The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Transcript: Diversity in the Workplace: The New Multigenerational Workforce

Placeholder while article actions load

MS. STEAD SELLERS: Good afternoon, and welcome to Washington Post Live. I'm Frances Stead Sellers, a senior writer at The Washington Post.

I'm very pleased to welcome my first guest today, Fran Katsoudas. She's the executive vice president and chief people officer at Cisco.

Fran, a very warm welcome to Washington Post Live.

MS. KATSOUDAS: Thank you. I'm thrilled to be here.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: Let's talk a little bit about Cisco to start with. You employ more than 75,000 people around the world. Could you talk a little bit about shaping a productive work culture for those employees across generations and whether the same sorts of approaches apply in different countries and cultures?

MS. KATSOUDAS: You know, it's funny. It's something that I think is both incredibly simple and incredibly challenging at the same time.

What we really drive towards is having a workforce of people that feel connected to the work that they're doing, who feel incredibly motivated and inspired. We're trying to have impact not only in their day-to-day, but also in the communities around the globe, and what we recognize is there's an element of that that is similar across the world, regardless of role, and then there are places that we have to be sensitive to the issues that are going on within a community or within a country. And we try to do a little bit of both.

I would say something that really guides us tremendously is listening, and I think our people guide us around what's most important to them.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: So why is diversity, age diversity in the workplace, so important in terms of winning people, to come and work with you, retaining people, and productivity on a day-to-day basis?

MS. KATSOUDAS: It's funny. We did a study about four years ago now, and we looked at the teams that were the most engaged but also impactful and productive. And what we found is that the teams that had the greatest diversity were also the most successful, and it validated everything that we knew, but it did it in a way where our business leaders could see that as well.

We are a huge believer both in strengths but also in this concept of full-spectrum diversity, and one of the realizations that we had was when we started talking people spectrum, which includes age and gender and race and ethnicity and experiences, people could see themselves in that type of diversity as well. And they felt like they belonged, and I think that has been really significant for us. We know we're better when we have that diversity around the table.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: I'm actually fascinated from a management point of view. What are the similarities and differences in managing for diversity of age as opposed to racial ethnic diversity or gender diversity? How do you manage to cross those different areas?

MS. KATSOUDAS: I actually don't think it's different.

So, what we've learned was that we needed to train our leaders to see difference and to see the power of the difference, and so where we started was we asked our leaders to really identify the strength of the people around the table. And in doing so, I think our leaders started to answer the question around, hey, what's the secret sauce for Frances or for Fran? And they started to then identify how they could play people to their absolute strengths, and I think that view in looking for differences versus trying to drive everyone to a similar approach just changed the way in which we looked at the workforce.

I had a very painful realization many, many years ago that when I was standing on stage and when I was talking about diversity, men thought I was talking about women. Our Black women thought that I was talking about White women, and so the most important thing for us to do is to say that we're a big believer in all diversity, to then define that, and to demonstrate how it makes us better.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: So different age groups tend to value different ethics of companies, their social values. How do you accommodate that and respond to that across the company, again, with so many different employees?

MS. KATSOUDAS: It's funny, Frances, because I think that as a company, we have been so engaged in our communities for over 25 years, and I think it's something that has attracted employees for over two decades. And so, I don't see as much difference around our demographics and how they care about the communities.

What I see is that it's incredibly personal, both careers and also how you give back to your community, and so our belief is that if we're asking the questions about what our employees feel passionate about, regardless of demographic, I think we'll get it right.

And I think from a workforce perspective, all companies have learned over the last 5 years, but, boy, especially in the last year, that our employees need choice, and they have different things going on. What we find is all demographics probably have more caregiving that they're doing at this moment than ever before, and so we really try to stay focused on the wants and the needs. And sometimes I put demographic secondly because I think people tend to overgeneralize about what a particular demographic wants, and I think sometimes that can hurt us as well.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: I'm going to have some questions about the pandemic, but I'd first like to ask you a couple of audience questions because we've had people very interested in your perspective. First, I'm going to go to one from Cathy Ventrell. Let me read it here. She's in Maryland, and she says, "What practices do you employ to ensure diversity in hiring panels? What's your advice on how companies can better support age diversity?

MS. KATSOUDAS: Okay. So, I'll start off with some of the simple things that I think make such a big difference.

So, the first thing is I think it's really, really important to train all of your hiring leaders on what a good interview process looks like. I think that's something that we forget. We're at a moment right now at Cisco that we're rolling this out across the globe, and a big part of this, as you would imagine, would be focused on inclusion and diversity in the interviewing process.

The second thing that I think is incredibly important is that in addition to a diverse slate of candidates, something that you need to look at is to ensure that you have diversity on the interviewing panel, so those folks that are actually doing the interviews.

What we found at Cisco is when we have diversity on the panel of interviewers, we actually have a 50 to 70 percent higher likelihood of hiring diverse talent, and I think that's incredibly important.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: And another question, this one comes from Jan Arzooman in New York. How can companies better present discrimination against older employees?

MS. KATSOUDAS: You know, something that I found is that companies today have to have conversations that can be somewhat uncomfortable.

Two years ago, we started sharing with our employees the employee relations cases that we were receiving for the company, and so, as an example, we share the number of cases that we have around discrimination, around bias, around negative behavior. And then we take a few of those cases, and we talk through the circumstances with our employees so that we can all learn from that.

I think in many cases, we know that there's a lot of coaching that just makes us better, and we do our part to really boldly step into those conversations.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: So older Americans are working longer, and you have a balancing act, right, of making sure they're fully employed, engaged, and useful to the company as well as using themselves as best they can and also that younger people have advantages and possibilities for advancement. Can you talk to me a little bit about how you manage that balancing act?

MS. KATSOUDAS: Yeah. I think what I would say is that, again, we look for opportunities for all to be incredibly impactful. I think there's such power in sponsorship and mentoring, and what I have found at Cisco is that for many of our employees with greater tenure, the ability to say to someone newer in career, "Hey, this is an experience that I've had. Yeah, I'd love to help support your career," I think that's incredibly impactful.

And, again, what we've learned is that when you actually have the diversity of experiences and the diversity of age, there's a lot of great ideas, innovation, and I think learning that you can bring to the table, and so what I would say is that I don't think it's something that has to be over-architected.

I think that when you focus on having your people contribute and focus again on their strengths, you get the best of all, and that's what we drive towards.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: So many older workers now have younger people as their managers. Can you talk to me again about that from both sides, from the point of view of the older person who is answering to a younger person and how you train management techniques for these huge challenges of a younger person taking on an office of people who are older than they are?

MS. KATSOUDAS: It's so funny because I remember one of my first experiences leading. I was leading a team of people that I think for the most part were about 20 years older than me, and I will tell you, it was a humbling and hard experience. I remember that, and I remember I kept asking myself, what is the value that I can bring to this team that has so many more experiences than I ever would or could at this particular point in my life?

And it's funny because there's something in that. So, we believe very strongly in the concept of servant leadership, and what that means is that, as a leader, I am in service of my team. And when you look at leadership that way versus this top-down piece of the leader knowing more, it's a very different environment.

And so, a leader at Cisco, as an example, may not have the same experiences, but if they're focused on how can I play this person to their absolute best, how can I make sure that they feel that they're having impact and they're having fun, that seems to work. And I think sometimes that takes age out of the equation.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: So, we mentioned COVID a little bit earlier on. Of course, this has been a transformational year for so many of us. What impact has it had on the multigenerational workforce? Have younger people adapted more quickly to this sort of working-from-home atmosphere that many of us are now in?

MS. KATSOUDAS: You know, it's interesting. From a Cisco perspective, because of our technology, we have been using this, though I didn't see a demographic impact in that way. What we saw that was harder for us was that we realized that everyone was going through a very personal and different situation, that everyone's hardships were a little bit different.

Initially, I realized that I was talking a lot about parents with young children at home, and our employees said, "Hey, Fran, there's many of us that are alone at home," and that poses a whole other host of issues.

And so, I think we learned very early on that we just had to ask, "What are you going through, and how can we help you?" and we did a lot of training with our employees and basically said some of those questions that once upon a time you wouldn't have asked about someone's family situation or experience, you may need to step into to understand how we can help our people.

And so, what we did see was that there was a request for us to talk a lot more about mental health support across the board. What we did see was that well-being was an issue for all demographics but especially for our women and for our people leaders, and that was newer for us to see in some of the data as well.

And then the last thing that I would say is that people are learning how to reconfigure their days so that they don't feel like they're chained to their desk or to their chair all day long, and so those are some of the things that we're working through at the moment.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: I'm actually very curious about the mental health support. Are you offering more health support and wellness support through the pandemic?

MS. KATSOUDAS: Yeah, we are. So, you know, about two and a half years ago, we started having the discussion about mental health across the company, and this was so important for us. And as I look back now, I'm so happy that we had a little bit of this foundation going into the pandemic.

And so, what we have done is in all of our Cisco company meetings, which we do approximately once or twice a month and during the first six months of the pandemic we were doing it weekly, we always had a mental health practitioner in the sessions with us, and so we could answer those questions on the spot.

In fact, we had a session yesterday, and we were talking about the difference between burnout and just having a long day or a long week and some of the signs that you have to look for. And so, what I would say is we have made this a constant part of the dialogue.

We have added a level of advocacy to support not only our employees but their families in getting access to mental health practitioners a bit faster if they need to, because as you know, there is a pent-up demand for mental health practitioners, and then we leverage our technology to connect our people to people who have similar experiences to them that can help them navigate through some of the challenges that exist today.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: So, these are sort of partner systems, buddy systems that you see in many companies. Is that right?

MS. KATSOUDAS: That's right but also connecting our people to mental health practitioners that maybe look like them, have had experiences like them, and so there's a bit of a matching process that we can do a little easier via technology to help our people get to the support that they need.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: The pandemic has also heightened so many social justice issues, including systemic racism. Can you address that and how Cisco is addressing it specifically?

MS. KATSOUDAS: Yeah. So, what I would say is like, I think, so many companies at the moment, we've learned a lot.

What we did from the very beginning was we jumped into the conversation with our employees. We felt it was really important for us to be clear that there was no place for racism in our company, in our environment, that we were going to take a very strong stance.

We brought in thought leaders to help our people navigate and then again also support, because I think at that moment, what we could see is that our employees bring in on a day-to-day basis, within their first video meeting, all of their concerns and their worries about their family or their community and what's going on, and so we needed to support them in that.

We then felt it was really important to share with our employees the social justice beliefs that would guide our actions, and then we identified sweeping actions, 13 in total, that we will work on over the next three to five years that we think will really not only change Cisco but change the communities that we work in as well. And so, our employees could see both our beliefs, but more importantly, perhaps the actions that we wanted to take.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: What role do you believe corporate America plays in addressing these issues beyond your own company?

MS. KATSOUDAS: Yeah. It's so interesting because I remember seeing a stat last June that basically said that it is the workplace where people see diversity and not so much in their day-to-day lives, and so I do think that it is the workplace, all companies, where we really have to lean in to addressing these issues of bias and discrimination and having some of the hard conversations that I think will make us better around the globe as well.

I think companies have a huge role to play, and I think we're being naïve if we don't think it already exists within the workforce and how our employees are navigating through their day-to-day.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: I'd like to spend the last couple of minutes sort of looking ahead a little bit and thinking about work in the future post-pandemic. Do you think this experience has changed the way that work will be done going ahead?

MS. KATSOUDAS: I do. I think it will change pretty significantly, and I think what we've learned is that we can work in so many different ways and we can be incredibly impactful.

I think we've also learned that there's a subset of our employees that don't want to come back into the office on a regular basis and a subset who really want to, and so what that helps us to understand is that we're going to have more flavors in how people get their work done. And I think this will also drive a deeper inspection of work.

I think we're going to have clarity around what types of roles are better when they're actually slowly dispersed and what types of roles is it important for teams to come together, maybe not every day but on a regular basis, to connect and to see one another.

And so, I think the biggest takeaway is that we're going to see tremendous diversity in how we work, and I think companies are going to get a lot smarter about different types of profiles of jobs and options for people.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: So, speaking personally about your own job as chief people officer, how has that been changed by the pandemic, and how do you see it being changed going ahead?

MS. KATSOUDAS: Goodness. It's so funny. When you ask that question, I have a hard time remembering what it was like beforehand.

[Laughter]

MS. KATSOUDAS: So, I guess the first thing that I would say is that all of us are talking about well-being more than ever before, and I think we have to. I think we can see that there's a significant level of burnout.

And just in the same way that we figured out before how to find the right balance of meetings, when to start our day, when we would do our commute, we have to discover all of those things now for a virtual world as well.

Sometimes I say that I think in our role, we'll now become the work architects, where we'll start to have different understanding of work and how it gets done and the best way for us to bring teams together.

I think something that my peers and I have already been thinking about and working on for many years is how we leverage analytics and insights to make us better. I think we're going to continue to lean into that.

And the last thing and I think the biggest thing of all is that we're going to continue to focus on diversity and inclusion and realizing that this is something that our people are so hungry for and I think something that will make our companies better.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: Well, I love the phrase "work architect," and I'm going to take that with me as I go ahead.

Fran, thank you so much for joining me today.

MS. KATSOUDAS: Thank you. Thrilled to be with you.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: I'm sorry we don't have time for more, but I will be back soon with career expert Lindsey Pollak. So, stay with us.

[Video plays]

MS. ODUAH: Hello, everyone. Welcome to Washington Post Live. My name is Chika Oduah. I am an international journalist, and I'm so pleased to present to you a conversation with Jo Ann Jenkins to talk about diversity in the workplace and the importance of intergenerational diversity in the workplace.

Now, Jo Ann is the CEO of AARP. We've all heard it before. It's the largest institution of its kind in the United States helping to empower Americans age 50 and older to make decisions as they age gracefully. Jenkins is a respected leader, visionary, and best-selling author, and under her guidance, AARP has been recognized as one of the world's most ethical companies.

Jo Ann, welcome.

MS. JENKINS: Thank you for having me. It's my pleasure to be here with you.

MS. ODUAH: Excellent. So, let's dive right into the conversation. Oftentimes when we talk about diversity in the workplace, we're talking about gender, race, and ethnicity, and we also hear the buzzword "intersectionality." Now, that's a big word.

So, Jo Ann, do you mind just breaking down that concept of intersectionality? And also, talk to us about why it's important not only to focus on age--gender, race, and ethnicity, but also on age diversity as well.

MS. JENKINS: Well, thank you. And I think one of the important things is that for the first time in history, people over the age of 65 are outnumbering children under the age of 5, and so older people are in the workplace. And for companies and corporations, nonprofits like ourselves, it's important for us to have a diverse, multigenerational workforce.

I know here at AARP, we have four to five generations in the workforce already, and as companies compete, both globally and also here in the United States, it's going to be important to understand who their customers are, and what better way to do that than to reflect the age diversity in the workplace. And I often say it's one of the last ageisms or isms that occur that we still take the opportunity to make fun of, and yet it's one of the largest age segments in the population. And so, it's important that we include age diversity when we think about issues in terms of equity and inclusion and also profitability because it's important that people understand who their consumers are and the kinds of things that they want to be purchasing.

MS. ODUAH: And what could age diversity look like in the workplace?

MS. JENKINS: Well, I'll give you an example. For here, us at AARP, when we bring in our summer interns, they're in the 17-, 18-, 19-year-olds, and yet we have employees--you know, not that many, but a few--who are well past 75. And we know that particularly in this day and time, older people either need to work or they want to continue to work to stay active, and so it's important as we develop multicultural teams that they include the four or five generations that are reflective in the marketplace to do that.

We know that when you have diverse teams that include age diversity that you have better outcomes in terms of return on investments, and our statistic tells us that people of all generations like working in teams that have multiple generations working on specific projects.

MS. ODUAH: Excellent. So, what I'm hearing you say, Jo Ann, is that diversity is not merely the nice thing to do or the trendy thing to do. You're saying that diversity is an imperative.

So, from your experience and observations, what kind of opportunities can institutions benefit from if they proactively support a diverse workforce? You've mentioned a few already with age diversity.

MS. JENKINS: Yeah.

MS. ODUAH: But what about the other types of diversity?

MS. JENKINS: Well, I think that it's important for us to realize that, you know, particularly coming off of COVID-19 and also the inequities that we've seen across our country here in the U.S. this past year or so that it's important for us to understand and put ourselves in other's shoes, and so looking at age, race, sex, gender, all of those things are important for making companies competitive, and it's the right thing to do.

And we know that consumers are buying goods and services and doing businesses with companies that they feel understand them and understand and are taking a part in making communities better all across the world.

MS. ODUAH: That's excellent. I like how you mentioned the word "empathy" in recognizing themselves.

And also, Jo Ann, you do a lot of work with the most influential global entities. I mean, we're talking about, for example, the World Economic Forum. So why is it important for you to collaborate with these types of global institutions?

MS. JENKINS: Well, one of the things that we value at AARP is really the role that we play in the global leadership, particularly the aspect of looking at global aging and how so many countries, more than 30 countries around the world, are going to be as old as Japan is today in the next 10 years.

And so we've partnered with the World Economic Forum and the OECD to collaborate with over 100 corporations from around the world to put together a project that we call "Living Learning, and Earning," the idea that people are going to continue to work well into their sixties and seventies and beyond, and how can we look at these corporations and come up with best practices as well as barriers that we see and be able to share that with others all around the world, and so we're fortunate to be working with those two great partners.

We just launched our Growing with Age platform, which you can go to on the aarp.org website, that puts out some of the findings that we’ve come up with as a result of working with the World Economic Forum and OECD on the Living, Learning, and Earning platform.

MS. ODUAH: Excellent. Finally, I wanted to take a look ahead. The world is still dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Let's look beyond. Let's say two years down the line. What do you think the workplace will look like, and how is your team adapting to the changes that will inevitably shape the future?

MS. JENKINS: Well, I think we've learned a lot with this COVID-19. Certainly, as leaders and organizations and managers, we've learned that our employees can really adapt and work from home. We've learned that firsthand here at AARP.

But I think also we're going to be looking totally different of how we collaborate with partners around the world, that we don't necessarily have to be in the room with them, that we can do that virtually.

From our business perspective, we've really seen our 38 million consumers who are members of AARP really embrace technology, not just in terms of having virtual meetings, but also in terms of social--addressing the issues of social isolation and staying connected with their families and friends. So, I think you're going to see travel impacted. I think you're going to see more flexibility by organizations and companies with telework policies and procedures, and I think you're going to have, you know, post-COVID-19 a different reflection on how we all show up as leaders and the important role that community plays in building out our programs and services and in the way we deliver them to our constituents.

MS. ODUAH: Excellent. Jo Ann, thank you so much for your time. We have to now hand it over back to the Washington Post.

[Video plays]

MS. STEAD SELLERS: Welcome back. I'm Frances Stead Sellers, a senior writer at The Washington Post.

I'm very pleased to welcome my next guest. She's a career expert, Lindsey Pollak, and author of the new book "Recalculating: Navigate Your Career Through the Changing World of Work."

Lindsey, a very warm welcome to the show today.

MS. POLLAK: Thank you so much for having me. I'm glad to be here.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: Let me start by asking you about the five generations you have identified who are active in the workforce today and about the key characteristics of those five generations in terms of their work styles and approaches.

MS. POLLAK: So, a lot of people are surprised that there are five, but the reality is we've seen a lot of growth on the older end of the market, as we heard in that interview. So, the oldest members of the workplace are the traditionalists, also known as the World War II or Greatest Generation, and many people of that generation worked for organizations for a very long time. They were committed to their careers, and they had companies that would provide pensions and very long-term opportunities. It was also a generation where it was primarily men in the workforce.

Younger than that group is the baby boomers, who are between 1946 and 1964. We all know the Baby Boomer generation. They are the largest generation ever born into the United States and continue to be a very dominant generation, very community-driven. We have the Civil Rights movement, the Women's Rights movement, but also somewhat of a competitive generation because they were so large and often competed with each other.

Then you have my generation, the Gen Xers, who are between 1965 and 1980, and the Gen Xers, we were a little bit of an outsider group. We were a little bit smaller than other generations and tend to be more independent and really came of age with the dawn of technology and Silicon Valley.

Then you have the millennials, who are between 1981 and 1996. They're very large, often the children of the boomers, and we all know the Millennial generation is dominated by technology and the technological changes in this country.

And now we have the Gen Z's, the fifth generation who were born 1997 and later, and I think in many ways will be defined by the pandemic and the experience of growing up and coming of age in these very unique and difficult times.

So, five generations. Some people may be sitting next to a colleague who is 50 years older or younger than they are, and that's something that we've never really seen before.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: So, Lindsey, even describing those five generations raises a host of questions from a management perspective for me. Can you describe how you advise companies who are tackling these issues going forward?

MS. POLLAK: Well, I think it's another issue of diversity, equity, and inclusion, which is that everybody brings a different background and perspective and identity to the workplace, and we have to listen to people. We can't make assumptions that all young people want technology, that all older people struggle with technology.

One of the things we're seeing with the pandemic is many younger workers are excited to go back in person. They like technology, but they also want to be with their colleagues. So, number one is not making assumptions because of somebody's age.

And number two is bringing different perspectives to the table. We're more creative. We're more innovative. We're more successful when we get different people's perspectives. So anytime there is a committee or a planning meeting or an event, I think it's really important to bring those different generational perspectives, not because we're going to find one, you know, one-size-fits-all solution, but because we need to offer additional options and choices to people. And the more diverse perspectives you have in the room the more we're going to satisfy and, frankly, retain people of different ages, which I think every company needs to do to be competitive in this environment.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: So, can you be a little bit more specific about that issue about what age diversity brings to the table with a concrete example or two?

MS. POLLAK: Sure. So, for example, if you want to be a competitive company, you have to offer employee benefits that are appealing to the people that you want to work in your organization. Well, for many companies, that is a 401(k) retirement savings plan, which has been kind of a gold standard for employee benefits.

Well, one company realized that their younger employees were not contributing to their 401(k) plans, and I'm sure there's some people in leadership who said, "Oh, they're young. They don't care about their personal finances. They'll catch up with the rest of us," and another executive probably said, "Well, maybe we should ask them why they are not contributing to their 401(k)s," and lo and behold, they had that conversation. It's so important to actually go and check your assumptions, and the young people said, "Well, we wish we could contribute to our 401(k)s, but we have to pay back our student loans first." And so, this company realized to be competitive with employees of the younger generation, they decided to offer a choice to employees, "Can you either--we will either match your 401(k) contribution or your student loan benefit, your student loan payment," and that increased retention and engagement of young employees.

But--and here's what's so interesting--a lot of baby boomers and traditionalists said, "I want to take advantage of that for my children and my grandchildren." So, you actually reached more generations by understanding the needs of one particular group.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: That's fascinating.

Which companies are managing diversity most successfully? Maybe kinds of companies or technology companies doing it particularly well or manufacturing companies? I have no idea.

MS. POLLAK: So, I don't really think it's by industry. I think it's more by the culture of the organization. So, I think organizations that embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion in a genuine way and, frankly, by putting their actions behind it--I know that millennials and Gen Z really talk about the importance of aligning with a company that goes a commitment to purpose, that for instance, is committed to pay equity, to having equitable representation in the leadership. And young people, in particular, will count your numbers. They will ask about those policies, so I think organizations that have not just committed to diversity but are actually--are setting goals to get there.

I also am a really big fan of organizations that promote internal mobility. I think that the old model that you would go into a company and rise up the ladder on a perfect trajectory is really not the case anymore, and so whether you are a young person who's not sure what you want to do with your career and you'd like some rotational opportunities or some internal mobility or if you're a mid or later career professional who might want to change what you do or change your lifestyle, if you can do that within an organization and they show you these are the internal opportunities, we celebrate people moving internally to different roles. We don't criticize you for wanting a different job in the organization and not following the traditional path. I think that's really positive. So, I would say commitment to diversity and opportunities for internal mobility are really strong ways to attract all generations.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: So, Fran, when we were talking just now, talked a little bit about bias and discrimination. Can you tell me how rampant age discrimination is in the workplace and also whether it affects young people as well as old people?

MS. POLLAK: It's disappointing and disconcerting how much ageism there is, and I've heard people say it's sort of one of the last, quote, "acceptable biases," which is "Oh, you're too old to want this job" or "You're too young to manage those people" or "Somebody at your age wouldn't want to work at a start-up."

So often we make these assumptions or "You have gray hair, so you don't want to use technology." We see that a lot, all across the spectrum. So, it is absolutely real.

But I also think that we can't make the assumption that a company is going to be ageist. A lot of organizations are thrilled to have workers over 65. They're thrilled to invite young people to apply for leadership positions.

But one thing I'll say is to be aware of what you brought up, which is this can go in both directions. I've seen a lot of what I would call "shaming" of millennials and Gen Zs, whether it's due to the pandemic and social activities or seeming entitled to want different jobs or wanting a trophy for participation or daring to go up and share some ideas with the president of the company. I think sometimes kind of rolling your eyes and saying, "Oh, you're such a millennial" or, you know, "I was like that when I was your age," that is discriminatory, and that is really offensive and upsetting to young people.

So, I would say just check and make sure that you're not sayings something to a person about their age that you wouldn't say about any other marker of identity.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: How do you advise boomers and Gen Xers who are working for people who are far younger than they are?

MS. POLLAK: You know, it's interesting. A lot of us--I'm a Gen Xer. A lot of us don't mind it at all and, in fact, find it very energizing.

You know, I thought you were going to ask the question the other way. A lot of younger leaders say, well--

MS. STEAD SELLERS: Well, I'm going to in a minute.

MS. POLLAK: Oh, good, good. Okay. I'll save that answer.

But I think one is look for the opportunities in it and say, "I'd like to learn from you, and, you know, "How can I share my interest in you?" I think any manager or manage relationship is a one-on-one relationship, and so really getting to know each other.

And I think, you know, as an older employee, as a Gen Xer or boomer is to say, "What can I learn from this younger person? What can I share from my perspective?" So, I think if you're open to both learning and advising or mentoring--I love the idea of co-mentoring, which is that relationship or that situation can go in both directions. So, I think it's really about keeping an open mind.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: And so, flip it. Talk about the challenges and how you advise young people who end up in those management situations, which must be exciting and daunting.

MS. POLLAK: It can be very daunting, and it can be 20 or 30 years of age difference. And so, number one, don't assume it's a problem. You know, a lot of young people say, "Well, I'm worried," and the older person will say, "I'm thrilled to have a younger boss. I love your style. I think it's a good fit." So, number one is don't assume anything is wrong.

And number two is to really be a listener. I think everybody wants to be listened to and respected, no matter what your age or position. So, I think going in and listening first--so maybe you come in with a million ideas because you're young and energetic and say, "You know, before I share my ideas with you, I wanted to hear what your experience has been at the company. I want to hear what your ideas are," and that helps you get to truly know people, which is the marker of any good manager. And then you can share your ideas for change and also get the wisdom of people who have been around longer than you have.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: Both Fran and you have talked about the importance of listening, hearing what people have to say. We're in the midst of a pandemic. We're speaking to each other online almost all the time. What are the particular challenges the pandemic has brought to starting to--listening and reaching out to people on these very key issues?

MS. POLLAK: It's really challenging because we've kind of lost half of our communication tools. So, you have to be really deliberate about it and not assume that you'll bump into somebody.

So, one of the challenges is finding the introverts and finding the people who maybe get lost in the crowd and wouldn't raise their hand to have a conversation.

So, I've worked with companies over the past year who give their leaders a list and say, "You need to check in with these ten employees or these 20 employees." So, I think we have to be very, very deliberate.

I also think it's about taking the very big messages of the organization and then bringing them down to smaller groups. So, for example, another organization, the CEO would give a town hall presentation and be very transparent about what was happening with the company and closures and health protocols, and then each manager on their team would have a follow-up call and say, "Okay. Let's talk about it in our group, how this impacts you. What questions do you have?" So, I think it's always about bringing the broader message down to the smallest group possible so that everybody feels like they have a venue for talking and being listened to.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: We've had some questions coming in from readers, and I'd like to read one--I'm sorry--from listeners, and I'd like to read one to you now. This is from Andrea Preziotti in New York who says, "How are new hybrid work-from-home policies impacting workers of all ages?"

MS. POLLAK: I think it's a really good reminder that we never know what somebody's situation is, and I think it goes beyond age. I think it's life stage. So, you could be 35 years old and be single, or you could be 35 years old and have three kids. So, I don't think it's always about the age or generation. It's about what your life is like, whether you have health concerns, whether you have loved ones who need care, whether you're in a child care position or an elder care position, whether you have a different ability that affects your ability to work.

So, again, I hate to kind of beat this drum again, but it's about listening and saying to people, "What do you need? How has this experience been for you?" The minute we start to make assumptions that all young people are happy to be on Facetime or all parents want to be home with their kids, that's never the case.

So, again, it's not about finding a one-size-all solution that everybody is going to want to come back to the office or everybody is going to want to be at home. It's about how do we offer one or two more options, kind of going back to that benefits example. It's not offering unlimited options for every situation on earth. It's about saying we understand people have different concerns based on their age or their life situation or other issues. How do we broaden the pie of what's available so that we could keep more of our employees engaged and retained?

MS. STEAD SELLERS: Many, many company people lost jobs, obviously, during the pandemic. Other companies grew, and certainly, we're going to have employment going--new employment going ahead.

How do you create an office culture when so much of it is hybrid? We know the feeling of, you know, "I got a good feel for that place," but how do you develop an office culture? How do you hire people in this pandemic and post-pandemic world and give them a sense of what they're getting in for?

MS. POLLAK: If anyone tells you they know how to succeed in a hybrid environment, I don't think it's true because we've never done it before. I think we're inventing this as we go along.

So, I think we have to really stick to--you know, go back to basics and stick to what is the culture of our organization, what gives people a sense of belonging here. So, for some companies, it might be the ritual of having lunch together every Wednesday. Well, if you can't do that in person in the cafeteria, maybe you can do that on Zoom or with half the people online and half the people in the cafeteria, that you keep the Wednesday lunch. Maybe it's about another activity that the company does together. Maybe it's about making sure that your team has their Monday stand-up meetings, even if half the people aren't there. So, I think it's about identifying the rituals and the cultural moments that make people feel included and finding a way to keep those.

Everything won't be the same, but if those core pillars that make your company what it is can stay the same or adapt to this environment, I think you'll have a lot more success than trying to invent all new rituals from scratch.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: Women are now, I think, the majority of the workforce. They've been enormously hit by the pandemic. How do you see the challenges facing women in particular and issues of gender equity in companies going ahead?

MS. POLLAK: I think it's a national crisis, and I think it needs to be addressed, certainly, at the government level, and I'll let people in more senior positions than I am address that. But I think companies that care about retaining women and have said that they care about retaining women needs to speak to women and ask what their needs are to reengage in the workforce.

There's a new study that I read about with Gen Zs who said, as I mentioned before, "We're going to count the number of women in your leadership positions, and if we don't see women there, we're not going to want to join your company.

Issues again of pay equity. One tip for our male allies is to tell us what you're making, right, and share that information with women, particularly those who are job hunting.

I think transparency about company policies, about individual situations is really important, but I don't think that we can wait and hope that women get back into the workforce. I think if we want this to happen, companies have to be very deliberate, and women have to speak up and talk about what our needs are. But I do think it's a large systemic issue that has to certainly have government involvement and not just be the burden of individual companies.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: You're talking about child care and those sorts of issues in order to enable women to go back?

MS. POLLAK: Absolutely. Paid leave, child care, bereavement leave. I think there are a lot of issues, and some companies are very good at those things, but it's certainly not the norm.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: So, the recession has led to many layoffs and furloughs. Are older workers more worried about this? Should they be more worried about this during a recession? Do you see them being held more back when it comes to this rehiring that we were talking about?

MS. POLLAK: I do because ageism is real, and I think a lot of people are very concerned and certainly about being hired at a level that will sustain their lifestyle. So, I think there's a right to be concerned for people who are on the older end of the market, but it is certainly not impossible. There's going to be a tremendous amount of movement as the economy improves. We're already seeing better job numbers.

One of the things I would say to people who are over 50 in the job hunt is look for the organizations that are committed to age diversity. Look at the companies that are posting their jobs on the AARP job board, that are posting on specific job websites for people over 50, same for women, same for people looking for remote environments. A lot of companies are very committed to this. So, I would look for those organizations and opportunities.

And I also think, just as we talk about age diversity being so important at a company level or an employer level, I think personally we should each aspire to have personal networks of people of all different generations.

Just quickly, I have a friend who was playing in a poker game for years, and she said the conversation at the poker table 20 years ago was "Hey, my kid is looking for a job. Can you get her a job? Can you get him a job?" and now the conversation is "I'm looking for a job. Can your kid get me a job? Does your kid know anybody?" So, I think when we know people of different generations, we're going to be more connected into opportunity.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: Well, tell me a little bit more about the job market. How do you advise the 2020 and 2021 grads who are coming along now with this very uncertain future, un-, sort of, -charted future ahead of them?

MS. POLLAK: I thought you were going to say something more about the poker game when you started that question.

[Laughter]

MS. STEAD SELLERS: That may be for after the show.

MS. POLLAK: Yes. You got it. You got it.

So, one of the things I would say is the rules are still the same. The basics are still the same, which is about 70 percent of jobs are found through networking. So, talk to people you know, and it's often not from the people you know personally, your friends and family. It's from what we call your "loose connections," so the friends of friends, the friends of family. Post on Facebook that you're looking for a job if you're comfortable doing that. Talk to the people you know and ask if they could introduce you to somebody in their network who is looking.

I also think a hugely underutilized research for job seekers is if you went to college, go back to your college or university or community college career center. They will provide you with résumé critique, with LinkedIn profile review, mock interview prep, and they know of the employers that hire people with your degree or people who have been through your university. There are a lot of local programs that will do the same. So, take advantage of all the resources available, and I also think now is the time to cast a slightly wider net. Be a little bit more creative. So, if you were looking 5 miles from your home, look 15 miles. If you were looking at two industries, look at five industries. If you were looking at small- to medium-size employers, look at large employers and vice versa.

So, I think it's really about taking however you've been job hunting or would have pre-pandemic and just try to expand your universe of opportunities. I hope this isn't the headline or the key takeaway, but it may take 50 or 100 or 200 applications. It is harder right now, but it is not impossible. And the one thing you can control is your work ethic and your ability to keep going and be resilient and keep applying. It might take longer, but it's absolutely possible.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: Wow! I'd love to ask one last question. It has to be a quick one. I want to read to you a line from your book and then ask you how it applies to people applying for jobs now.

So, you wrote "Now is not the time to be rigid. Be a little scrappy and relentlessly creative," and we have to be quick, but apply that to what young people and older people are facing now.

MS. POLLAK: Tell everybody you know that you're looking for a job. Look in magazines. Look in newspapers. Look on websites. Look on social media. Get really creative, and I would say just keep going. Be relentless in your applications. It will turn out, but it is going to take a little bit longer right now.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: Lindsey Pollak, thank you so much. "Just keep going." That's the message of the day, and we should all apply it to all different aspects of our lives, I'm sure. Thank you.

MS. POLLAK: Thank you.

MS. STEAD SELLERS: I'm sorry. That's all we have time for today. Those were fascinating discussions. Please check on Washington Post Live for more programming coming up. I'm Frances Stead Sellers, and thank you very much for joining me today.

[End recorded session]

Loading...