Diversity – Age and Millennials

Diversity has many dimensions. It’s root is difference and how we manage differences between people.

There are so many ways humans differ from one another. Sometimes we differ because of culture, gender, race, religion, age, and economic status.

I want to focus right now on age differences as I was asked about this by a client. If you have a big enough business, you have employees that range from young 20 somethings to people of retirement age.  And the differences between the life experiences of the people in the almost ready to retire group are totally different from those just starting out.

Not only is an older person more likely to be married and own a home, they are also more likely to have grown up without electronics (aside from a tv that probably didn’t have a remote) and had an amazing amount of personal freedom in their childhood along with possible mandatory military service.

Young people just entering the workforce, on the other hand, grew up as digital natives. They didn’t have a lot of freedom as children as their parents were too afraid to let them play outside by themselves. They’ve had no shared experience like military service and they have yet to get married and have kids. (check out the research on millennials here - http://www.pewresearch.org/topics/millennials/)

What you need to know about these “differences” is that they are generalizations.  There is no stereotypical baby boomer and there is no stereotypical millennial. Yes, millennials are more narcissistic than boomers (but not by much. Whereas ~15% of boomers are narcissistic – ~17% of millennials are – which isn’t a really big difference when you think about it).

What I’m trying to say is that do not treat any individual millennial or boomer as if they were stereotypical. They aren’t. They are an individual. And as an individual, they could vary quite a bit from what the “average” person of their age group is said to be like based on the data.

As Steven Pinker states in his book The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature - “Equality is not the empirical claim that all groups of humans are interchangeable; it is the moral principle that individuals should not be judged or constrained by the average properties of their group.”

When faced with diversity of any kind, what you should strive to do is to treat people like the individual they are. Get to know them as individuals and don’t resort to stereotyping them just because they aren’t the same as you.

It’s this last bit that gets to the crux of the problem people have with diversity. We want everyone to be perfect for us. We expect other people to respond to us the way we want them to respond to us.

But, I’ve got news for you. The world doesn’t revolve around you and you are unique. Even within your age cohort, ethnic group, gender etc, there is a tremendous amount of diversity!  Allow other people to be who they are and stop trying to impose your ideas of who they should be on them.

If you allow them to be who they are, they may just surprise you by knowing something you don’t that will help make you a better person and your company more effective. Don’t let the lack of shared cultural experiences throw you off. These other people are still human and still want and need the same things that all humans do. To belong and to be respected.

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