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Why Is Age Not Part of Diversity and Inclusion?

In theory age is part of diversity and inclusion. It's rarely put into practice.

Diversity and Inclusion (DI) is one of the primary initiatives in the corporate world and continues to gain traction. Look at the managerial staff of any major company and you will see people hired to ensure that workforces and boardrooms are fairly represented in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, and, ideally, physical ability and sexual orientation. A more advanced form of DI recognizes and celebrates differences in terms of education, skill sets, experiences, knowledge, and even personalities.

Needless to say, this is a very good and long overdue thing that mostly came about because of the social, economic, and political pressures associated with the Black Lives Matter and MeToo movements. Sadly, large corporations are generally resistant to change and will only do so if it serves their and their shareholders’ financial interests.

Formally establishing a DI initiative makes sense for many reasons. Simply acknowledging that discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and gender exists and should be discouraged is a major achievement given the less than proud history of business in America and elsewhere in terms of hiring and advancement.

As important perhaps, DI is good for business. Embracing the reality that people are unique helps to fuel creativity and innovation, offering companies that do so a competitive edge, especially within the increasingly global marketplace.

In short, a diverse and inclusive workforce improves the bottom line, making the initiative much more than good public relations. As with America itself, which was founded and continues to run on the principle of e pluribus unum—out of many, one—difference is good.

While age is in theory often part of a DI initiative, however, it is rarely put into actual practice. It should not be news that older workers—baby boomers, to be specific—are not welcome in Corporate America. (Mistakenly) perceived as past their prime, over the hill, and yesterdays’ news, people over 55 are routinely and instantly rejected as job candidates by HR people and managers and encouraged to retire to make room for young people.

Why is this so when many studies show that older people have a different kind of skill set that ideally complements companies’ goals? Experience, perspective, and wisdom come with age, research has demonstrated, precisely what is needed for good short- and long-term decision-making.

As with discrimination and bias based on race and gender, negative feelings about older people are deeply rooted in our culture and are thus unlikely to change unless there is a social movement equivalent to Black Lives Matter and MeToo. More simply, millennials simply don’t want people who look and act like their parents around at work. Skin color is apparently one thing but wrinkles quite another.

Not just a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-gender workforce but a multi-generational one is in the best interests of all kinds of organizations and society as a whole. Let’s work to make it happen.