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7 Best Practices to Confront Age Bias, Build Generational Diversity

A group of people looking at sticky notes on a glass wall.

​Ageism hinders recruitment, retention, innovation and performance in workplaces, many of which have five generations working alongside each other, said Sonia Aranza. The president and chief executive officer of Aranza Cross Cultural Strategies, based in Alexandria, Va., shared best practices to combat this form of bias during a Smart Stage presentation Wednesday at the Society for Human Resource Management's INCLUSION 2020 virtual conference.

She noted Pew Research's breakdown of the generations, from the largest to smallest workforce segments:

  • Millennials, or Generation Y (born 1981 through 1996), make up 35 percent of the workforce. The oldest members of this cohort turn 39 this year.

  • Generation X (born 1965 through 1980) accounts for 33 percent of the workforce. The oldest turn 55 this year.

  • Baby Boomers (born 1946 through 1964) represent 25 percent of the workforce. The oldest turn 74 this year.

  • Generation Z (born 1997 through 2012) accounts for 5 percent of the workforce. The oldest turn 23 this year.

  • The Silent Generation (born 1928 through 1945) makes up 2 percent of the workforce. The oldest turn 92 this year.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Employing Older Workers]

Among the best practices Aranza shared:

  1. Include age bias in the training you give all employees on diversity, equity and inclusion. This can include teaching them about the intersection of age with other diversity factors, such as gender and race. An older woman often faces greater bias than an older man, and a young Black man often faces greater bias than a young white man, Aranza said.

  2. Embed in your culture thoughtful use of language so that stereotypes are not perpetuated. For example, explaining away forgetfulness as "having a senior moment" normalizes ageist comments, Aranza said.

  3. Review your hiring practices so that people of all ages are encouraged to apply for positions at your organization. Don't require a birth date or graduation date on job applications. Focus instead on competencies required to perform the job. This inclusion applies to younger as well as older people, she noted. "Younger leaders often say they face 'prove it' bias and are perceived to be underqualified because they're young."

  4. Scrutinize your benefits and incentive programs. Are your health benefits or flexible work arrangements geared primarily to a younger or older segment of employees? "Motivate [employees] with incentives that matter to them," Aranza said. "Incentives valuable to [Baby] Boomers are not the same [things] that Generation Y or Generation Z find valuable."

  5. Establish intergenerational employee resource groups, and make sure group leaders and sponsors represent a mix of generations.

  6. Create an intergenerational mentoring program and encourage cross-generational exchanges.

  7. Build intergenerational work teams to allow for diversity of thought, perspective and ideas.

Other SHRM Resources:
Categorizing Workers by Generations: Helpful or Harmful? SHRM Online, September 2020
House Passes Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, SHRM Online, January 2020
How to Avoid Ageism, All Things Work, March 2019
Fighting Age Discrimination, SHRM Online, February 2019


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