Thinking about the vendor conferences I attended in 2018 I’m happy to note the increasing diversity. The attendance seems slightly more inclusive than in years past. Although that’s from a low point at a SharePoint conference about 10 years ago when a sign outside the women’s restroom read “in consideration of SharePoint Conference this is a Men’s Restroom”. Now the speakers on stage and the faces in videos and photos of smiling development teams and customers have a much greater variety of female and non-Western representation.
But there’s still one black hole on the diversity rainbow: older workers. I don’t know what the right term is here. Wikipedia says “According to the Oxford English Dictionary middle age is between 45 and 65”, so that will work for now. There were a few keynote sessions I sat through last year – packed with videos and photos of smart workers getting things done and having a ball while doing it – where maybe one person over the age of 45 showed up. And the only middle age presenters were General Manager or above.
Like other diversity groupings, older workers face their own issues with stereotypes, behavioral differences, physical needs, and occasional exclusion. Of course middle age workers do not face the same lack of power and representation in the corner offices that other groups do, but it would be wrong to assume they have no need to make their voices heard. The vast majority of them are not executives: the top of the pyramid is not wide enough to accommodate more than a few older workers.
So, as with other minority groups, the question for vendors is: do middle age users have a seat at the table? And for end user organizations: do middle age users have input into how software is being selected and deployed?
I know there are many differences between the challenges faced by women and minorities in tech and middle age workers. The concepts of “fresh, new, casual, fun-loving, and energetic” are understandably going to be associated easily with attractive 20-somethings working in a coffee shop or hip loft-style open office. That image may be tough to sell if showing users aged 45+.
But the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that 44% of workers were 45+ in 2017. Even in “Computer systems design and related services” 38% of workers were 45+. And despite breathless articles about how millennials are taking over business by storm, remember they are not immune to aging and the change in needs and perspectives that go along with it. The BLS projection for the civilian labor force is that workers aged 55+ will be a larger proportion of the workforce in 2026 (25%) than they were in 2016 (22%). In fact, US workers 55+ are predicted to be the fastest growing segment of the civilian labor force from 2016-2026.
At the very least, organizations may wish to include older voices because the law compels it. For example, in the U.S. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older through aspects of employment that include job assignments and training, both of which are important aspects of digital workplace training efforts. I’m not a lawyer – see the EEOC website for details on the ADEA. But anyways, like with other forms of discrimination, legal realities should only be needed to convince the most reticent executives.
A few changes that would make a difference today:
- Product marketers should ensure fair representation of middle age workers in videos and photos advocating new ways of working. And for vendors that only have young product marketers, review hiring practices to increase a better representation of age groups.
Product managers should include middle age workers at the table when shaping product strategy and use cases.
IT should also include middle age workers when making decisions about working policies, technology, and physical office layouts. Their employee experience matters as well.
Don’t assume the preferences of millennials today are due to their age cohort (which will remain fixed over time) rather than their age (as they move through the stages of life).
Diversity is a boon to businesses and doesn’t always come naturally at first. Make sure every frequency on the diversity rainbow is covered.
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