Celebrating a Multigenerational Workplace11 Nov 2022
As a “for purpose” organization, PMI prides itself on helping individuals and organizations bring about visible social change. One way we do that is by championing diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) as a way to create a culture of inclusion and belonging. And while I’m pleased to say that DE&I has been broadly embraced by many corporate cultures, there is still a yawning gap in many DE&I strategies and even the acceptance of their integration. Part of which has to do with age.
This observation isn’t original with me. It was shared by one of the panelists at a thought-provoking virtual discussion hosted recently by PMI's DE&I team: "Growing Age Diversity in Workplace and the Impact on Projects.” Moderated by Khulan Batkhuyag, a communications strategist and student at Columbia University, this highly relevant discussion dove into the impact of age diversity on organizations and how leaders can manage a multigenerational workforce.
The panel, headed by Batkhuyag, who is also a member of PMI’s Mongolia Chapter, consisted of veteran experts on age diversity, including:
Lee R. Lambert, PMI volunteer and consultant
Sameh Mtibaa, Solution Project Manager at Société Générale
Lori Trawinsky, Director, Finance and Employment, AARP Public Policy Institute and Adjunct Faculty Instructor, NYU School of Professional Studies
Let me share some of the insights I took away from the discussion.
The time has come to foster a culture that celebrates a multigenerational workforce.
Lori Trawinsky set the stage for the discussion by pointing out that organizations often have five generations of workers in the workplace. It’s therefore critical that age be a central element of an organization’s DE&I strategy, even though, as she pointed out, it is often the least included.
“In this context, at AARP,” she said, “we have been working for several years to raise the profile of the importance of including age in the DE&I strategy."
One of the consequences of this oversight, according to Lee Lambert, is that organizations force employees into one style of operation.
“I think that's a big mistake from a productivity standpoint,” he said. “As a manager, you must learn to deal with those generations based on their generational history… We must explore ways for employees across age groups or generations to collaborate to create a productive work environment."
A workforce that celebrates both emerging and seasoned professionals can see a massive uptick in productivity and business outcomes.
The panelists emphasized the importance of balancing emerging and more seasoned professionals to create an equitable workplace.
Sameh Mtibaa provided a real-life example: "In the early days of my career, I was afraid of fitting into the workplace as I was not very well-versed, and I was very young. But, in time, I built a network of mentors to whom I speak when I’m unsure of something. This approach has helped me evolve professionally.”
The emphasis, Mtibaa said, lies in fully integrating new members into the team and balancing the skills, expertise and perspectives of a multigenerational workplace. Organizations that truly understand the needs of each generation, from millennials to senior employees, can gain significant competitive advantage.
Break down stereotypes and engage in honest, authentic conversations. Don't be judgmental about either the young or the old.
One significant impediment to creating an age-diverse workforce is the power of stereotypes. Lori Trawinsky summed up the problem this way:
"One of the biggest bottlenecks on the road to diversity is falling for stereotypes. For instance, the larger perception is innovation can only happen from younger people. Similarly, only older people have the knowledge to do certain tasks. So, DE&I groups within the organization must demolish these stereotypes and perceptions by raising awareness levels and ensuring that everyone, as an individual and as an employee, is respected.”
One of the solutions, she suggests, is to foster the art of listening – from senior leadership to entry-level employees. What’s needed are honest, authentic conversations that empower team members to both understand the needs of others and to speak up for what they need in the workplace. "Organizations must understand diversity issues and clearly communicate with employees,” said Lee.
At the end of the discussion, I was amazed at the fresh perspectives I had gained from the conversation. Ultimately, I learned, age diversity is a two-way street. We need to empower our teams by speaking and listening to their wants and needs across all generations. And we need to be flexible and avoid rigid approaches that create toxic work cultures.
Our goal now should be to make up lost time and bring age diversity fully into our DE&I strategies. The time has come for organizations to foster a culture that celebrates a collaborative multigenerational workforce.