Intergenerational solutions: Read how Sheila Callaham is making a case for age equity in the workplace.
Tell us about your organization, your mission and how you carry out that mission.
Age Equity Alliance (AEA) is a 501(c)(3) with a mission to create workplace age equity across the age spectrum. We understand how nuanced age bias and discrimination can be. AEA helps people and organizations learn to recognize the myriad of ways it shows up in the workplace and what to do about it.
We act as age equity partners to evaluate how age-inclusive an organization is and guide leaders to take the best next steps. That might mean training and education, or revision of equal opportunity statements and employee handbooks to include age along with other protected categories. It might also mean revamping hiring, development, and retention processes. It could mean the creation of an Employee Resource Group (ERG) dedicated to creating a productive multigenerational culture.
There is no one-size-fits-all. We meet company cultures where they are and work with them to increase employee engagement and productivity through full inclusion.
What kind of changes would you like to see happen?
Our vision is for Age Equity to become a core value in every workplace. We want people to be seen for their talent, passion and enthusiasm for learning and curiosity–regardless of age. It shouldn’t matter if it is someone looking for the first job or someone with three decades of experience looking to transition into a new career opportunity.
Companies need to first acknowledge that age is a dimension of diversity that should be a part of every DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) strategy – but it’s not. I regularly see big companies that still omit age from their equal opportunity statement, EXCLUDING age as an equity factor.
The biggest challenge is that age equity — just like any other equity issue — is really a change initiative. That translates to a serious investment of time, energy, resources, and expertise. It’s about proactively creating an employee culture that is fully inclusive, not just inclusive of some elements of diversity at the expense of others. It’s about balancing the needs of everyone. Period.
What’s exciting about creating age equity is that it helps everyone — literally! Moreover, when you consider other diverse groups that experience marginalization, age bias adds a layer of potential discrimination. That’s why women of color over age 50, for example, are the most unemployed, underemployed, and experience the highest rates of poverty.
Can you tell us about some of your successes?
AEA received 501(c)(3) status at the end of 2020. Last year we were researching, planning, creating, and beta testing. We knew that 2021 would be about establishing credibility and getting a place at the table where we could create the most impact.
The results have been better than I could have ever imagined.
We spent the first 100 days of 2021 publishing daily YouTube videos. These (typically 3-minute) videos are to educate viewers on the issues around age and aging in the workplace. Those first 100 days provided a lot of content that we could use in other ways to build awareness about age as a workplace equity issue.
Companies and organizations that are paying attention want to know more. This translates into invitations to speak, participate in panel discussions on age and aging in the workplace. Additionally, training and consulting. We’ve worked with other nonprofit organizations such as the National Council on Aging and the International Longevity Center in the UK (ILC-UK). With them, I’ve been named as a judge for their international innovation competition focused on solutions for an aging workplace.
“Living, Learning, and Earning Longer”
Most recently, we were invited to become a knowledge partner with AARP, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the World Economic Forum on their collaborative project called “Living, Learning, and Earning Longer.” This program examines the policies and practices to support a multigenerational workforce and the business case for doing so.
AEA’s mission focuses on age equity across the age spectrum. We are very excited about participating with these renowned organizations. It’s exciting to focus on the future of work in the global workplace.
We are also in the process of bringing in several new board members to help us move the organization to the next level. I expect those announcements to be released in mid-September.
There has been discussion about changing the language of ageism to be more inclusive of all generations. What is your thinking about that idea?
I think we need to be very careful with the language we use. Unfortunately, generational terms carry a LOT of assumptions and baggage. It is best not to use them. That said, I think it’s important to meet people where they are. It’s fine if someone likes labeling themself as a Millennial. What is important is that we teach people how NOT to use generational labels to stereotype an entire age cohort.
Internationally known age activist (and member of the AEA Board) Ashton Applewhite doesn’t even like to use the word generation. She sees it as separating the cohorts. It’s how the word is used. If someone says, “Your generation is always (you fill in the blank), that’s not good. As a result, we need to be careful with our words. We need to ensure that we use them in a way that does not stereotype, assume, diminish, or marginalize others.
Is there is anything else you would like our readers to know?
As a former global diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practitioner, I know from experience how impactful ERGs can be when creating culture change. That’s why Age Equity Alliance created EveryGen. I created a program for ERG leaders seeking to create age equity and inclusion in the workplace. Most ERG leaders are volunteers and do all the cultural work on top of other responsibilities. We support their efforts by offering curated training, speakers, best practices, and consulting. We know their success contributes to achieving our mission!
Finally, I’m grateful for the contributions of an incredible team of experts in research, marketing, technology, HR, and operations who make this all possible. I’m also grateful to the board whose leadership and insight are deeply appreciated.