The Three Dimensions of Age

It is important, when dealing with diversity to make a distinction between legal categories and lived realities of the workplace.

The protected characteristic of age is an important case in point – on the surface of it, it seems self-explanatory: the Equality Act makes it unlawful (with certain exceptions), to discriminate against a person on the basis of their age in the provision of employment, goods, services and facilities. Simple, right? Well, not exactly. To understand why, we need to consider what exactly is meant by age.

Our contention is that the term age actually refers to three different aspects of human experience and social interaction: biological age, life cycle stage and generation. The three are distinct and may, or may not, coincide. For example, a person may be of younger biological age – say, 25 – but may be at a point in their life cycle more commonly associated with an older person – say, responsibility for a dependent parent. Conversely, person in their late 50s could easily have a child at primary school – with child care responsibilities more often associated with a much younger person. And someone in their 60s (so called baby boomer generation) who has kept abreast of technological change could easily be more social media savvy than a person in their 30s (so called millennial).

People are complex, and stereotyping them will not bring the best out of them. On the other hand, there are patterns of experience and behaviour which can help us ask questions about, think around and plan for diversity and inclusion. It is these patters we are pointing to in outlining the three aspects of the age characteristic, each of which is highly relevant in the workplace:

In summary, a company’s culture, policies, procedures and leadership style can either result in inclusivity or barriers for significant segments of the workforce, with an important impact upon morale, turnover, productivity and performance. Companies that ignore this issue stand to lose ground – and employees – to those who are willing to make positive improvements. In order to gain the ‘diversity dividend’ workplaces require, as a minimum, the following elements to be in place:

At the Equality Academy, we seek to support businesses and organisations to deal with all three dimensions of the age characteristic in a way that meets and exceeds legal requirements. We can support you in your thinking, strategy and implementation in all of these areas, and in the intersectional crossovers between age, gender, disability and other diversity characteristics. Let’s face it – people are complex, and stereotyping them will not reap the diversity dividend – but intelligent and inclusive approaches will.