This article is part of a content series on diversity, equity and inclusion for Campaign Asia-Pacific and Greater China’s Women to Watch, created in partnership with Essence.
Beyond ethnicity and gender, a form of diversity that affects us all in the workplace at every stage of our careers is age. And, just like ethnicity and gender, generational diversity is crucial to creating a more inclusive, empathetic, and productive workplace. Yolanda Gao, director of business operations, and Joy Long, management trainee, strategy, both of Essence China, discuss their perspectives on the benefits of a workforce with a diverse age range and the company’s initiatives to foster it.
China’s employed population ranges in age from under 30 to over 60, with the biggest percentage in the 30-39 (“post-80s”) and 40-49 (“post-70s”) age groups, at 27.6% and 25.1%, respectively, according to the Seventh National Population Census of China conducted in 2020. With the first group of “post-00s” graduating from university and entering the workforce this year, and the planned introduction of a delayed retirement scheme, the age disparity in China’s workforce is expected to increase.
The nuances between generations are readily observed in a workforce spanning five generations. In the past fifty years, China has transitioned from a planned economy to a market economy, from the implementation of reform and opening up to the boom of the internet economy — and each generation has been shaped by a radically changing social context.
Gao says, “Based on my personal observations, post-60s and post-70s coworkers have a stronger group consciousness and are more connected to the company; post-80s and post-90s coworkers are more concerned with personal achievement and whether their strengths are applied at work, as self-awareness gained greater importance during their formative years; and post-00s coworkers are even more self-aware and consider whether a job fits their personal interests, rather than the other way around, when job hunting.”
In addition, employees of different ages may display distinct characteristics due to their varying life stages and years of working experience. “In general, younger workers are more daring, energetic, and creative, while older employees are more collected and adept at managing conditions and assuming responsibility for their work,” Long notes.
Driving business growth with generational differences
Fostering generational diversity isn’t just a worthy cause for inclusivity’s sake — it’s better for business. According to LinkedIn’s 2020 Global Talent Trends, 89% of talent professionals believe that “a multigenerational workplace makes a company more successful.”
However, only 8% of companies incorporate age into their DEI strategies, and among those that do, the strategy has frequently consisted of encouraging individuals of different generations to focus on their similarities or denying the reality of their differences, according to an article on generational diversity published by the Harvard Business Review1
. In fact, if businesses effectively utilise the traits of the various generations, they stand to gain significantly.
“For starters, people of different ages can learn from one another; older colleagues can pass on their experience and work methods to younger generations, while younger ones are more receptive to new ideas and can share them with older colleagues, bringing fresher blood and ideas to the business,” says Gao, “Companies can also take advantage of the age gap by establishing mentorship programmes to foster interactions between colleagues from different generations.”
Moreover, generational diversity enables businesses to better understand their markets and customers. “We work in a media and advertising industry that serves brands with audiences of all ages, so the generational diversity within our company provides us with a substantial competitive edge,” Gao continues. “For instance, when we need to understand a certain age group of consumers, in addition to using big data from our system, we can also go to our colleagues in that age group and ask them about their behavioural habits, product needs, and brand preferences, providing us with a more comprehensive understanding of our target audience so that we can better serve our clients.”
Given that an increasing number of people tend to join more inclusive companies, generational diversity helps to recruit more qualified individuals while assisting organisations in building their employer profiles. A 2018 report by Randstad2
states that 86% of employees would like to work in a multigenerational team.
Breaking stereotypes and creating a more inclusive corporate culture
Employers can only benefit from multigenerational workforces if their employees are willing to learn from and engage with their peers from different generations, and eliminating stereotypes is a critical step toward this goal.
On Chinese social media, popular memes and discussions about generations in the workplace, chronicling the “reasons for resignation” of different generations and how “the post-2000s reorganise the company” always go viral, especially among younger generations. Despite the exaggerated nature of these jokes, these memes are founded in and reinforce stereotypes that can ultimately be detrimental to how younger employees are viewed.
“The usual stereotype of the young generation who are just beginning their careers is that they lack professionalism, however, this is not always the case,” explains Long. “For instance, our interns have already amassed a substantial amount of job experience during their school years, and when they progress through their careers, they tend to be more serious at work as they consider themselves as newbies. It is true that some members of the younger generation may lack experience, but this does not mean they are incapable of learning and advancing; therefore, senior employees and recruiters should not disregard their potential for growth simply because they are less experienced.”
Gao advises, “To break stereotypes on a personal level, we must first recognise them and consider whether our judgments are based on stereotypes or facts before jumping to conclusions. We would discover more possibilities if we focused on facts rather than assumptions; it is also essential for businesses to create a culture where employees feel safe enough to speak freely without fear of being judged.”
Essence China has always emphasised open communication and equality, and the concept of inclusion has been ingrained in its corporate culture. “Every employee at our company is given as many opportunities to shine as possible. At regular Essential Afternoons, for example, new employees can meet colleagues with whom they do not work, and at our annual Christmas party, there is an open ‘thank you’ session among coworkers,” Long elaborates. “These activities contribute to the improvement of communication and elimination of stereotypes. Furthermore, the flat organisational structure allows each one of us to be heard and seen.”
“When everyone’s individual needs are met, they will open up and create an inclusive and diverse workplace that will continue to generate innovative ideas; accepting, discussing, and celebrating diversity can lead to additional opportunities for both individuals and businesses.”