Recently, a colleague asked me about my company’s diverse, mixed-age work environment — known for being upbeat, effective, and welcoming for all our employees. She was truly skeptical that people across so many backgrounds and generations could work together so effectively.
Until she brought it up, this was an issue I’d never really thought much about. My company began with just a few friends working out of my family room and has since grown to an organization with over 100 employees. In the beginning, we all looked alike: white, suburban women with school-aged children. But along the way, we needed to actually start recruiting.
When it comes to attracting employees, my company’s two competitive advantages (for both our employees and our clients) have always been our flexible scheduling and our team-based model. Because of this flexibility, we’ve discovered that there is a tremendous pool of talent from a broad range of people whose lifestyles do not fit a strict 9-to-5 work week.
We still recruit moms who work part time to accommodate their children’s school schedules, but we also attract everyone from senior citizens trying to earn a little extra cash to young people right out of college to those who are starting their own businesses and want some stability while doing so.
The result is a staff that is both multi-generational and diverse in terms of gender and race — one which formed naturally as a product of our evolution and growth.
Let me be clear. We are selective and intentional in our hiring process. We’ve developed a set of core values that we use faithfully when selecting new employees. And as it turns out, there is a wide array of people who share our values and are also looking for workplace flexibility.
Since reflecting on this a little more, I truly appreciate the strength that we’ve gained from a team made up of such varying backgrounds, circumstances, and experiences.
Along with differing outlooks and perspectives, our team members bring a variety of distinct communication styles. This is a tremendous benefit for my particular business — it gives us the power to connect with almost anyone.
As a business- to-business prospecting firm, we speak on the telephone with thousands of individuals each day, in dozens of different industries scattered all across North America. Our clients, too, are located all over the continent and even overseas. Because our employees come from a multitude of backgrounds and experiences, they reflect the huge range of people with whom we interact.
For some companies, the benefits of a gender, ethnicity, and age-diverse workplace might not be so obvious. After all, our industry naturally favors workplaces that are diverse. However, we have a second competitive advantage that allows us to harness our diversity as a source of strength and innovation: our team-based workplace.
We create teams of employees to support our clients. On any of our teams, you can find people of different ages, genders, races, and backgrounds. When our employees come together to coach and motivate each other, new employees from different generations, ethnicities, and genders aren’t merely adding different skill sets to the pot; they’re actually melding them together, borrowing, and learning from each other.
When one member of the team discovers a breakthrough approach to reaching a decision maker, they are encouraged to share it and to coach others. Often, a younger person will guide someone much older — and that’s when a great equalizing force occurs.
The shared strengths and broadened perspectives learned from relying on coworkers actually stays with the individuals when they get back on the phones, enhancing everyone’s ability to connect with whomever is on the other end of the line.
In our model, therefore, cooperation is the catalyst to success. When team members find common ground, they strengthen each individual on the team.
Every day I see clear evidence of how diverse, mixed-age teams aren’t just the most complimentary, they’re the most cohesive. In our case, this cohesion emerged naturally, and I’m extremely glad that it did.
If your business needs a boost in employee morale and cooperation, I strongly suggest you go beyond just hiring people of all ages. Make sure each new hire fits your core values, and then put them on teams and have them work together!
About the Author
Valerie Schlitt holds an MBA from The Wharton School. She started her business career at American Express and also worked at Travelers, CIGNA, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and KPMG Consulting. After a successful corporate career in marketing and consulting, she created VSA in 2001, a high-end B2B lead generation and appointment setting firm with more than 100 employees and named as one of the Philadelphia Business Journal’s “Best Places to Work 2018.”