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Older Workers Can’t Be Ignored

“The day is coming when employers are going to embrace the value of older workers. They don’t have a choice,” writes Kerry Hannon. Demographic and fiscal realities are making the retention of older members of the workforce escalate in importance and give rise to the innovations in working relationships, from full time to flexible work relationships and contract positions. Some employers are realizing the benefits that these employees can bring with them and are recognizing the importance of investing in them before their knowledge walks out the door. Employers that fail to adjust their approach to older employees could find themselves seriously at risk as U.S. labor markets reflect the demographic realities.30

KPMG has publicly recognized the benefits, noting that “older workers tend to be more dedicated to staying with the company, a plus for clients who like to build a relationship with a consultant they can count on to be around for years.”

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Diversity Matters Other demographic issues will provide opportunities and challenges. In the United States, Latinos will play a role in transforming organizations. The numbers of Latinos jumped from 35.3 million during the 1990s, to 55.4 million or 17.4% of the population in 2014 (up from 13% in 2000), making them the largest ethnic/racial group in the United States. They are also much younger (29 versus the national average age of 37.2), and 65.6% of its members have been born in the United States. Significantly, the largest growth often is in “hyper-growth” Latino destinations such as Nevada and Georgia,32 some of which have seen an increase of more than 300% in Latino populations since 1980. The immigration component of this growth rate was adversely affected by the U.S. economic downturn and improvements in the Mexican economy, but it is predicted to continue upward due to domestic population growth, difficult conditions in other parts of Latin America, and the impact that a return to economic health in the United States will have on immigration.

One of the outcomes of hyper-growth in certain urban areas has been an imbalance of Latino males and females. In the non-Latino population, the ratio of males to females is 96:100. In the Latino population, ratios as high as 118:100 are seen in the hyper-growth destinations.33 While the specific implications for businesses are unclear, the general need for response and change is not. Notions of cultural norms (including those around English literacy and dominant language used) and markets could be shattered by such demographic shifts.

There have also been significant demographic shifts in Europe and parts of Asia, as people move from disadvantaged areas (economic, social, and political) in search of greater opportunities, security, and social justice. These trends are likely to continue, and as in the United States, they provide both challenges and opportunities. For countries like France and Austria, they help to moderate the effects of an aging population by providing new entrants to the workforce and new customers for products and services. However, they also represent integration challenges in terms of needed services and there has been a backlash from some groups, who see them as both an economic and social threat. Resistance to immigration reform in the United States, the tightening of emigration rules in Canada, the rise of anti- immigration political parties in Western Europe, and the January 2019 shut-down of the U.S. federal government over the disputed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border are evidence of this.

Our assumptions about families and gender will continue to be challenged in the workplace and marketplace of the future. Diversity, inclusiveness, and equity issues will challenge organizations with unpredictable results. The heated debates that occurred in the United States in 2006 concerning legislation related to illegal or undocumented immigrants, temporary workers, and family unification continue to provoke passionate positions and no resolution as of 2019. In Europe, debate around these topics has given rise to some electoral success by what used to be fringe parties in Sweden, France, and Italy (to name three), and isolated examples of violence.34 Some nations have implemented laws around certain religious practices (typically associated with dress and visible symbols in schools and workplaces) that are viewed by many as discriminatory.35 Matters related to same-sex marriage, gender identity, and gender equity continue to be challenging for many organizations, as laws and behavioral norms related to what is acceptable slowly evolve. The front-page coverage devoted to the drafting by the St. Louis Rams of Michael Sam, the first openly gay professional football player, testifies to the attention and emotions these matters can generate.36 In too many parts of the world they represent life and death issues.

The same is true for matters of gender violence, as seen in the rise of the #MeToo movement in the United States and other parts of the world. Bad behavior is being exposed, attitudes are changing, and governments and organizations are beginning to alter policies and procedures in meaningful ways. Reactions to the reported behaviors of Harvey Weinstein (film producer), Roger Ailes (Fox News chairman), and many others attest to this. Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh’s 2018 Supreme Court hearing concerning allegations of gender violence attracted over 20 million viewers37 and the strength of subsequent responses suggest public concerns and demands for action on gender-related matters are increasing.

In some nations, employment- and human rights-related legislation have gone a long way toward advancing the interests and acceptance of diversity, by providing guidance, rules of conduct, and sanctions for those who fail to comply. However, issues related to gender, race, and diversity still need to be attended to by organizations. Participation and career advancement rates and salary level differences continue to attract the attention of politicians, the public, and the courts. Further, they constrain the development of talent in organizations and have adverse consequences on multiple levels—from the ability to attract and retain to performance and attitudinal outcomes that can, in turn, influence the culture and work climate of the firm.

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