By Courtney Connley
Listen to "The New Rules of Business" by Chief and follow wherever you get your podcasts.
It feels like every time we talk about intergenerational relationships at work, the same tired themes arise: who's better at technology, who prefers in-person work to remote, who's biased. But that can't be the whole picture; interage collaboration — and the two-way mentorship that comes with it — can create a thriving collaboration.
On the latest episode of Chief's podcast, "The New Rules of Business," Chief Co-Founders Carolyn Childers and Lindsay Kaplan speak with ageism researcher Ashton Applewhite who argues overreliance on the word "generation" often leads to unnecessary division in the team. "The biggest problem I would say is that when we group people according to age and act as though age is responsible for how we think and act, it obscures the bigger role that class, [gender, and ethnicity] in particular plays in shaping our actions and experiences," she says.
The key to cultivating not only a healthy intergenerational workforce but one that takes advantage of the differences is to recognize that diversity, even in age, helps to improve business outcomes. "It's intuitively better for the same reason that a mixed gender team is better, that a mixed race team is better or mixed ethnicity, you have more perspectives at the table," Applewhite says. "And this is not to say that the young people will all be tech wizards, or that the older people should be selling retirement homes. It's not so that we can fulfill stereotypical roles. It is because it is an advantage to have diversity at the table, and of course, age is a criterion for diversity."
Kaplan and Childers also speak to the powerful duo behind fashion house DVF who epitomize intergenerational magic: Founder and CEO Diane von Furstenberg and Gabby Hirata, who was appointed as President of the storied brand last year. Hirata led the retail-heavy business into a digital-first, China-led strategy to navigate the effects of the pandemic on the luxury market.
"She took over in the sense that she had a vision," Furstenberg says. "And she turned things around and I trusted her. At some point I said, 'Gabby, I think you should run the company.' And she said, 'I can't do that. I'm only 31 and I'm Chinese.' And my answer was, 'That's precisely why I want you to run it.'"
Hirata explains that working with DVF has taught her many invaluable lessons, including the importance of leading with confidence regardless of age. "Age can be such a source of insecurity," she says. "I just felt that I was not ready. I felt I needed to wait for my turn. And throughout this time, Diane was talking to me every day saying, 'Own your insecurity [because] it becomes your asset.' I really am now embracing age as a value add."
To hear more about how a multiage workforce can advance your company's bottomline, listen to the latest episode of "The New Rules of Business" and leave a review.