Diversity and inclusion – they have to be the two biggest “buzz words” in HR circles these days. Every company seems to have adopted a mantra of “diversity and inclusiveness” with the total belief that it cannot succeed unless it fosters a genuine culture that embraces these two ideals. I certainly do not disagree with this mantra, but there is one group in today’s workforce that is being totally ignored by C-suite and HR Executives when it comes to discussions about diversity and inclusion. I’m talking about employees whose age is 55 to 70 years of age.
Anyone who thinks age discrimination is not prevalent in corporate America must be living with their head in the sand. Corporations across America have for the last 20+ years dismissed aging employees in pursuit of one thing – increased shareholder value. I know this because I was one of them.
In August 2016, I was one of 14,000 IBM employees who was let go as part of a “resource action.” That’s not to mention some 5,000 other IBM employees who were let go in May of that same year. And, ironically, IBM’s Board of Directors had voted in January 2016 to change the company’s severance policy for IBM employees to one month pay regardless of years of service. Clearly, these RA’s were made to eliminate a number of seasoned veterans (many with 20 to 30 years of service with IBM) with plans to replace many of them with younger employees who could be hired at a much lower salary. That’s how CEO’s and Boards of Directors justify such moves – it’s all about increasing shareholder value.
Being let go from your job when you are 50 years of age or older can be both disheartening and traumatic. For many people in this age group, their work is much more than just their source of income; it is their entire social connection, their way of life. Where “loneliness” is now classified as a serious mental health condition in the U.S. for our aging population, these corporate resource actions can actually contribute to this issue.
When I was let go in 2016, I was 65 years old. While there was some initial disappointment, I got over it rather quickly. I am a high-energy, forward-thinking individual and being that I was a Hybrid Cloud Sales Specialist with IBM at the time I was let go, I was confident I would soon be contributing once again in corporate America. After all, I could still get up to the whiteboard and explain cloud technology to senior executives, many of whom could spell C-L-O-U-D but couldn’t go much further than that when it came to understanding the technology (private clouds, public clouds, hybrid clouds, SaaS, AI, etc.). But, no one came knocking at my door and since that time it has become even more apparent to me that very few companies see any real value in senior, more experienced employees. That’s unfortunate. Let me explain by way of this example.
Several weeks ago I met for two hours with a 37 year-old financial services sales professional who was new to the sales profession. He had found my contact information online and after a brief e-mail exchange, I agreed to meet with him. As our meeting began he explained that his boss was so busy building his own practice he had little to no time to help develop the junior salespeople working for him. Essentially, this young man was looking for a mentor, someone who could help him with his selling skills. Well, we spent the next hour or so discussing sales fundamentals – how to effectively prospect, how to build relationships, how to qualify prospects and ask open-ended questions. For me, it was pretty much a ‘Sales 101’ kind of conversation but for him, it was much, much more. I could see it in eyes as he voraciously took notes as I was talking.
Towards the end of our meeting he said to me, “Sometimes I don’t like being a salesman.” I then shared with him a basic philosophy I have come to believe over my 40+ years as a sales professional. “Remember this – Nobody sells anything to anybody; people make decisions to buy!” I went on to explain to him that when we view the sales cycle from the buyer’s side of the table, as a buying process, it transforms how we think and behave as salespeople. I basically told him he needed to start thinking of himself more as an educator and “consultative” sales professional. He absolutely loved that explanation.
Now, I am just one of many millions of people over the age of 55 in this country who still want to contribute in the most positive way we can. By the simple example I have just shared in this blog, it should be apparent that many of us can do that in any number of ways. We clearly have experience and wisdom that can help younger employees to function more effectively and be more successful. My point – Maybe it’s time C-suite executives and HR Execs re-visit their corporate objectives and reconsider how older, more experienced professionals could add value to their company and/or organization. After all, for many of us, the word ‘retirement’ is not part of our DNA.