Are You Too Old for the Global Workforce?

Creating Global Mindset

Imagine you get to select all new hires for a high-powered international team. From smart support staff to dynamic leaders, you have the opportunity to build a dream team that will operate across the globe.

How old are these ideal team members? Be honest with yourself.

You see, there’s a lot of talk these days on Millennials –how they behave in the workplace and how their Generation X and Baby Boomer bosses should handle them. I myself wrote a post on how Millennials differ across the globe. Yet there’s another side to the age coin and that’s how those Gen X and Boomer workers are regarded in the global business landscape.

There’s no denying that our workforce is getting older. People are retiring later and later – and the number of people over 60 is expected to hit 2 billion by 2050. For perspective, that number was 600 million in 2000. That’s a significant shift.

Now consider that “older” employees can be viewed differently from culture to culture – and may have varying expectations themselves. Let’s say you’re 28 and enjoy a friendly, relaxed relationship with your 52-year-old American boss – then you get promoted and begin reporting to a leader around the same age in Japan. Can you expect the same level of informality? As a seasoned executive with longevity in a global company, you might find yourself treated as a respected leader in France but seen as an out-of-touch dinosaur in Israel.

Specific cultural dynamics regarding age can impact your reputation and your performance – but you can learn how to foster positive relationships across the generations.

Sidestepping Stereotypes

You can probably name a few age stereotypes and biases off the top of your head. Many people believe that older workers aren’t as tech-savvy or innovative as younger workers, or that Millennials will exhibit entitled behavior, change jobs frequently and be social media and tech geniuses.

But experienced leaders know that every employee brings a unique set of skills and limitations to the table. Maybe it’s true that Gen X’ers were influenced by the technology boom and dotcom era, while Boomers were shaped by the Vietnam War and social movements of the 1960s – but so what? Key is that each employee’s unique skills and competencies are being leveraged for optimal company productivity and effectiveness.

For example, baby boomers are really comfortable and skilled with verbal communication, while Millennials know how to develop strong relationships over virtual platforms. Older employees bring rich experience and knowledge, and are loyal to their place of work. Younger employees bring enthusiasm for collaborative team environments and readily share best practices.

It’s also crucial to remember that our generational categories span years. A Gen X leader born in 1965 has probably been shaped by different experiences than their Gen X colleague born in 1977. And of course, influences can vary widely from culture to culture. A Canadian Baby Boomer may find a South African colleague the same age was molded by very different forces.

From Ageism to Achievement

Many of us confront ageism in the workplace eventually. One day we’re the company’s young rising star and then a few years pass and suddenly we’re competing for positions with candidates fifteen or twenty years our junior. This can feel especially unnerving in global business when we find ourselves subject to shifting cultural biases.

Obviously your experiences – whether you’re a professional of a certain age or a young worker wanting to work constructively across age differences — will vary depending on the industry, company and culture. But there are a few universal approaches that can help dissolve ageist barriers:

Focus on solving today’s pain points. Important if you’re a seasoned leader interviewing for new positions – or promoting your own relevance. Too often professionals will point to past achievements when trying to promote their worth. But focusing on the past can be a mistake in a company focused on the future. Instead, figure out the problem the company is trying to solve and prove that you can solve it. If you can demonstrate that value, you’ll leapfrog over a host of age-related biases across cultures.

Don’t fall back on assumptions as a crutch. If you’re dealing with significantly older or younger colleagues and staff, set aside generalizations. Yes, age differences can feel alienating in the workplace, especially across nations. Your older staff members might surprise you in their ability to learn new platforms and stay nimble, where your younger employees may show more consistency and loyalty than you assumed.

Do some research. Realize that colleagues with diverse cultural backgrounds may have experienced different cultural events and professional trends on their way up the ladder. Get to know their influences. Find out the local expectations and etiquette on working with people who are significantly older or younger than you.

Open a dialogue. Don’t shut out employees or leaders because of an age difference; keep the lines of communication open, find out how they want to be treated and honor those standards.

If there’s one thing we know, it’s that diversity in the workplace tends to foster innovation. The next time you interview candidates or meet new colleagues, make an effort to look past their birthdates and see the potential in front of you. Sometimes age really is just a number – and a diverse mix of ages in the workplace can drive the results and numbers that really matter.

Do You Want a Male or Female Boss – and Why?

Gender Cooperation Workshops

If you’ve ever checked out Gallup’s annual work and education poll, you know it always contains some fascinating statistics on how we really feel about our careers and employers. The 2014 study caught my eye, though, for one particular reason – the data illuminates the American preference for a male boss.

Here’s where we stand overall. 46 percent of Americans don’t care whether their boss is a man or a woman. Yet 33 percent prefer male bosses – and 20 percent prefer female bosses.

To drill into these preferences a little deeper, here are more results:

Men are more flexible than women on the matter; 58 percent of men have no preference, compared to 34 percent of women.
39 percent of women and 26 percent of men prefer a male boss.
Women are also more likely to prefer female bosses at 25 percent, compared with 14 percent of men.

For the record, this is quite a change from the 1953 Gallup poll. Back then, 66 percent of Americans said they preferred a male boss. (That gives you some idea of the challenges facing women leaders back in the 1950’s. Can you imagine managing a team where the majority of your staff preferred to report to a man instead?)

That 66 percent has been cut in half in today’s poll – but female bosses still need to deal with the fact that a third of the workforce may not want to report to them. Male bosses face the same reality with a fifth of the workforce. So it’s worth asking: what are the repercussions of these gender preferences, for both employees and managers?

Broadening Your Perspective as an Employee

If you have a specific gender preference for your ideal boss, you might be basing it on past experiences. Or you may simply feel you have a better rapport with a certain gender. Here’s my suggestion: make sure that your preference isn’t limiting your professional opportunities. Many people come into the workplace with certain assumptions about working with different age groups or cultures, only to discover those assumptions are dead wrong. If you’re avoiding a certain position because of the boss’s gender, put your expectations to the side and act on the opportunity.

My next piece of advice: let go of gender stereotypes. All too often, a male boss who criticizes staff can be seen as a stern taskmaster, pushing employees to do their best, while a female boss who does the same can be seen as irrational and shrill. Or an employee might expect a woman boss to be more understanding than a male boss about missing a meeting to care for a sick child. These biases can damage both your relationship with your boss and ultimately your career.

A more productive option: using neutral evaluation criteria to make sure you’re judging your boss fairly. Look at their management style and ask how you would perceive the same actions coming from the opposite gender. When you’re considering a new position, don’t worry about the gender of your potential boss. Instead, look at their track record in the company and consider factors such as the employees they’ve promoted. That history will help you understand their leadership style far more than their gender.

Coping With Gender Preferences as a Leader

If you’re a manager, you already know that figuring out staff issues can be a guessing game. You won’t necessarily know when a staff member expects you to be catty simply because you’re a woman, or thinks you’re weak for showing emotion as a male leader. Can you expect your team to admit these biases and preferences? Probably not – but you can deal with them proactively.

For instance, if you’re a man, mention the women you’ve mentored and promoted in the company. If you’re a woman, cultivate a rich network of male and female contacts and foster a positive reputation as a leader who’s objective and fair. Even LinkedIn testimonials can go far in helping potential employees see you as a boss they’d love to work for. Gender stereotypes may not be fair in the workplace, but with anticipation and some savvy reputation management, you can dismantle them before they have a chance to hurt your relationships.

In case you’re wondering, 51 percent of working Americans currently have a male boss while 33 percent have a female boss. Interestingly, 27 percent of those with a female boss say they would prefer a female boss if they got a new job, where only 15 percent of those with a male boss say the same. That tells us that the reality of having a female boss is more enjoyable than the stereotype – and that as more women attain leadership positions, gender preferences in the workplace could even out or disappear altogether.

Call me to host a speaking engagement or course on Gender Cooperation. See our programs in Creating a Gender Powerhouse here: GENDERCOOP