Ageism in Procurement? What exactly is going on?

Jon Hansen

Ageism?!? Really!

In today’s world, there seems to be an “ism” for everything, and along with it yet another opportunity to take offense and get one’s nose out of joint.

Now I am not saying that there isn’t at least some degree of legitimacy regarding cases of discrimination. However, far too often, I have found that such legitimacy is more about anecdotal osmosis than factual research.

For example, there is little argument that there is a gender divide not only in procurement but spanning all sectors regarding pay equality.

But ageism in procurement? Let’s examine this subject a little closer.

Attitude Versus Age  

According to an April 2018 Globe and Mail article, which referred to a study by Spherion, approximately 25 percent of employees judge their co-workers’ and supervisors’ “abilities to do their job based on their age alone.” Among Millennials, that number rose to 39 percent.

However, do these same numbers apply to those working in procurement?

Consider the results from a series of Procurement Insights surveys asking procurement professionals, “If you had it to do all over again, would you choose procurement as your profession?”

Fifty percent said no, they would not choose procurement as a profession. While the 50 percent figure is surprising, the fact that there was an equal level of discontentment among long-time employees, and employees who were new to the workforce is noteworthy.

I think this is a significant result because it may demonstrate that while ageism is a factor in many businesses, it may not be the case with procurement. Millennials, through to Boomers, cited the same reasons for their discontent with their procurement career choice means that we all see eye-to-eye on at least a few of the important issues. It is a start!

Generational Symbiosis

The paper, Digital Transformation in Procurement: An Examination of Cultural Influences on The Successful Implementation of a Digital Strategy, provides some interesting numbers. Depending on the source and age breakdown, there are “either four or five different generations that are simultaneously employed within the same organization today.”

The fact that there are obvious complexities in managing such a diverse workforce goes without saying. However, it is worth noting that the differences between each generation may not be as vast as initially thought.

Let’s take a closer look at technology. There is an assumption that Millennials prefer using technology as a primary means of communication. What may be surprising to some is that they put a great deal of value on in-person social interaction with their peers – especially when it comes to learning. In this regard, connecting with their older co-workers from whose experience and knowledge they can benefit, is likely to be easier.

It is through interactions such as these that common ground of mutual respect and learning can develop and grow.

A Two-Way Street

When it comes to ageism in the workplace, it would be wise to remember that generational disconnect is a two-way street that goes back centuries – just ask Socrates what he thought of the younger generation.

That being said, it is safe to say that we all have something that we can learn from each other not only in procurement but the workplace in general. Regardless of age or sex, or whatever other “ism” differences there may be, there is always common ground.