Age diversity at a glance:
- Australia’s workforce grew by almost 491,000 between 2019 and 2022, with 38 per cent of these new workers aged 55 and older.
- Directors of ASX 300 companies range from 27yrs, to 90ys – an age span of 63 years.
- By 2050, roughly a quarter of Australians will be over the age of 65, further contributing to age diversity in the workforce.
As flexible working allows older people to increasingly re-enter the workforce and stay in employment for longer, labour forces across the developed world will age. And alongside people living and working for longer, younger generations of people also continue to take up employment, resulting in as many as five generations represented in the workforce at any one time.
Gerard Daniels Director and Co-Founder, Lloyd Smith, shares some recent trends and observations on leading an age diverse workforce, and considers why age diversity is so good for business.
Harnessing the business benefits of diversity
Age diversity can be described as accepting employees of different ages in the workplace – but for Lloyd this is just the beginning. “As with all types of diversity, having an inclusive culture that values diverse contributions can be performance enhancing,” he says. “So as business leaders, we need to reframe our thinking to look beyond acceptance, towards harnessing the true organisational value of diversity.”
Why is age diversity good for business?
- Businesses operate in increasingly competitive environments and need capable and diverse leadership to navigate these challenges.
- Age diverse perspective and experience fuels creativity, innovation and problem solving, and informs better decision making.
- Age diversity helps businesses to create workplaces that are representative of a wide range of clients, markets and stakeholders.
- Leveraging the skills, knowledge and experience of people across different age groups helps to address organisational skills gaps.
- Having an age diverse workforce is also an important part of talent attraction and retention – with some organisations using diversity equity and inclusion strategies as recruitment tools.
According to Lloyd, a positive working dynamic is another benefit of age diverse teams. “When Boards and Executive Leadership teams have diverse age representation, people are generally more respectful of and willing to listen to different points of view. Diversity also challenges people’s influencing and collaboration skills, and helps to shift the focus away from unilateral decision making,” says Lloyd. “You also find that younger people with less experience can bring fresh perspective and creativity to the Board environment, that becomes a catalyst for more experienced board members to share their perspective.”
Age diversity leadership trends
With multiple generations now represented in the workforce, over time Boards will naturally become more age diverse too. And where Board appointments were once considered an end of career progression, Lloyd is encouraged to see younger professionals actively preparing for this path, taking on community Board roles and pursuing targeted opportunities like Executive coaching, mentoring and professional development, Board Ready Programs, and even Board Traineeships.
“While there is evidence of CEOs starting younger, I know of just as many senior leaders who have successfully taken on Executive appointments later in their careers, and stayed on in these roles,” says Lloyd. “And with mandatory retirement ages for serving CEOs increasingly being pushed back and phased out, time is on their side.”
“There are also plenty of experienced senior leaders who remain highly satisfied performing operational roles late into their careers, because they have good incomes, they’re enjoying opportunities to develop and grow, and they like the work that they do,” he continues. “Often, it’s not until we work with them to develop five-year plans, that we uncover the desire to take on the CEO role or another Executive appointment. We then try to work with them to develop the skills, experience, and network they need to achieve this.”
Priority leadership qualities: age vs. energy
As more organisations come to appreciate the value of age diversity, Lloyd welcomes greater emphasis on qualities like energy, experience and capability, instead of age.
“As a society, in many ways we are less ageist and more open minded about diversity today than we were 20 years ago, particularly at senior levels. When clients are attracting and developing executive talent, this means age tends to carry less significance than the energy and experience to perform in the role,” he says. “Whether you are recruiting for CEO or entry level roles, it’s helpful to think less about age and more on finding talent with the right drive, desire and mental acuity to thrive.”
Looking beyond age
While age diversity is important, Lloyd urges organisations to remember that Board diversity is also about bringing people together who are gender diverse, culturally diverse, ethnically diverse, ability diverse, neurodiverse, and have diversity of experience.
“The role of Boards is not to manage, but to assess, review, test ideas, ensure risk is examined risk properly, and to understand the impact of strategic initiatives and decisions on the organisation and its stakeholders,” Lloyd reflects. “And the more diverse perspectives Boards have to draw on, generally the better they perform, and the more effectively they can deliver in context with the management team”.
Looking to grow the diversity of your Board or Executive Leadership team; to foster diversity within your organisational culture; or drive the performance of your top team? Connect with Lloyd, or reach out to your local Gerard Daniels team.