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October 8, 2021

5 Ways to Advance Age Diversity in Your Company’s Leadership Ranks

Some of the biggest companies in the world are right here in the U.S., and although they all sell different products, they still have one thing in common: They’re led by men from Generation X and above. In fact, over the past decade, the number of CEOs ages 65 to 69 nearly doubled according to USA Today.

When examining generational diversity in workplace leadership roles, there’s a clear discrepancy across fields of occupations. In some companies like American Airlines, it seems nearly impossible to assume leadership roles under a certain age, seeing that nearly half of their employees are over 50 years old. 

In other workplaces, often in specific industries, age bias skews in the opposite direction. AdAge reported that “The median age for a manager in America's advertising agencies is 37, and the average age of a creative person in the industry is only 28.”

By refusing the possibility of generationally diverse leadership teams, organizations miss the opportunity to transcend their business, transform their culture, and accelerate their results. 

Why have Leaders of All Ages?
Build a Pipeline of Ready-Now Leaders

Whether you direct a large organization or a small group of people, it’s important not only to lead them in the present, but to also prepare them, and the organization, for the future. That includes a future beyond the term of your reign. 

A true leader’s absence from a group shouldn’t result in that remaining team’s failure or collapse. Yet, this happens often when a senior role is occupied for years without sufficiently preparing those that come after them. 

The United States Democratic party experienced this consequence derived from a lack of ready leadership in the pipeline when it came time for the 2021 Presidential Campaign. 

President Biden’s grandchildren explained during an interview with Today, "I think we shared that urgency that the rest of the country was feeling that he needed to get into the race, because he was the only person that could beat Donald Trump, and I think we knew that, and we knew that we could sacrifice a little for the greater good of the country," Natalie said.

Because the party hadn’t done a sufficient job at preparing the next generation of leaders for the responsibilities of the Presidential office, they had no other choice but to rely on President.

Biden--A then 77 year old career politician, who had planned to retire from politics. Like President Biden’s granddaughters, many Americans felt there was no other equal opponent to the Republican candidate, who, by the way, was 74.

This same situation, perhaps not as extreme, often happens in workplaces across the globe when future leaders aren't prepared or available due to a lack of effective succession planning and talent development.

Img Source: https://www.g2.com/articles/succession-planning
Enhance Business Performance

Amongst many roles, leaders establish organizational visions, develop strategies for business success, and provide teams with the necessary tools for implementing those strategies. Because of their immense influence in the direction of the company, it’s pertinent that there be diversity amongst the leaders themselves. One type of diversity that should be present amongst leadership ranks is generational diversity. 

Studies have shown that a variety in ages in workplace leadership roles can lead to better decision-making yielding better business results. During Cloverpop’s research, they found that not only does making decisions drive 95% of business performance, but also age diversity, especially when paired with gender diversity, makes better decisions up to 80% of the time. 

Their studies show that both “older” decision-making groups and predominantly “younger” decision-making groups are capable of making “good” decisions on their own. However, when a diverse group of both young and older leaders works together, the chances of making decisions that positively affect the company doubles in probability.

Simply put, diverse groups—through their varied experiences, unique perspectives, wholesome critique, and healthy discourse—generate better, more flushed out ideas and decisions. 

I think it’s safe to say that a mixture of generations working in leadership roles together makes an objectively better team overall.

How to Diversify the Ages of Your Leaders
Mentorship programs and succession plans

A First Group’s survey found that more than 50 percent of organizations admitted to not having a succession plan in place.

To reach maximum leadership potential in your company, you’ll need to intentionally develop employees across the full spectrum of experience. This means investing in the training, coaching and development of not only those senior in the organization, but also those in  associate and junior level roles as well. This idea of a learning culture is what employees are longing for as well. Garter revealed that, “Global Talent Monitor’s survey shows the lack of future career development remains a key driver of employee attrition — cited by 40% of departing employees as a dissatisfying factor in their job.”

One simple, inexpensive way to do that is to create a mentorship program that partners young professionals at the company with older or more experienced professionals at the company. This intentional connection provides information that can serve as a guide for the emerging leaders.

It allows a preview into the role, the transfer of institutional knowledge, and the sharing of vital social capital that too often leaves an organization with the retiring talent who built it. When this happens, the emerging leaders backfilling these roles have to start from scratch for themselves, costing the company valuable time and resources spent on getting the new leader up to speed. 

With a proper mentorship program as a part of your succession planning, you set emerging leaders up for success, benefiting them, the organization and the team.

Promote or Provide Experience

Another opportunity to prepare younger leaders is to put an accelerated promotion plan in place for high potential emerging leaders. An accelerated promotion program focuses on evolving a business from its usual cycle, by providing opportunities for critical experience to young leaders who otherwise wouldn’t acquire such experience at this stage in their career. It is unorthodox, disruptive, and may come with some backlash, but these things are often worth doing. 

It is the organizational leader’s responsibility to truly leverage the young talent within a workforce and provide them channels of access to power- a preview of the promotion if you will. Taking this route still allows those employees to work a new professional muscle, experience how it operates, and try out a new level of decision making.

If your company is small, new, or for any other reason just doesn’t have the capacity to support such promotions, then you can find other ways to provide critical experience to similar roles. Special projects, task force appointments, and stretch assignments are all examples of unique ways to provide opportunities for critical experience. Although it’s not the same as designating a completely new title and responsibilities, emerging leaders can still gain applicable experience through these types of roles, individual tasks or assignments.

Using these methods, a leader can make a space at the decision-making table for new ages, voices, and generational perspectives, which ultimately increases the employee’s and the company’s opportunities for success.

What If Your Organization is Too Young?

While age diversity in the workplace includes all ranges of generations, traditional “professional” settings, particularly when speaking about leadership, tend to skew towards older generations.

Still, there are many situations where we find it quite the opposite. Younger workplaces commonly appear in fields such as marketing, technology, and other industries with “disruptive” business missions. 

Business Insider explained, “While companies like AOL skewed a bit younger, most employees in the tech world are in their late 20s.” 

In such situations, there are two ways to turn incoming employees from being mono-aged to more generationally diverse:

  1. Reevaluate your recruiting strategy. Think about where you are searching for candidates, or where you advertise vacancies. Now, diversify that. Seek to understand where the demographic is least represented in your talent pool, then begin promoting and seeking employment opportunities there. If your organization relies heavily on referrals, consider incentivizing employees to refer candidates beyond the median age of the company. Is this legal, you’re probably thinking? The answer is yes. 
  1. Reexamine the criteria of your hiring requisites. Be sure that the criteria you have suitable for a role is not biased toward a specific age group. The people writing and auditing your job descriptions should be a diverse group of people including race, gender identity, age, ability, role in the company, etc. 

The goal here is not to ignore emerging young professionals, but to instead provide a variety of both innovative and traditional hiring techniques in order to truly diversify your candidate pool. 

The Most Reliable Solution for Any Company

No matter the size of your company, no matter the age of your company, no matter the generational diversity that your company has, there is one sure way to ensure your emerging leaders are prepared for the future of the workplace and marketplace, and that your experienced leaders have the skills future proof the business-- leadership and professional development.

Training and development, particularly that done by external facilitators, allows for new forms of mentorship and teaching techniques that can appeal to a variety of employee types, age groups, and seniority levels. Investing in training and development for the future leaders of your organization not only helps you prepare the business for the future, but will also help you attract and retain top emerging talent in a growingly competitive talent market.

Leaders are not born leaders but rather developed by adequate attention, direction and training. For this reason, among others, I created an early talent leadership and professional development firm, The Center for Next Generation Leadership & Professional Development, that is dedicated to equipping emerging talent with the soft skills necessary to connect with, engage, and lead people. 

Businesses that invest in effective succession planning, learning & development opportunities for emerging talent, and diverse recruitment strategies, and embrace generational diversity in leadership as a competitive advantage are the ones who will lead us into the future. So how do you plan to promote generational diversity in your company? 

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Raven Solomon

Raven is a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Speaker, Author, & Strategist who helps organizations understand generations, racial equity, and their intersection.

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