Many Wrinkles in Age Diversity Planning

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By Patrick Dorrian

Nov. 28 — Achieving age diversity in the workplace and managing multigenerational workforces are big issues for employers, and getting bigger, attorneys and a diversity trainer told Bloomberg BNA.

The average age of the population increases every day, said Mauricio Velasquez, a diversity and inclusion strategist who works with public and private companies of all sizes.

More than 40 percent of Americans 55 and older will be employed by 2019, according to the National Council on Aging. That means this age group will comprise 25 percent of the U.S. workforce before the end of the decade.

At the same time, while Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers show that the unemployment rate is lower for workers 45 and older, the agency also reported that in 2014, workers 40 and over who lost their jobs stayed unemployed longer than their younger counterparts.

Addressing age diversity isn’t just about avoiding age discrimination and maintaining workplace harmony and productivity. It also may be necessary to lessen the impacts of other forms of job bias, including gender and race discrimination.

Women, Minorities Hit Harder

Women are hit harder than men by the lack of attention to workplace age diversity, attorney and consultant Patricia G. Barnes told Bloomberg BNA.

Employers tend to “stop investing” in women’s careers as they age, not providing them with training and other opportunities after they reach age 45, Barnes said. That’s about 10 years earlier than men experience this phenomenon, she said. A former judge, the Tucson, Ariz.-based Barnes is the author of “Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace” and other books on job bias and workplace bullying.

A National Bureau of Economic Research working paper from October 2015 reported “robust evidence” of age bias in the hiring of women, but less evidence of discrimination against older male job seekers. In addition, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis reported in November 2015 that long-term unemployment increased disproportionately for older women after the Great Recession.

That gender-based disparity leads to lower career earnings for female workers and comparatively higher levels of poverty among older women than older men, Barnes added.

Her view is supported by a National Council on Aging fact sheet on economic insecurity among the elderly. Older women generally get about $4,000 less annually in Social Security income than older men do, because of women’s lower lifetime earnings, according to the NCOA.

And gender isn’t the only compounding factor in poverty among the elderly, the NCOA said. Older black men are twice as likely as older white men to be unemployed, it said, citing BLS statistics. In all, more than 25 million Americans age 60 and over are economically insecure, according to the NCOA.

Ways to Reduce Risks, Minimize Claims

To avoid spurring workplace conflict and potential bias claims, employers that seek workers from different age groups should make clear to all that they’re doing so because they value diversity. And employers should make sure they use the term “diversity,” management-side attorney Angela J. Gibson said.

“Don’t state any overt goals,” but instead present an age diversity strategy as a loosely stated “mission,” Gibson told Bloomberg BNA. She is a partner in Vorys, Sater, Seymour & Pease LLP’s Cincinnati office.

That caution should also extend to any succession planning a company does, Gibson said. “You have to think and be careful about how you” express your succession plan, and avoid using terms like “new blood.”

Employers also can reduce age bias claims—or at least enhance their chances of defending against such claims—by actually having an age-diverse workforce that includes a fair number of older workers, Gibson said. If a company has the statistics on its side, “that’s a great defense.”

“Caution and balance is the ideal” in age diversity and succession planning, she said.

‘Rigidity Will Cost You.’

But “age diversity goes both ways,” Velasquez warned. “It’s about the interplay between the different generations of workers” in a company’s workplace, he said.

Velasquez is the president of Diversity Training Group in Herndon, Va., and has conducted diversity training across different business sectors for more than two decades. He said he focuses on all generations when he does age diversity training for an employer, but he noted that some companies will provide training just for a particular portion of the workforce.

“It creates a backlash or dissension” if the training doesn’t target all generations, Velasquez said. He also noted that some employers don’t feel they need to change the job benefits they offer to keep up with the changing times, such as providing paternity leave or similar perks younger workers may seek.

Older workers sometimes have specific benefits that appeal to them, such as paid parental care leave, management-side attorney Terri Gillespie added. She is a partner with Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP in Philadelphia.

Velasquez said employers need “to be consistent with the competition” with regard to the benefits they offer if they want to attract young talent and retain older workers. “Rigidity will cost you.”

Explain Benefits, Encourage Collaboration

Gillespie said companies need to explain their benefit offerings and how each may be of use to workers of different generations. An employer risks rubbing certain generations the wrong way if job perks are viewed as benefiting just one age group of workers, she told Bloomberg BNA.

Encouraging “collaboration as much as you can” among the different age groups is another effective tool for reducing age-based tensions and increasing work efficiencies among a multigenerational workforce, Gillespie added.

AARP Shares ‘Promising Practices.’
Many of the recommendations made by Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP’s Terri Gillespie are among the key takeaways and promising practices AARP drew from case studies the organization conducted on workplace age diversity.
One of the companies that participated in the AARP study—Huntington Ingalls Industries—focuses on team building in its shipbuilding operations, Lori A. Trawinski told Bloomberg BNA. Huntington Ingalls assembles intergenerational teams that focus on the broad range of skill sets needed for a project, she said.
The company “really values its longer-term employees,” Trawinski, a director in the AARP Public Policy Institute, said.
The promising practices identified by AARP for increasing age diversity and enhancing understanding among multigenerational workforces include:
• Maintaining apprenticeship programs that are open to workers of all ages.
• Starting programs to assist workers re-entering the workforce after a long absence.
• Facilitating cross-generational mentoring to improve knowledge transfer.
• Raising awareness of intergenerational differences to enhance team functioning.
• Organizing employee resource groups that raise employee engagement and offer mentoring opportunities.
• Actively recruiting workers of all ages to build a diverse, experienced workforce.

Creating and maintaining an age-diverse workforce “is hard to do” because every workplace is different, she said. Although Gillespie hasn’t seen it herself, she said sometimes the stereotypes can hold true—some young workers do lack necessary skills and some older workers are less savvy about emerging technologies. And a lot may depend on the demographics of a company’s customer base and whether older or younger workers are more effective at reaching that base.

Moreover, unlike the other traits protected from workplace bias under federal law, age “isn’t static,” she said. Aging can eventually hinder a worker’s performance, especially in a physically demanding job, Gillespie said.

Companies also need to ensure that the unique institutional and other knowledge older workers possess doesn’t “walk out the door” with them when they leave, Velasquez said.

That’s why employers should focus on mentoring, cross-generational training, and building internal teams comprising both younger and more seasoned employees, Gillespie said. And get managers involved, she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

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