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Age diversity: difference or outcome of equality?

by on June 10, 2014

Of all the search terms we use in our research project to generate alerts to ‘age at work’ material on Web 2.0, I would say that ‘age diversity’ is the one which yields the fewest returns.

So I noticed this item on Crain’s Detroit Business (described as Detroit and Southeast Michigan’s ‘premier business news and information website’) as a comparatively rare piece, seemingly in suppport of age diversity in the workplace, as being good for people and good for business.

The author (a ‘younger’ manager) marks herself out as different from the many who ‘expect the workplace hierarchy to reflect years of hard-won seniority, with the eldest staff members in top positions and their younger counterparts furiously climbing the corporate ladder beneath them’. Research has looked at situations which breach these so-called ‘age norms’.  For example, Collins, Hair & Rocco’s 2009 paper looks at what they describe as the ‘Reverse Pygmalion Effect’, i.e. the phenomenon of the ‘Older-Worker-Younger-Supervisor Dyad’. That particular US study reported that older workers expect less from their younger supervisors than do younger workers, and that older workers rate their younger supervisors’ leadership behaviour lower than younger workers rate their younger supervisors.

Back in the item on age diversity, the author concludes an otherwise positive piece on age diversity with some generalisations, specifically as to how the younger generation wants to ‘make an impact’ and ‘bring advanced technological skills and wisdom’. Does the concept of diversity only work if you argue that each age group brings something unique and different to the workplace or can it be seen as an outcome of equality of opportunity? My challenge is to find a media article on diversity which doesn’t contain an age or generation based stereotype!  In the meantime, I highly recommend Kat Riach’s 2009 paper  ‘Managing ‘difference’: understanding age diversity in practice’ published in the Human Resource Management Journal, 19(3), 319-335.

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