Dividing individuals into groups based on age is a concept that’s always irked me. We’ve heard the terms ‘Baby Boomer’, ‘Gen Y’ and more recently ‘Millennials’ being thrown around left, right and centre. It’s baffling that many modern-day companies still focus on these age-based demographics in order to ‘give customers what they want’. But think about it logically; if you were to compile a group of twenty 40-year old’s and asked them what their interests were, more often than not their interests would be incredibly diverse!
But it’s easy to fall into the trap set by ageist stereotypes. How many of us make assumptions on the technological capabilities of Baby Boomers? It’s all too easy to deem them as being technologically uncoordinated as we’ve probably observed individuals from this generation struggling to keep up with technological changes (sorry Dad!). But the old stereotype of mature individuals being out of touch with technology is fast being eradicated. An increasing number of these individuals are taking a keen interest in keeping up to date with technology and exploiting the opportunities which they present. An example of this is the increasing amount of Australian’s over the age of 55 who are starting up businesses (or also known as ‘Senior Entrepreneurs). The number is so large that Senior Entrepreneurs are in fact the fastest growing segment of Entrepreneurs in Australia with a staggering 35% of them now leading new businesses (www.smartcompany.com.au).
Who are the ‘Perennials’?
Gina Pell, founder of The What newsletter and tech entrepreneur declares ‘Perennials’ to be,
“an ever-blooming, relevant people of all ages who live in the present time, know what’s happening in the world, stay current with technology, and have friends of all ages. We get involved, stay curious, mentor others, and are passionate, compassionate, creative, confident, collaborative, global-minded risk takers who continue to push up against our growing edge and know how to hustle. We comprise an inclusive, enduring mind-set, not a diverse demographic.”
Older age groups aren’t the only ones with negative connotations attached (yes you, Millennials!). Pell states that, “being a millennial doesn’t have to mean living in your parents’ basement, growing an artisanal beard, and drinking craft beer. Mid-life doesn’t have to be a crisis. And you don’t have to be a number anymore. You’re relevant. You’re ever blooming. You’re perennial.”
Skilled in adapting to new roles
Pell’s point is compelling, and goes beyond the diversity campaigns seen in the business world for years (although perhaps these campaigns tend to focus on gender and ethnicity rather than age). By giving an identity to all of us who don’t fit the stereotyped age groups, Pell now empowers us to be represented – as a group – at the diversity table. This mindset is starting to shake up the business world as it’s leading to shifts in false preconceptions which is fantastic.
‘A job for life’ is well-consigned to history. We’re finding that ‘one career for life’ is also going that way. People are now choosing to change careers once or more times in their lifetimes. Those who experience career transition positively use the opportunity of redundancy (or their job dissatisfaction) while effectively using their transferable skills to switch fields or start a business. By choosing to identify as a Perennial, we can embrace these career changes as choices made in a designed life.
Recruiting stereotypes misses their value
Traditionally, product based businesses at the forefront of technology have placed a great emphasis on aiming their advertising towards the younger generation as they have the assumption that they (and only they) have their finger on the pulse when it comes to technology. As a result, they’re missing out on an incredible amount of market share as some Baby Boomers share common interests with today’s youth.
Unfortunately, this issue delves deeper and affects organisations in more ways than one. When recruiting, organisations today can tend to prefer candidates who fit a ‘younger’ or a ‘more mature’ profile to fit their culture. This misses out on the whole Perennials value proposition. As the awareness of perennials increases throughout society, we should see more individuals being categorised by their common interests rather than age, which could lead to reductions in age discrimination when it comes to recruitment across all sectors.
A thought on age-based stereotypes
On a personal note, I’ve never been comfortable with being labelled as a ‘Gen Y’. Although they are deemed as having many positive characteristics such as being tech savvy, ambitious and eager to learn, there are also several negative perceptions which are linked including being egotistical, brash and having a poor work ethic (neither of which align with my personality….. I think!).
It’s important to understand that stereotypes exist because humans are wired to classify traits or patterns in behaviour to either identify ‘in or out’ of a group which can act as both a benefit as well as a hindrance. Let’s be frank here; some stereotypes are true, but it’s imperative to acknowledge the fact that at the end of the day people are individuals.
We should be mindful of stereotypes, but also be able to recognise when a stereotype doesn’t apply to an individual that ‘belongs’ to a particular group. I’d even go as far as saying that this touches in on the notion of being ‘guilty before proven innocent.’ With the inception of the Perennials concept, it provides me with great encouragement that age biases in both social and business environments will soon be a thing of the past.
by Matthew Appassamy
INS Career Coach
Photo credit: The Age of Happiness
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