Forbes Insights recently conducted a survey of more than 300 senior executives to gain a better understanding of the role that diversity and inclusion play in business.
The report found that senior executives are now recognising that innovation is dependent on having a team with diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. “When asked about the relationship between diversity and innovation, the majority of respondents agreed that diversity is crucial to encouraging different perspectives and
ideas that foster innovation,” the report states.
One way in which firms can achieve this desirable diversity is to ensure that they employ people from a range of ages.
Pairing young with old helps both team development and the fostering of creativity, says Paula Tinkler, commercial director at Chemoxy International. The bespoke chemical manufacturing company doesn’t shy away from employing people at both ends of the age scale; employees are between 17 and 70 years old.
“Innovation and creativity are incubated wherever you have the right combination of experience, enthusiasm and curiosity, and an intergenerational team is the perfect way to foster the perfect mix,” says Mrs Tinkler.
In the laboratory, senior research and development scientists with decades of experience teach and collaborate with undergraduates who bring a fresh perspective. This intergenerational approach is continued throughout the plant – for example, in operations and quality control.
Chemoxy has apprentices working alongside the most experienced staff. “This intergenerational approach to hiring has been an incredibly effective catalyst for innovation and, in my opinion, it’s the driving force behind our most creative work,” Ms Tinkler says.
It’s a similar story at Studio Something, a design agency with offices in Edinburgh and London. Here, designers not only create digital marketing products for clients, but also develop their own products, such as apps.
Led by baby boomers, Pete Burns and Mykay Kamara, the rest of the team fit into the “millennial hipster” stereotype. Diversity on the team has helped it to create a new innovative app, which focuses on well-being at work. To ensure its success, the team has begun working with Ian Smith, the former managing director of Oracle in the UK and Ireland, who’s in his 70s.
Despite being decades older than the coders and developers at the studio, Mr Smith’s presence has really energised the team, Mr Kamara says.
“He’s one of the veterans in technology. He loved the product and decided to come out of retirement to work on it,” he says. “He came to spend the day with the team recently, which was excellent. It energised everyone. He really enjoys working with young people and they have learnt a lot from him.”
Every member of the team brings something useful to the table, Mr Kamara says: “Everyone whom we employ offers huge value to the team, no matter their age. The younger members are obviously digitally native. They’ve been coding since they were young teens, so it’s second nature to them.
“The other layer is made up of Pete and me, who are both middle
aged. We’re both quite business- and commercially-minded, and have a lot of experience and contacts. It works well.”
For some businesses, the creation of intergenerational teams is incidental, because they’re made up of family members. One example is Heck, the sausage brand that has taken the market by storm since 2012. The business was the brainchild of husband and wife duo, Andrew and Debbie Keeble, who brought their children on board almost immediately. In fact, their youngest daughter was 18 when she took on the company’s marketing.
Now aged between 23 and 28, the Keeble’s children have also recruited friends with whom they went to school.
Heck has a team of about 70 spanning millennials, generation X-ers
and baby boomers. The formula seems to be working – as the UK’s most successful premium sausage brand, it sells 60 million sausages a year and is on track for a turnover of £18m this year.
What stands the business apart is its youthful branding. “The younger members of the team are much more in tune,” explains Mr Keeble. “Obviously they’re great on social media, but it’s more than that. It’s a very strong brand and we absolutely dominate the market now.”
Bringing everyone together on a daily basis helps maintain the family firm mentality and ensures that employees of different ages get to know each other, which leads to more creativity, he says.
“We desgned the new factory so that all the factory workers and the marketing team sit down together every lunch time. Everyone gets a home-cooked meal every day – and it’s not always sausages.
“It’s an opportunity to get together to see how everything is going.”
At Street Team, the world’s leading peer-to-peer sales software for live entertainment, encouraging a diverse team is part and parcel of the company’s unique management style. Although the business is mainly focused on music, it has begun branching out into sport, fashion, cosmetics and travel.
The business has grown to 65 people of all ages in just three years with offices in London, Los Angeles, Austin and Poland, It has raised more than £10m in investment.
Callum Negus-Fancey, Street Team’s co-founder, explains that the firm’s culture is defined by a sense of freedom, reinforced by removing set hours, offering unlimited holiday and making meetings optional. Outputs are managed by clear targets to ensure that, while flexible, the team remains focused.
While these elements are helpful for generating a sense of free thinking, when it comes to fostering innovation, Mr Negus-Fancey argues that team members must learn from each others’ backgrounds in order to develop empathy with each other – including the lived experience that comes with age – and never to dismiss ideas as
When young and old work together, they come up with better ideas,
he thinks. “That’s rooted in two major things. The first is empathy, because a more diverse range of people thinking about problems are going to have empathy for a larger range of users.
“Second, you have that mix of experience. You have people who haven’t seen things before and aren’t fixed on doing things in a certain way. That combination is really powerful.”