Age Diversity and the Value of Two-Way Mentorship

The boardroom disconnect between those with years of career experience under their belts and those starting out is more prominent than ever before, yet, the implications this has for businesses, politics, and society remain unaddressed. 20:40 members congregated recently to suggest ways to improve communication, with the end goal to ultimately bridge this gap.

Here Ali Lyons, Co-Founder of 20:40 and Head of Operations at Kene Partners, discusses the significance of having a variety of ages on the board, the advantage of two-way mentorship and how businesses can begin to bridge the generational communication gap.

Re-categorising generation Y

Stereotypes about millennials remain in society, such as how they are disinclined to work hard. Labelling the youthful generation as ‘lazy’ can be difficult to comprehend when nowadays, it’s tougher than ever to meet entry standards for top tier universities. Additionally, students are often then required to carry out months of unpaid voluntary work to gain the necessary experience before entering full-time roles. The standards for success are at the highest they’ve ever been, therefore, to achieve it, aspiring millennials are having to put in a huge amount of work and determination.

Much criticism appears to hinge on the fact that millennials want fast progression, to be noticed for their work, and contribute towards business growth and opportunities. Growing up having to meet higher living and working standards, the younger generation are typically less willing to compromise their sense of self for corporate goals. They have a demand for better working merit, taking more care about who they work for, and how that fits into their personal development. Rather than seeing this as negative, should we not strive for each generation to have better living and working standards than the last?

The older generations typically dominate the role of senior leadership, yet this has created cause for concern as businesses struggle to attract, keep and drive their younger staff. At the 20:40 meeting, two suggestions were made to reduce this communication gap. The first is to broaden age diversity in the boardroom; the second is to implement shared mentorship and guidance between employees of all ages.

Two-way guidance

By sharing ideas and guiding one another, mentorship is an idea businesses can implement to bridge the generational divide and to improve communication between both parties.

Typically, older mentors are the ones who share professional insight and experience to their juniors, however, in this model, the younger generation’s input is viewed as just as important with equal value and status to bring forward. Both the younger and the older generation can gain influential insight from one another’s knowledge and input to benefit the organisation long-term.

Generational language differences are central to bridging the communication divide. Generation Y are digital natives and have a unique way of referring to and utilising technology which does not come naturally to those unfamiliar with new technology. As the older generation may not be as competent in this area, there is room for them to gain valuable insight and knowledge from their younger colleagues.

In our digitalised society offering 24-7 platforms, employees are easily contactable out of hours. In the past, there was a boundary between work and home life, yet in our digitalised society offering 24-7 contact, employees are easily contactable out of hours. We are increasingly seeing work and life ‘integration’, which means checking emails in bed and always being ‘on call,’ while enjoying greater professional independence and freedom.


By learning from one another, approaches which address the intergenerational communication gap must offer equal weight to each generation’s perspective. Maximum value stems from listening to the years of experience gained by older generations, as well as understanding the new insight that drives millennials.

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