“Don’t worry, I won’t hold your age against you.”
This was said to me almost two years ago in the London office of a global bank for an internal comms role. I was 45 years old. <== Huh? It is quite some time before I qualify for a bus pass in the UK and I do try to keep the grey hair at bay with regular trips to Salon 167, but … wait a second … 45 years old is not *old*. And since when is looking back at a 25 year career – most of which was spent *dealing* with banks – be something that is *held against you* for a job that would entail *dealing with a bank*. (Anyway, I didn’t pursue the job – and for more reasons that the recruitment process seemed to be taking several months to complete).
As you can guess this post is about age – not just age but experience. In our quest for the new and innovative – are we risking ignoring valuable experience and deep sector knowledge just because it comes in a, slightly world worn, package?
Any good student of the Lean Startup knows that to Failing Fast doesn’t mean throwing an entire project out the window – it means taking small, incremental steps that allow you to fail small (and fast). Enabling you to pivot and change to a more successful direction. You fail fast, so you don’t fail big. The lessons you learn from this trial and error procedure used to be called experience. Whether it is with life, work or family – most of us travel through the passage of time racking up lessons learned, stories to embark and knowledge to rely on. That should be celebrated – not dismissed.
Yes, we all know there is a real threat of HiPPOs. The ‘Highest Paid Person’s Opinion’ tends to come from the person in the room who has the highest ranking job title, due to years of ‘not getting fired’. This person tends to block new ideas and hinder innovation. Trust me, I’m not defending *that* guy.
However, a recent study of US startup founders polled by venture-capital firm First Round Capital found that 37% said age is the strongest investor bias against founders, while 28% cited gender and 26% cited race.
This bias is even more odd as research suggests that age diversity promotes productivity and performance, and that older workers take fewer sick days, have better problem-solving skills, and are more likely than younger workers to be highly satisfied in their work.
I look at my own self as an example. At the later stages of 40s, I no longer have very young children at home who need constant care. (Although, I did launch two magazines, in a row, all before my child hit four years old – if you want to ‘Get shit done’ hire a parent who needs to get home to relieve the child minder.) At almost 47, if I wanted to take up so-called ‘hustle-culture’ and make work the main point of my existence, this would not impact my 14-year-old son’s Nintendo Switch and Domino’s pizza habit one bit.
The older you get, the more confidence you build. Office politics are irrelevant (because they are really not worth your time). And my Rolodex (look it up – Millennials) is so thick it is the main reason why I get cold called on LinkedIn.
The best organisations run with a culture where a wide variety of talents and voices are heard. Younger generations, bringing in fresh ideas and technology should mix and bounce off older workers who offer deep sector knowledge and a mature outlook on professional quandaries and dilemmas. In this week’s video, Claudia Coppenolle, Director in GTB’s Chief Digital Office at Deutsche Bank discusses the reverse mentoring programme at the bank – which pairs up older and younger workers for mutual benefits.
Good ideas can come from anywhere. Incorporating and attracting a more diverse and inclusive workforce shouldn’t stop at gender, socio-economic or racial parity. When you look around at your organisation and you only see people who would still be alive on Logan’s Run (Again, Millennials look it up) you are missing out on a wealth of knowledge, expertise and experience. #EmbraceTheGrey!