By Sheila Callaham
“There are all kinds of blind spots when it comes to age,” says Donna Fedus, gerontologist, college professor, and cofounder of Borrow My Glasses, an education company that develops learning and evaluation strategies, creates content and designs and delivers educational programs. Fedus, who has worked in the field of aging for 30 years, and her twin sister Lauren Lewis, whose background is in non-profit, teaching, and video production, founded the company in 2007. The name Borrow My Glasses reflects their deep belief in the importance of bringing new perspectives to aging and caregiving.
Fedus and Lewis are also the co-creators of the Disrupt Aging educational series, in partnership with AARP. Disrupt Aging at Work is one of three innovative Disrupt Aging modules, along with Disrupt Aging in Your Community and Disrupt Aging Classroom, targeting university students. All three initiatives have been presented at national and statewide conferences and featured in publications as a best practice to transform attitudes about aging.
Demand for consulting and education in the workplace has increased, due in part to the shifting age demographics and how that impacts available resources.
“We’ve been asked to consult with organizations who feel unprepared,” Fedus says. “These companies are asking for solutions to workplace issues around managing four to five generations in the workforce; while simultaneously supporting employees across a variety of growing needs such as caregiving responsibilities, new employee pipelines, succession strategies, and working with employees beyond the traditional retirement age.
Why Age-Inclusion In the Workplace Matters
Do employees expect or even recognize age bias and stereotypes? Do they think it’s justified?
Do they expect competence from people of all ages, or do they expect diminished performance – typically experienced by the oldest and youngest workers?
“The they in these cases can be people of any age within an organization – an older employee, a younger manager, a middle-aged administrator,” explains Fedus. “This is a very Borrow My Glasses lens, intentionally viewing the issue from multiple perspectives.
While age inequities are often unintentional, they are commonplace and easily overlooked. With such a large generation over the age of 55, it’s important to address the ways our culture may be excluding the aging population – especially in the workplace – since access to paid employment is critical to people across the age spectrum.
“Just raising the concerns in a focused conversation creates awareness,” says Lewis. “Those who continue to operate in ways that exclude or denigrate older people after their awareness about unintentional ageism is raised are doing so deliberately. It’s important to look for and correct divisive behavior.”
Lewis explains that divisive ageism in the workplace could be assumptions that an older person is incapable of innovative thinking, or assuming a younger person is incapable of leading or managing someone older than themselves.
Building Age Equity Into the Workplace
Change begins with ensuring sound age-inclusive practices. Here are five ways to start.
- Ask Questions, Develop Solutions: Employee surveys and culture audits can provide this insight, but it’s only valuable when a) questions address perspectives around age and aging; and, b) the findings are acted upon through strategic intervention with sound measures in place to ensure progress.
- Ensure Diversity and Inclusion Strategy is Inclusive: If age is not a characteristic of diversity being measured in your organization, your D&I strategy excludes a protected category and the single largest talent distribution. When other forms of diversity training are already mandatory for a workplace, then age should be included.
- Communication is Key: It’s easy for ageist language to creep into workplace culture and for the face of a company to be more youth-focused than age-inclusive. Eliminate negative stereotyping and create age-inclusion through communication strategies that review internal and external messaging with an age-neutral lens.
- Be Intentional: The way career and development opportunities are assigned and communicated, and shifting the organizational mindset to one of flexibility and adaptability for all ages is key.
Originally posted on Forbes