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The Importance of Age Diversity Management for Admins

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Posted: 27th Jun 2016  |  Share this Article:

Delighted to introduce Silvia Salomon. Silvia is a trainer and consultant in diversity management, National Chairman of EUMA Italy and a former Executive Assistant. Our interview is about age diversity management and what it means to the administration community.

Diversity management is the practice of addressing and supporting multiple lifestyles and personal characteristics within a defined group.  Management activities includes educating the group and providing support for the acceptance of, respect for and inclusion of various racial, cultural, societal, geographical, economic and political backgrounds. (source business dictio). In the workplace, it focuses especially on age, gender and cultural diversity.

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Tell us a little bit about your background and why you decided to teach diversity management?
I studied foreign languages and semiotics, and was an executive assistant to the CEO for over 16 years. The last company I worked at was acquired by a multinational company and my position was made redundant. That was at the outburst of the crisis. I found myself over-skilled for the job market. I decided to become a trainer and consultant to profit from my competencies and experience. Together with other colleagues I co-founded a network of professionals focused on psycho-social risks and job related stress.

What are the issues we are facing with age diversity management?
The speed of change: technology is developing so fast that today we no longer speak of centuries, we speak of decades. A generation used to  span over 25 years, it is now 10-15 years. One generation is made up with people who share the same values as a consequence of sharing the same social models, historical events and backgrounds. But if change occurs faster, generations shrink, reference models get old too fast, many different values from different generations co-exist and the risk is that they will clash with each other in the work place.
Complexity: the working contest is becoming more and more complex and we need to take into consideration many different elements. The main ones are: people getting old, but still able to work because life quality and health have improved and people are asked to retire later. This sums up to a new phenomenon called active ageing. People are still working when they were due to be retired. This has an impact on their motivation first and is a big change in their life plans. But also on the organisation of work and relationships with the new generations coming into the work place. The new generation being digital natives, they own the knowledge of new technology as mother tongue speakers. Therefore they have  a professional advantage over the older generations; they are more skilled and competent and for this reason they are preferred to the older generation when it comes to investing in talents and development projects in the workplace. The approach many companies have results in a big risk of generational clash. On top of this, many digital natives in Europe will be second generation/third generation citizens. This adds up the cultural difference to the  generational one.
Technology,  Innovation and knowledge sharing: the new generation masters new technologies quicker and easier than the older generation. This means that for the first time in history the knowledge sharing model is becoming obsolete: once it was the elder who taught the younger, now we have reversed roles and it may be the young person being asked to teach the elder, which is not a natural process.  We need to learn to adapt, embrace this change and become accustomed to it.

All these aspects bring into the workplace, generations that are so different in values, needs, motivations, expectations and approach to work; that the risk of clash is very high and it needs to be proactively managed. Before it becomes a problem for productivity and the organisational well-being.

How can we better adapt to the changing environment? What do we need to do in the admin profession to support this change?

  • We need to be proactive: act before risk turns into conflict.
  • We need to learn how to read scenarios…to provide solutions and best practices
  • Managers will be asked to manage diversity-related risks as one of their core competencies, as an admin we need to be able to support them in this

Do you feel that admins should be included in diversity management training
Yes, because diversity in the workplace is a new phenomenon: we need to understand it, gain awareness and acquire the competencies that are needed to manage it.

The differences were not so great in the past, we had enough time to adapt to them. The values were not dramatically different and it was enough and accepted to learn from the elders.  Knowledge sharing needs to be different now: every generation should provide its best and share it inside the working team. Admins are often team managers, they are asked to proactively read and manage conflicts, they are problem-solvers: they are in the perfect role for supporting the managers in managing the risks related to age diversity. Training  is a strategic part to “get ready for the job”. 

We are now working with such a diverse age range how do we ensure that we are communicating in a respectful and inclusive way?
We need to learn what are the values/needs/expectations of each different generation. We need to be aware of the differences. What motivates a baby boomer is totally different from what motivates a millennial. When we can understand the differences then we can adapt, make allowances and build new and different models for sharing knowledge and for talking to each other. If we know the differences, we can make better choices.

We need to learn what are the values/needs/expectations of each different generation. We need to be aware of the differences. What motivates a baby boomer is totally different from what motivates a millennial. When we can understand the differences then we can adapt, make allowances and build new and different models for sharing knowledge and for talking to each other. If we know the differences, we can make better choices.

In a fast pace environment and changing technology how do we make sure that the elder generations are not left behind?
In order not to leave behind the elder generation we need to adapt the recruitment criteria and development criteria. For example: a “talent” today is considered a long term potential.  Talent equals young, and only young. Talent, instead, only develops and improves with time and experience. An elder may be a huge talent and we risk wasting it. One of the first things we need to do is include the elder generations in the development programs. I am thinking of new models of mentoring, for example reverse mentoring, which is workable, easy to set up and extremely beneficial to both parties.

On the other hand, the elder generation needs to change their mindset, be open to change which sometimes can be a big challenge for them.  We should ask the same from the younger generation, they need to accept some aspects of the elder generation as a part of their life background and personal development, instead of considering it as “old , therefore disposable”…the millennials are a generation born and raised in a disposable way of living…when something is old, you throw it away, you do not mend it or re-use it for some other purpose: and they tend to apply the same approach to people. This is a big mistake, as progress does not stop with one generation, we all need to evolve.

How can we ensure diversity management is taken seriously and includes admins? Diversity management is a very new topic. I would start from educating the leading people, senior management team – people who make strategic decisions and those who assign budgets to training and education. They need to understand how crucial it is to invest today on these topics, be productive and preserve their competitive edge tomorrow. Companies who address this topic are more productive, more competitive, AND last but not least they are inclusive, responsible companies dedicated to make business without sacrificing people and organizational well-being.

When training is at a premium for the majority of the admin profession and many admins missing out on development opportunities, how can they ensure they are included in this training?
First, we need to raise the awareness of this important topic, we also need to point out that admins have all the competencies required to manage diversity risks. They are able to listen, to read scenarios, to think strategically and act tactically. Admins manage projects and solve problems, prevent and/or manage conflicts and modulate communications according to different target audiences. They are mentally flexible and creative, they are at ease with change, they act as leaders to many working teams: they naturally have what it takes. With education and training, they would learn to apply those competencies to diversity management and would make the best partners in diversity management projects.

What are the 3 key messages you would like to share with the admin community
Start Learning about diversity management, prepare yourselves now because it is coming.
Help your manager understand diversity, talk, point out things, explore situations…explain why things happen
Provide solutions and best practices

In this instance, do you think our language and tone of voice is more important than ever?
Yes it is. The baby boomers like to speak to each other directly, the digital natives talk to each other through social media which is a total new set of dynamics. We need to master both.

Can you recommend any articles or books for people who are interested in learning more about diversity management?
The phenomenon being new, studies results are starting to come out and keep coming. I do not have one book over others that explores and solves the whole topic, because none of them are compendiums and we are still studying. I would rather suggest you keep an eye on magazines such as The International Journal of Human Resources Management, or Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology, plus the EU-OSHA website (https://osha.europa.eu/), this is the European Agency for Safety and Health at work- for any old or new publication. You can also join groups in the social media dedicated to the topic for any view exchange and discussion.

What topics do you cover at your workshops?

  • The risks related to diversity management
  • Baby boomers- generation X and generation Y: differences in values, motivation, expectations, communication style etc
  • Admins as cross-generational mediator
  • What competencies we need to manage cross-generation diversity
  • Let’s build together a new model of knowledge sharing

How do we continue to motivate and remain inclusive?
Through education and by raising awareness. We also need to provide solutions and provide support to implement change management.

Thank you Silvia – I very much look forward to our next interview on cultural diversity.

Silvia is Senior Partner at INOVAR network you can contact Silvia via LinkedIn  Vivien is a former Executive Assistant, now founder of Cornerstone42 an Executive Assistant Search Consultants who matches talented executive assistants with talented employers.
You can also follow Vivien on Twitter or Facebook

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Vivien Edwards

Written by

Vivien Edwards

Cornerstone42 founder

Vivien has nearly 20 years administrative experience covering project and event management, recruitment, training and development, mentorship and supervisory for other admins.

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