Battling ageism in the workplace

For the first time in modern history, there are five generations in the workforce. Yahoo Finance’s Julie Hyman sits down with leadership experts to discuss how organizations need to evolve in response to changing workforce dynamics.

Bridging the generational divides will mean doing things like abandoning one-size-fits-all ideas and meeting people on their terms, says Ravin Jesuthasan, Senior Partner for Transformation Services at Mercer. However, one thing they will need to be clear on, according to Exec Online Co-Founder and CEO Stephen Bailey, is setting clear messaging on what the company culture is and how to set expectations about how leaders’ should lead in line with that culture.

Chief Co-Founder Lindsay Kaplan bluntly calls ageism an “insidious form of discrimination in the workplace,” noting that it has a disproportionate impact on women and people of color. She also notes that there are stereotypes tied to generational bias that can lead to discrimination in the workplace.

Watch the video above to learn more about how efforts to bridge the age gap are changing the workplace.

Video Transcript

LINDSAY KAPLAN: It is about the culture and it is about making sure people feel like they belong and that there's a path for them.


RAVIN JESUTHASAN: It's the promise that I will keep you relevant, I'll keep you growing.

STEPHEN BAILEY: You want to keep your best people. I don't think that changes over time.


JULIE HYMAN: For the first time in modern history, there are five generations in the workforce. We've got Gen Z, millennials, Gen X, baby boomers, and what some call the silent generation or traditionalists. There's a lot of different constituencies to manage in terms of that. Stephen, I know you work in your work with leadership and with folks working through business schools. And so, how are those priorities for people who are just entering the workforce different?

STEPHEN BAILEY: Yeah. So, at Exec Online, we sort of work with everything from front line or aspiring managers up through the C-suite of the organization. So we see some of these generational differences. And I think they're pretty significant.

And so the question is, how do you engage that constituency differently than maybe someone who has changed jobs three or four times over the course of their career? Bridging that divide is really about making sure that organizations have very clear sort of expectations around how we lead in line with our company culture. And you see organizations facing those challenges quite a bit today.

JULIE HYMAN: Lindsay, given that, if you know that you manage a certain number of workers, and some of them might not be there for very long, do you think about how you develop them, how you relate to them differently than you do with older workers, or do you have to be agnostic?

LINDSAY KAPLAN: It's really about how you are training, how you are taking care of your people, and thinking about them long term, whether that long term means that they are in your organization or depart. It is about the culture and it is about making sure people feel like they belong and that there's a path for them.

RAVIN JESUTHASAN: I think what we're seeing is this pivot in what is the core of the value proposition from what might have been traditional pay and benefits to increasingly this promise of continued relevance. I've got an airline client that actually changed their value proposition in airline-- just wrap your head around that for a second-- to say no longer will you be here for the promise of flight benefits that your grandparents had, but we will develop you for opportunity, either within or without.

It's the promise that I will keep you relevant, I'll keep you growing. And there may be opportunities here, but perhaps at some point, there may not be an opportunity here.

STEPHEN BAILEY: You want to keep your best people. I don't think that changes over time, whether you keep them in one sort of cycle or whether they come back to the organization. And I think learning is a critical component. We measure effectiveness in three ways. Are you improving retention?

Are you improving worker productivity? And are you helping them better achieve their organizational goals? And what is striking is that what we find is when you make those right investments, over 60% of our leaders say that they would work 10% harder in order to deliver against organizational prerogatives because of the investment that's been made in them.

JULIE HYMAN: There's something else I want to ask you about this multigenerational workforce, and that's stereotypes. Like, you guys have probably seen TikToks or Instagram Reels or whatever like where it shows the different generations in the Zoom meeting and how the different ones are acting or whatever it may be. Do you just recognize that those exist? How do you deal with those? Lindsay, I'll start you. You look perturbed.

LINDSAY KAPLAN: Yeah. No, I think ageism is actually an insidious form of discrimination in the workplace and it disproportionately affects women and people of color in the workplace. And so it's something that we need to be aware of. We don't talk about ageism when we talk about diversity.

We often don't think about the fact that men view women who are young mothers as less dedicated to their roles than fathers. So there are these kind of like levels of stereotypes that are very much tied to age, to generational bias that I think social media certainly fans the flames of and we all can kind of relate to. But so much of that is really negative and, again, disproportionately affects women and people of intersectional identity.

JULIE HYMAN: So do you talk about it?


JULIE HYMAN: Do you bring it out in the open and you make it transparent? Is that the way to deal with it?

LINDSAY KAPLAN: Yes, you have to talk about ageism. You have to be comfortable making sure that that's a part of your DEI strategy.

STEPHEN BAILEY: I think a lot of these distinctions around, well, older employees do this, younger employees do that. There are going to be some older employees that are going to embrace generative AI and say like, wow, this is really exciting. Let me dive in. And there are going to be some younger employees who say, oh, this feels like a threat. And so I think we should talk more in those terms because I think we get to better outcomes than trying to create these distinctions.

RAVIN JESUTHASAN: So many organizations have this legacy-- we talked about control earlier-- this one-size-fits-all proposition, right? You come here and you be a membership of my organization, but you have to fit. You have to sort of everything I'm giving you is what everyone gets.

And more and more organizations should be moving to say, we're going to meet more people on their terms. We're just going to have a much more inclusive set of propositions, more choice so that we can meet you on your terms, as opposed are forcing you to meet us on ours.