A theme which many academics – including the Hot Spots Movement founder Professor Lynda Gratton – are thinking about the moment is that of generational diversity. In light of this, I thought it would be interesting to share some of the ideas and findings discussed at the mid-way workshop of our Inclusion & Diversity Research Consortium and what they mean for organisations.
According to Lynda’s research, diversity agendas are currently changing in two vital ways. Focus is shifting away from gender diversity towards generational and life stage diversity. Essentially, with many Baby Boomers planning to work beyond the age of 65 and Gen Z-ers fast approaching the age where they will start to enter the workplace, organisations are facing the issue of generational diversity for the first time. Beyond this, there is also the question of life stage diversity. As people’s life spans
lengthen, life stages become more a more important differentiating factor. In fact, life stage diversity is on the brink of becoming the most important workplace diversity issue – far more so than gender or generational diversity – and yet it is something that few organisations are currently prepared to deal with. Is this because addressing this appropriately would require a profound review of the career concept?
Age as a prism
These issues are informing the research paths of many leading academics. For Professor Jacquelyn B. James*, Director of Research, Sloan Centre on Aging and Work and Research Professor, Lynch School of Education, Boston College, life stage diversity is of such importance that it will come to inform recruitment, engagement and retention processes.
According to Jacquelyn and her team, whereas in the past workers of a similar age were most likely to be at a similar life stage, today their circumstances could be very different. Their research focuses on how we think about demographics in a society where some 40 year-olds are embarking on parenthood while others are becoming grandparents. As a result, age is becoming a prism where how old or young you feel depends on your life stage and the point you have reached in your career rather than your chronological age.
It follows that in order to nurture and support talent at all life stages, business must ensure they factor life stage diversity into their processes. And to do this, they need to completely reassess the way they think about some familiar issues. Dr Hans-Joachim Wolfram*, Lecturer in Occupational Psychology and Research Methods at Kingston University is doing just this, and in the process is turning many of the diversity field’s most familiar hypotheses on their head. According to Hans-Joachim, when it comes to the work-family interplay, it is in fact job role importance rather than family life importance which increases the propensity to take up flexible working options, and it is those who place greater importance on their job role who experience greater positive spillover between their work and family life.
What these overlapping research streams demonstrate is that the field of diversity is becoming – somewhat ironically – ever more diverse. Organisations will face a steep learning curve as they come to terms with the vastly divergent needs of their employees. The ideas discussed in this post reveal is how much value academics have to offer in this field. One of the reasons we at the Hot Spots Movement are so passionate about running research consortiums is that they provide a vital opportunity for research academics and business practitioners to come together to find effective ways of tackling such issues.
- Diversity Has Its Challenges (business2community.com)
We’re always interested in the latest game-changing research, which is why we were so excited to have Hans-Joachim Wolfram, Lecturer in Occupational Psychology and Research Methods at Kingston University to speak at our recent workshop. Hans-Joachim turned many of the diversity field’s most familiar hypotheses on their head with some surprising findings from his research of surface- and deep-level diversity.
According to Hans-Joachim, when it comes to the work-family interplay, it is in fact job role importance rather than family life importance which increases the propensity to take up flexible working options, and it is those who place greater importance on their job role who experience greater positive spillover between their work and family life.
If you’d like to discover more about this fascinating area of research, watch the video online.
What does it take to ensure your child has a successful career? According to Hilary Levey Friedman’s blog post in the HBR Blog Network from 3 September, it appears many parents in the US believe that being competitive, organised and little neurotic are key to success. This belief is particularly strong when it comes to their daughters – leading many to enrol girls in competitive sports from a young age in order to prepare them for a competitive future in the workplace.
Hilary studied 95 families with elementary school age children as part of research that led to her book Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture. She identified five skills and capabilities that parents hope their children gain from participating in competitive sports: (1) internalizing the importance of winning, (2) bouncing back from a loss to win in the future, (3) learning how to perform within time limits, (4) learning how to succeed in stressful situations, and (5) being able to perform under the gaze of others. Interestingly, these desired skills mirror the aptitudes required to reach the top of the ladder in business.
At the same time, Hilary observed a group of mothers who were very diligent in the way they planned their daughters’ activities, studying the best upbringing by participating in parenting groups. In essence, these parents micromanaged their daughters’ lives the way they manage(d) their professional projects.
Hilary’s writing prompts several observations and questions:
As one would expect, these parents all want their children to be happy. What’s more, the five skills and capabilities Hilary draws attention to make sense. For example, as Lynda Gratton commented during our recent Inclusion & Diversity workshop, all the evidence we have now indicates that the workers who reach the top of their organisations will be those who work continuously rather than those who take advantage of flexible options. But while being competitive and hard-working is undoubtedly vital to success, it’s worth questioning whether it takes being neurotic to master the necessary skills, or whether they are just as attainable for those with a more balanced approach. For example, one could ask whether parents who exert total control over their children’s choice of sports activities are ensuring their performance, or simply depriving them of an early introduction to making decisions around which skills they want to develop. Choosing which sporting activity to pursue is a great opportunity for this: in my experience, even young children have ideas of what they like to do, and that there is no right and wrong when it comes to choice of physical activity.
There is also the question of whether a seven year-old with a diary worthy of a CEO will really blossom into an adult with the drive and creativity to be one. It’s easy to ignore the benefit of “unstructured time,” but this is something which is considered valuable even in some workplaces because it fosters creativity and innovation. In many cases, creativity, innovation and imagination can actually come from being bored and having to figure out what you feel like doing because nobody tells you what you must do. While access to online games and activities may have greatly reduced these periods of boredom over the years that increases the need for parents to ensure their children have access to unstructured time that allows them to develop their creativity in unexpected ways.
Yet another thought-provoking aspect of Hilary’s research is the trend towards the ‘professionalisation’ of child rearing. Professionalism has its place at work, but is it really appropriate in the home? Are such parents really experiencing positive spillover between their professional and personal lives, or are they in fact failing to effectively separate their work habits and family habits? Ultimately, this trend may say more about their own relationship with their working lives than it does about their aspirations for their children.