3 Benefits to an Age-Diverse Team
March 5, 2020
Recently, Drexel University was recently named an Age-Friendly University (AFU). Drexel is the first university in Philadelphia and one of only two in the state of Pennsylvania, and one of 60 universities across the United States to earn this title. This is an honor and a testament to Drexel’s commitment to build a diverse workforce across multiple different segments – including age. In reading about this honor, I decided I wanted to tease out more about the benefits an age-based diverse group.
As a professor, I have taught multiple classes with students ranging in age from 22 to 65. I love the diverse age range in class because I find the more mature students bring a life perspective the young students rarely have, and the younger students bring a vitality the older students have perhaps let lapse. I believe this to also be true in a team. So, what are the benefits of an age-diverse team?
Older workers typically have a history with the company and that means they have institutional knowledge that cannot not be replaced. They are the person you can go to and ask, “Mary, do you remember why we made that decision five years ago?”
Mature workers bring a life perspective to the table that younger workers just don’t. For example, while brainstorming to streamline a process, Jack points out that they tried that approach at his former firm and while there were initially some successes, over time the customers were unhappy, and he explains why.
Aging team members can act as mentors to younger team members. They have valuable experiences along their career path and can offer advice and support for younger workers who are just starting their career trajectory.
I do want to note that an age-diverse team will only be successful as long as the leadership fosters and supports the diversity. For example, in my first college internship, I worked at a bank and in the department where I was assigned, there was a much older worker. I was 20 then and thought at the time she was in her early 60s (that no longer seems quite so old). It was clear to me the department manager only tolerated this worker, making retirement comments (hints) every so often. Other workers avoided her or they un-huned her as they walked passed her desk, making it pretty clear they were not paying attention. The reality, she really knew the department and the mortgage industry better than any of them (and that was clear to me – the intern), but her knowledge was wasted since the rest of the department practiced avoidance. And this does not even begin to address how these actions made her feel.
For much of my working life, I have worked on age-diverse teams. I found myself seeking the guidance from those who had more experience than I did. I sought their perspective often. In my current role, I have had a number of younger employees seek my council – and I am happy to share my experiences and perspective with them. But I also love to learn from my younger counterparts. It is a two-way street – we should always seek to learn from one another.
Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Professor
Department Head of Graduate Studies