workers. There’s also a culture of the organization that has to be addressed to make sure that people are held accountable if they violate non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. Too often, companies don’t have clear policies, or they're not communicated effectively. And even if they’re communicated effectively, they’re not always followed. We are at a critical point as a nation in regard to how we address diversity. We are seeing a lot of blatant forms of discrimination and violence occur, but we’re also seeing a younger generation that is so multicultural and inclusive. We’re seeing an increasing number of states embrace same-sex marriage. So there’s kind of a tidal wave of issues going on that reflect our differences. We have an opportunity to do this well and see this as a way to promote innovation, creativity and greater collaboration. A lot of the research I’ve done with Vicky Plaut [professor of law and social science at the University of California, Berkeley] suggests that we need to embrace multiculturalism and that the era of colorblindness is over. In fact, colorblindness is a signal to members of ethnic and racial minority groups that they are now vulnerable to discrimination. Photo: Can Stock

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