A Boomer's Take on DE&I

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Have you noticed the term “DE&I” bandied about lately by politicians, business leaders and heads of institutions? If you’re “woke,” then you know it stands for “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.” What does that really mean? In the context of government or business policies, it basically represents treating everyone equally, regardless of social standing, race, sexual preference or any other distinguishing characteristic. Think of it as a three-legged stool that broadly applies to welcoming in people of less-privileged identities. Here are definitions of each of the three legs from Independent Sector:

Diversity “includes all the ways in which people differ, encompassing the different characteristics that make one individual or group different from another,” including identity markers such as race, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, and more. It also takes intersectional diversity into account, when people’s identity is made of a number of underrepresented identities.

Equity is “the fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all people, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups. Improving equity involves increasing justice and fairness within the procedures and processes of institutions or systems, as well as in their distribution of resources.”

Inclusion is “the act of creating environments in which any individual or group can be and feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued to fully participate. An inclusive and welcoming climate embraces differences and offers respect in words and actions for all people.”

Sadly, it seems that awareness of DE&I is a recent occurrence. It’s only now, because of the compelling roles played by such movements as “MeToo” and “Black Lives Matter,” that our society has reawakened to issues of inequality that have been festering for decades. Thankfully, many Americans are finally realizing that there really are significant inequities in our society, made even more vivid due to the pandemic. The fact is, the old saying is still true in our country: “The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.”

As a Boomer, I have to wonder where American leaders have been for the last fifty-plus years. Wasn’t it our generation that helped fight for DE&I in the Sixties? Didn’t many of us protest, march, sit in, get jailed and even die in support of civil rights, racial and gender equality and social justice? Yet, those Boomers in positions of power today, struck by a serious case of amnesia, boast about their commitment to DE&I like it’s something new.

Don’t get me wrong — I for one am heartened to see that DE&I is very much in vogue right now. Despite the current movement to restrict voting rights in several states (thereby disenfranchising America's most under-served populations), it’s particularly encouraging to see the recent recognition of societal inequity by the federal government. Still, I truly hope that people in power are not merely paying lip service to DE&I in an effort to trade on its PR value. They need to understand the depth of its meaning and make a real commitment to fundamental change.

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Envisioning an Intergenerational World

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Ageism is a global issue, as I indicated in my previous post. One powerful and potentially lasting way to fight against ageism is to foster greater connections between older and younger generations. The generational divide -- caused as much by tribalism as by age -- may seem difficult to overcome, but there are beacons of light in the darkness that can help us envision an intergenerational world. Here are three innovative examples:

Encore.org - Encore is a vanguard in bringing together generations. According to this nonprofit organization, "For the first time in U.S. history, people over 60 outnumber people under 18, raising fears of widening generational divides. Encore.org sees another path — a more-old-than-young society that works for all generations. By accelerating intergenerational solutions to pressing social problems from literacy to loneliness, Encore.org bridges divides and collaborates across generations to create a better future together." Founder Marc Freedman writes eloquently about the topic, and Encore.org affirms its commitment by sponsoring "Gen2Gen" fellowships.

Mon Ami - Two Stanford MBAs, Madeline Dangerfield-Cha and Joy Zhang, co-founded Mon Ami to challenge the asumption that "young is immature and old obsolete." In an article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, they write, "The organization began as a direct service platform, leveraging gig technology to match older adults and their families with college students, who visited weekly to engage in social activities such as playing Scrabble, writing memoirs, and going on walks. ... By March 2020, when COVID-19 hit, hundreds of students enrolled at colleges in the Bay Area of California had provided more than 10,000 hours of companionship to older adults, either in their homes or at their assisted living facilities." In their article, Dangerfield-Cha and Zhang cite two other tech apps/platforms, "Papa" and "Big& Mini," that are innovating in this space.

UpsideHom - Highlighted recently by The Longevity Project, UpsideHom is a startup that focuses on intergenerational living. Launched last year in Florida, the company's goal "is to allow older people to age in place inside multi-generational living communities, primarily apartment buildings that do not necessarily cater to the needs of older renters. To support that, they offer fully-supported units inside these apartment communities – bundling together furniture, maintenance, housekeeping services and so forth – to make it easier to age in place." Founder and CEO Jake Rothstein told The Longevity Project in an interview, "Aging in place versus aging in the right place is something that people really need to think about. ...this decision is a very, very big one, an impactful one that affects themselves and the family members that care for them. Building trust throughout the journey is a real challenge, and probably one that traditional assisted living facilities face as well. ...Educating people in order to build that trust is really the biggest challenge, I would say."

These examples are both inspiring and prescient. Each of them suggests in their own way the potential for generations to interact, learn from each other and potentially live side by side. What better way to combat ageism than to have generations understand, appreciate, assist and respect one another.

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Ageism is a Global Issue

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Who would think that WHO (the World Health Organization) would launch something called the "Global Campaign to Combat Ageism"? But they just did, stating this compelling reason:

"Ageism is the stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination against people on the basis of their age. Ageism is pervasive and has profound negative consequences on older adults' health and wellbeing. We need to act now to improve the lives of people everywhere. In response to a call from Member States, WHO is leading and working with other stakeholders on a Global Campaign to Combat Ageism that aims to build a world for all ages by changing the way we think, feel and act towards age and ageing."

In WHO's 200-plus Global Report on Ageism, the organization reports, "Globally, one in two people are ageist against older people." WHO says "Ageism has serious and far-reaching consequences for people's health, well-being and human rights. For older people, ageism is associated with a shorter lifespan, poorer physical and mental health, slower recovery from disability and cognitive decline. Ageism reduces older people's quality of life, increases their social isolation and loneliness (both of which are associated with serious health problems), restricts their ability to express their sexuality and may increase the risk of violence and abuse against older people."

WHO believes three strategies can reduce ageism: Policy and law, educational interventions and intergenerational contact interventions. The organization's three recommendations for action are:

  1. Invest in evidence-based strategies to prevent and tackle ageism.
  2. Improve data and research to get a better understanding of ageism and how to reduce it.
  3. Build a movement to change the narrative around age and ageing.

In an effort to jumpstart the campaign, WHO has created a "Toolkit" for anyone who wants to help fight ageism. It includes resources to inspire conversations, organize events and spread the word via social media and other methods. I have included a link to the Toolkit (PDF) here:

Download Combat-ageism-toolkit

American Boomers are in a unique position: We ourselves are often victims of ageism, especially in the workplace. But we are also one of the most appropriate groups to combat ageism. I encourage everyone -- of any age -- to download the Toolkit and join the fight. Ageism is a global issue, and as WHO says, "It is time to say no to ageism."

Image: World Health Organization

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The Online Shift

OnaWhim Thomas-lefebvre-gp8BLyaTaA0-unsplashOne of the most striking effects of this year-long pandemic has been the remarkable shift to the online world. Many Boomers were already comfortable communicating digitally, getting information from websites and ordering products online, but there has been a virtual explosion (pun intended) of online everything lately. Just a few examples:

  • The e-commerce increases for such retailers as Target and Walmart are breathtaking -- not to mention Amazon, whose revenue has soared into the stratosphere during the pandemic.
  • Online grocery, food delivery and restaurant takeout orders have skyrocketed. Many of us (myself included) have tried grocery delivery services for the first time. Some of the restaurants in my local community have been very creative in offering specially created takeout meals, making them easy to order online.
  • "Zooming" has become a common verb. I've attended countless webinars, meetings and online classes via Zoom. While it isn't always an ideal experience, it has been a safe haven replacement for in-person events. Kudos to organizations such as my local OLLI College for Seniors, which has managed to replace its in-person classes with online classes for all semesters.

For Boomers, one of the most enriching avenues has been online education. In "Remote Learning Isn't Just for Kids," a recent article in The New York Times, MIT AgeLab research associate Luke Yoquinto tells Kerry Hannon, the "growth of older age demographics will translate to new demand for enrichment in the form of digital education." He observes, “There are already tons of people who, once upon a time, by dint of age or circumstance, wouldn’t traditionally have gotten the chance to partake in education, but can now sign up for free online courses.”

Ironically, online education may be one of the great side benefits for Boomers of being isolated by the pandemic. It may have forced many of us to discover online courses we would otherwise have overlooked. Online education has become far more sophisticated: A course can be on-demand, so it can be consumed any time it's convenient for the learner. Live courses can be streamed from anywhere to anywhere, even with multiple guest speakers and elaborate audiovisual presentations, including video. The only limiting factor is the learner's internet connection, but access to broadband is increasingly common.

Online education isn't just for recreational learning, either. There are numerous online programs that lead to higher education degrees or professional certificates. For Boomers, that could mean new job opportunities or even alternative careers. Boomers interested in starting their own business will also find online training available; for example, the above-referenced article mentions three possibilities: GetSetUp, Blissen, and Work for Yourself@50+ from AARP.

Boomers who have continued to work through the pandemic may have experienced another big online shift -- the shift to working remotely. Some jobs could not easily be transitioned to online work, but for those Boomers who have been able to work from home and remain employed, remote work has been a godsend. In fact, there are many workplace efficiency analysts who believe remote working may end up being a permanent change.

If you're looking for a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, the online shift may be it.

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All Hail the Centenarians

Musings

Characters-3533352_1920We've all been focused on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) of late due to the pandemic -- so this is one piece of data from the CDC you may have missed: The growth of the country's 100-plus age group is impressive; it has increased by 44 percent since 2000. There are currently about 92,000 centenarians in the U.S., 80 percent of whom are women.

Reaching the ripe old age of 100 was unthinkable for our parents, and it still may be out of reach for many Boomers. But hitting the century mark is not out of the question, even for us. We don't have direct control over that chronological achievement -- as much as 40 to 50 percent of longevity is due to genetic factors, according to Dr. Thomas Perls, professor of medicine and geriatrics at Boston University School of Medicine, as quoted in The New York Times. Perls said about one in 5,000 Americans are likely to make it to 100 years of age.

Still, whether we reach 100 or not, most of us are living much longer than previous generations, and that mans we need to look at life differently. Consultant Mitch Anthony, author of "Life Centered Financial Planning," told John Wasik of The Times there are three important questions we need to answer: "What do you want out of life, what gives you joy, and how do you pay for it?"

Research suggests that having a sense of purpose, finding personal happiness, and remaining active and vital all contribute to living a longer life. Still, two of the biggest challenges as we age are health and money. A majority of Boomers think they want to "age in place" -- a nice thought, but certainly more difficult as the aging process progresses. In addition, failing health almost inevitably is associated with aging. Dr. Perls offers "TheLivingTo100" calculator to assess potential longevity based on forty health and lifestyle factors.

As for money, well, even those of us who have wisely engaged a financial planner may be surprised to learn that we could quite possibly outlive our nest egg. James Brewer, a certified financial planner with Envision Wealth Planning in Chicago, told The Times, "A lot can happen over ten decades, especially over the last three. It's important to review your wealth-transfer and personal wishes annually." Obviously, any financial plan should include not just an annual review but a periodic projection of how long your money might be expected to last. It's best to know about potential shortfalls early enough so you can take corrective action.

One thing we can all be confident of: Living until or even past 100 is becoming more and more possible every day. We can also be pretty sure that turning 100 is not for sissies!

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The Healthy Boomer Brain

Musings Jesse-martini-Iod3vdjKE1E-unsplashAn estimated 6.2 million Americans age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer's dimentia, according to the Alzheimer's Association. One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer's or another dimentia. Between 2000 and 2019, deaths due to Alzheimer's more than doubled, increasing 145 percent. There was a 16 percent increase in deaths from Alzheimer's in 2020 over the previous five years; the COVID-19 pandemic is believed to be at least partially responsible for the increase.

As sobering as these statistics are, they represent the most serious aspects of brain deterioration during aging. The fact is that millions of Boomers may suffer from other conditions that affect the brain. For example, 10 to 20 percent of those older than 65 are diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). The Mayo Clinic describes MCI as "the stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia. It's characterized by problems with memory, language, thinking or judgment." MCI911.com is an excellent website started by a physician that offers a wealth of authoritative information about Mild Cognitive Impairment, including research and helpful resources.

The world of science is studying brain decline, and online tools are now becoming available to assess brain health. One example is the new Synaptitude Brain Health Lifestyle Assessment, developed by a Canadian team led by Dr. Max Cynader, founding director of the Djavad Mowafagian Center for Brain Health in British Columbia. This assessment evaluates brain health by asking questions in five areas: sleep, exercise, stress, nutrition and cognition. Synaptitude uses the assessment to determine if individuals can benefit from its "Brain Fitness" program.

As indicated above, a healthy brain is directly related to lifestyle factors. Experts recommend that brains be "exercised" just like bodies. Lots of information about improving brain health is available through various sources that address Boomer issues, such as AARP (https://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/), NextAvenue (https://www.nextavenue.org/best-way-improve-brain-health/) and the American Federation for Aging Research (https://www.afar.org/news/grantee-in-the-news-kristine-yaffe-on-lifestyle-tips-to-enhance-brain-healt).

Boomers need to be hyper-aware of maintaining a healthy brain, especially in stressful times like these. The brain is, after all, the most valuable asset we have.

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When It Comes to Hiring Boomers, Some Employers "Get It"

Krakenimages-8RXmc8pLX_I-unsplash OntheClockThere's a slowly growing phenomenon in the American workplace that represents some optimism for Boomers who want to keep working. While the pandemic has turned the workplace upside down for Boomers as well as other workers, some employers not only see the wisdom in retaining Boomer employees, they actually recruit them.

It is heartening to see journalists and job search sites reinforce this notion. In a recent article on Entrepreneur.com, for example, journalist John Boitnott (who appears to be younger than a Boomer) cites "5 Advantages Older Workers Have Over Other Job Candidates." Among the advantages Boitnott lists: "There's wisdom in experience," "They help create long-term organizational knowledge at your company," and "They're more technology-savvy than you think." Similarly, for recruitment service Recruiterbox, outreach manager Erin Engstrom positions hiring Boomers as increasing diversity. She writes, "When you hear 'hiring for diversity,' you likely think about efforts to hire more female employees, or members of underrepresented minority groups. Another important way to diversify your team, though, is through age." Engstrom offers "6 Reasons Baby Boomers are Great for Business" and discusses each in detail: Experience, Leadership, A Different Perspective, Credibility, Interpersonal Skills and Adaptability.

Granted, it remains a reality that Boomer workers are often discriminated against because of age, and that some employers are only too happy to dump a higher salaried Boomer during a downsizing. Still, enlightened employers recognize the value of the Boomer worker. Such efforts are boosted by initiatives like the "AARP Employer Pledge Program," which encourages employers to "stand with AARP in affirming the value of experienced workers." A list of over 1,000 Boomer-friendly companies who have signed the pledge can be found at https://www.aarp.org/work/job-search/employer-pledge-companies/ Increasingly, there are also other lists of companies that welcome Boomer workers, such as FORTUNE magazine's "20 Best Workplaces for Baby Boomers." We haven't yet reached the point at which every employer values and respects Boomer workers but we're slowly making progress.

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Your "Second Act"

OnaWhim Hands-1345059_1920One of the more popular phrases around the retirement circuit is "second act." It's a euphemistic way of acknowledging that an individual, typically a Boomer, is leaving a profession, career or long-standing job to embark on a new path. That new path may be entering an entirely different career, starting a business, volunteering for an organization or some combination thereof. Sometimes, a second act happens by choice, but it often occurs when an individual loses his or her job and the curtain involuntarily comes down. Sadly, ageism plays a leading role in such instances.

The pandemic has hit Boomers particularly hard. According to Bloomberg, some two million workers age 55 and older have left the workforce since March 2020. While about 2.7 million jobs have been created for workers under the age of 55 since August 2020, only 28,000 jobs were created for workers over 55 during the same period.

That's one of the reasons second acts are increasingly common right now among Boomers. Many times it is your second act that imbues you with a new passion, invigorating you with vitality that may have been waning in your first act. For over two years, Andy Levine has been cataloging second acts through his podcast, "Second Act Stories." By analyzing the stories of his guests, Levine has identified five "themes of successful second act entrepreneurs" that are worthy of mention:

  1. "Find what feeds you"
  2. "A successful second act is rarely a straight line"
  3. "There are planners and there are leapers"
  4. "The rise of the reluctant-preneur"
  5. "You're never too old to make a change."

I highly recommend you read Levine's article about these themes at NextAvenue.org, but for purposes of this post, I'd like to concentrate on the first and last of his themes.

The first theme, "Find what feeds you," gets to the heart of what drives a second act. Not surprisingly, writes Levine, those second acts that achieve the most success "involve finding meaning and purpose." What's striking about a second act is it may involve a radical departure from a person's previous path. Often, a second act is built around a childhood passion or hobby. For example, one former software executive I know was creative and liked working with his hands. After he spent his first career on the corporate side, he learned to become a wood sculptor for his second act.

The last theme, "You're never too old to make a change," is perhaps the most obvious theme, but it is an important one. This theme reinforces the reality that age is nothing more than a state of mind. There are countless stories of people in their 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s beginning a second act.

You'll be well on your way to a satisfying second act if you embrace your passion and disregard your age.

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The Boomer's Gift: Giving Back

OntheHouse United-nations-covid-19-response-g4z85Zc-ZqI-unsplashAmerican poet Louis Ginsberg wrote, "The only things we ever keep, Are what we give away." I've always liked this quote because I think it suggests that giving back can do so much for the giver. It also reminds me that older Boomers who have left the traditional workforce have the gift of time -- a gift they can use, if they so choose, to give back. Those Boomers who have been fortunate enough to accumulate wealth, no matter how modest, might also choose to give back financially.

Not all Boomers are in a position to give back right now. The pandemic may have created a difficult health or financial situation that precludes generosity. For others, however, this is a time when Boomers recognize that the world is hurting and needs our help. Look around in your own community and you may see the ravages of the pandemic in food bank lines, closed schools and homelessness. If ever there was a time to give back, this is it.

For Boomers, "giving back" is also a way of showing gratitude for what we have accomplished in life. It could mean adopting a cause we feel passionate about, helping others less fortunate than us, getting involved with an alma mater, or doing something else for the good of society. Personally, I think the "what" is less important than the "why."

There are so many ways to give back that it may actually be somewhat intimidating. I think this article, "How to Help Make the World a Better Place This Year" from the Eblin Group is a good place to start. It does an excellent job of outlining some of the strategies for making a difference in your life, including picking a cause and leveraging what you have to offer.

There are those who believe the Boomer generation is defined by selfishness, but I believe the opposite is true. I think we are a generation that indisputably created positive change in our society, particularly through protesting against an unjust war, advocating for racial and gender equality and pursuing environmental justice. That passion remains with many of us today. Today, plenty of Boomers exhibit kindness to others and give back in any number of ways small and large -- through financial donations, volunteering, mentoring and more. Giving back is truly the Boomer's gift to society and the world.

Image: Kindness Contagion. Image created by Adam Niklewicz. Submitted for United Nations Global Call Out To Creatives - help stop the spread of COVID-19.

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Is It Wise for a Boomer to Start a Business Now?

Danielle-macinnes-IuLgi9PWETU-unsplash OnYourOwnIn my previous post, I noted that the number of Boomers who retired in 2020 dramatically increased. I also indicated that pandemic-related job losses, as well as ageism, contributed to many more Boomers leaving the workforce in 2020. These factors suggest that the U.S. job market won't be a particularly good one for Boomers this year.

At the same time, however, the U.S. Census Bureau is reporting a significant uptick in new business applications. For example, for the week ending October 3, 2020 -- while the pandemic continued to rage around the U.S. -- there was an increase in new business applications of 40 percent over the same period in 2019.

It turns out that Boomers play a major role in small business growth. According to Guidant Financial, a firm providing small business financing and a founding member of the Small Business Trends Alliance, "Boomers make up 41 percent of small business or franchise owners, second only to GenX at 44 percent." Even more encouraging, "Seventy-eight percent of boomer businesses are profitable, making them the most profitable age group of small business or franchise owners." Despite the current difficult economic and political environment, Guidant Financial found that 60 percent of Boomer business owners were "somewhat confident" or "very confident" about small business.

So is it wise to start a business now? As a Boomer, you are uniquely positioned to have a strong chance of success. Most Boomers bring a wealth of solid experience, in addition to maturity, to opening their own businesses. Just as important, many Boomers already have the kind of professional network that would serve them well as a "Boomer-preneur." In the marketing world, it is well known that companies who market their products and services during an economic downturn tend to come out of the downturn even stronger. The same could be said about entrepreneurs who start businesses during tough times.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce offers three reasons for starting a business now:

  1. "Bootstrapping know-how" - "When a downturn hits, savvy business owners learn how to bootstrap to survive. ...The bootstrap mentality -- a mixture of frugality, innovation and agility -- can be crucial not only in the startup stage but also as your business grows."
  2. "Business model changes" - "Across all industries, patience, ingenuity and adaptability were the ingredients needed for business survival and these new norms are here to stay. This is good news for startups."
  3. "Time of innovation" - "...smart business owners understand success depends on the ability to adapt to constantly changing consumer needs. Startups have the means to step in where big companies cannot necessarily fill the gaps (think food delivery services). After all, innovation is just problem-solving at its root and who better to problem solve than an entrepreneur bursting with new ideas."

The question of whether or not to start a business demands serious consideration. Obviously there are risks as well as rewards, and not everyone is suited to business ownership. But more than enough evidence exists for Boomers to feel confident that this may actually be an ideal time to start a business.

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