They talk about ensuring equal representation for women, for people of different races, for different nationalities and culture, and for LGBTQ individuals. That’s the way it should be.
Yet take a look at the images that accompany those stories. Everybody’s young. There’s no gray hair, no wrinkles, nothing that identifies the organizations as inclusive of people over 50… or even 40. The ideal seems to be female, Black, Asian, White, male, disabled, and transgender employees who are all much younger than 40.
There are even regular annual features titled “40 Under 40” (though, to be fair, Campaign Magazine has run “40 Over 40” for the past five years, but it’s an outlier… and British… while Fortune Magazine has been running its “40 Under 40” since 2009), and this year I encountered “The Queer 50” which, if I were homosexual or bi-sexual, I wouldn’t consider a flattering description. (Personally, I think it’s time for a more neutral descriptor — if there’s a need for one at all — to distinguish between people who prefer partners of the same and those who opt for people of the opposite gender; perhaps straight and curved, though I’m certain that that’s sure to raise somebody’s hackles.)
A PEEK AT PEAKING
Mathematicians tend to peak young. So do computer scientists. Yet writers get better with age, as do researchers, historians, lawyers, doctors, and accountants (even the honest ones). I’d assume that HR professionals learn more as time goes by about how to identify the right personalities for particular positions, and CEOs who’ve weathered several turnarounds are valued for their insights and guidance.
Call me jaded (or judgmental or, for all I care, Ishmael), but when a company that claims to be expert at managing retirement finances doesn’t have anyone of retirement age on the staff, it doesn’t make me trust their expertise. When ad agencies represent clients who
- sell drugs for age-related conditions
- manage retirement communities
- offer reverse mortgages
- or provide investments that lower risk for retirees
When TV shows and movies have lots of kids and parents and either no grandparents in regular or recurring roles or no grandparents at all, I wonder what world that is. Maybe that’s why “Everybody Loves Raymond” endured and why “Modern Family” seems normal… mostly.
This isn’t to suggest that “Superman” have children and resurrect his parents in a new “Superman: The Spanx Years,” but it might be funny (or a subtle examination of human fallibility and the power of imagination). At least Superman has a vulnerability, which makes him almost like a human with arthritis or irregular heartbeats.
THE DISCOMFORT ZONE
There is sure to be some level of discomfort in shifting the calculus — from older people guiding younger ones to younger people hiring their elders. There are psychological ramifications that might range from “telling mom and dad what to do” to “feeling that they’ll think they know better” to “believing that ‘the chemistry’s not right’” and the like. Get over it. That can happen with anyone.
What can’t happen with just anyone is the perspective of experience. It’s been said (about multiple industries) that “Our most valuable assets go down in the elevator and out the door every night,” and those people take with them a degree of knowledge that’s unique — to themselves, to the company, to its clients and customers, and among their colleagues.
Someone trained to work on modern cars who relies on computers that analyze problems and offer solutions won’t be very much help to the person who drives a classic ’56 T-bird. The person who’s mastered Photoshop masking inside out might not know what to do when the power fails and there isn’t any amberlith and X-Acto knives. The spreadsheet whiz who’s mastered the pivot table might not finish the what-ifs by the deadline if they have to do them manually when Excel won’t boot up.
Shaw said that youth is wasted on the young. So is diversity and inclusion that’s restricted by age.