​DMCG Global is back with its 'Builders and Breakers’ interview series.

Through these interviews, the team interviews industry leaders who are breaking down traditional barriers, changing the rules and building new pathways. Innovating, implementing change and inspiring others to do the same.

DMCG Global caught up with Charlotte Japp, former senior creative at VICE and now founder of CIRKEL, an intergenerational platform for professionals of all ages to network, learn and connect.

With age inclusion an important part of the diversity and inclusion conversation and ageism an issue, not just in the creative world, but across all industries, the team were keen to learn more about how CIRKEL is providing a solution. Plus, Charlotte shares her advice on what we can do to tackle the important issue of ageism in the workplace.

Q > Hi Charlotte, thank you for taking part in this interview. Please could you tell us about yourself and your own professional background within the creative industry?

Charlotte > Thank you for inviting me to share my story! I’ve always been drawn to creative media in different industries. When I was in college, I worked on the university radio station, interned at art auction houses as well as cultural magazines, and I was also very interested in cinema and film-making. This crazy combination of interests brought me to my first job at VICE Media, where much of youth culture in the 2010's was being publicised. With influence from my dad who had a creative advertising background, I got my start as a junior creative, working on the team that came up with ideas for new brand partnerships. I got to read briefs, develop creative proposals, pitch to marketing executives, and eventually oversee the creative direction when these videos were being produced. It was an exhilarating start to my career, and I still owe a lot of how I think and look at brands to that time at VICE.

Q > When did you first realise that ageism was affecting people in their careers and the workplace?

Charlotte > I was only five or six years old when my dad got laid off from an advertising agency and couldn’t get hired at another agency. He was only in his late forties at the time, but the resentment of not being “let back in” to advertising stayed with him and transferred to me. The same thing happened to my mom years later when I was older, and I saw very clearly how the loss of a job was like a loss of identity. She started a business as well.

Ageism with a capital 'A' only dawned on me when I was working at VICE and didn’t see anyone my parents’ age at the office. I revelled in the young atmosphere at first, but I realised that my peers and I were hungry for more formal training and mentorship. At the same time, I was living at home with my parents and saw how the bubble they worked in without a traditional office or younger colleagues meant they were lacking some necessary skills for their own career advancement. I could see first-hand how age segregation was taking a toll on workers’ professional opportunities.

Q > What are the issues associated with not properly addressing and understanding this dimension of diversity?

Charlotte > A lot of age bias is subconscious. Just like we typically gravitate towards people from the same gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background, we also gravitate towards people in the room who look to be the same age as us.

There are so many consequences of age discrimination it’s hard to name them all. For workers who are employed by employers who only hire millennials or Gen-Zs for example, it deprives those employees from learning new skills that other generations bring.

Sometimes a company has three or more generations of workers but is not adequately providing ways for them to connect with each other. The problem here is that employees may not know how to communicate effectively with each other, leading to a lack of trust or tension between workers who could be helpful to each other.

Unfortunately, when we only hang out with people in the same age bracket, we miss out on all the knowledge, skills, experiences, that come from other generations. Knowledge trapped in age silos goes to waste.

Ageist hiring practices are a big driver for creating mono-generational workplaces. The reality is that as we live longer, we’ll see more people taking breaks in their career. Professionals are going back for additional degrees, taking time to spend with their families or take care of kids or parents, or just general sabbaticals. We need to create more inclusive hiring practices that understand these lapses and support candidates as they re-enter the workforce.

Q > Could you tell us a little more about CIRKEL and how your company helps to improve age inclusivity in the workplace?

Charlotte > I started CIRKEL to support career longevity, specifically by connecting younger professionals at the start of their careers with older workers who are moving through midlife and finding challenges in staying competitive in their careers.

We have a program for companies that is a unique blend of mentorship, learning & development, and DEI. The way the program works is by making relevant introductions between colleagues from different age groups. These colleagues could be from different departments, job functions, or even offices, essentially connecting those who should meet but would normally not cross paths.

CIRKEL’s method creates a sense of belonging and meaning for all participants, introducing each pair so all employees shine. The goal of each introduction is to exchange skills (hard skills like tech or soft skills like leadership). By leveraging internal talent, companies can strengthen their output, productivity, and even happiness among workers who may not feel particularly connected to each other or their company – especially during Covid-induced remote work.

Q > How does intergenerational networking work and what are the benefits for those who get involved?

Charlotte > Intergenerational networking is when there is a concerted effort to make relevant introductions between professionals from different generations. Imagine a Baby Boomer who worked in the advertising industry for thirty years being introduced to a Millennial Social Media Manager. Their experiences overlap in industry, but their experiences and skill sets are different. There’s a lot that the ad-land veteran could teach the newbie in terms of understanding the big picture of the industry or skills like creative thinking for business objectives. On the reverse, the Social Media Manager would also have a lot to offer the Boomer to keep them more relevant in the industry, like understanding the differences between social platforms and explaining what makes a trend go viral.

While in its simplest format, intergenerational networking is similar to regular networking, there’s an added emphasis on learning. These aren’t just random chats, but rather smart matches where stories, perspectives, and skills are exchanged.

Q > How has CIRKEL adapted to the challenges presented this year by Covid-19 and many of us switching to remote working?

Charlotte > CIRKEL began as a New York-focused events and networking platform. All of our introductions met in person at cafes and restaurants in New York. After Covid-19 hit, we pivoted to a virtual model and opened up access to people all over the world.

2020 has been a time of isolation in all facets of our lives: personal and professional. Virtual connections have thus become more important than ever. Many of our CIRKEL introductions span professional and personal in the way these individuals connect, so it’s been a powerful tool for connecting people in meaningful ways when they need it most.

Q > Do you have any advice for Talent and HR Managers who wish to better address age inclusivity within their organisations?

Charlotte > There are a few questions Talent and HR Managers should ask themselves when diagnosing their company from an age perspective:

1) Is this company age-diverse?

If there are five generations in the workforce today, you should be ensuring that different generations are represented at your company. According to a Pew Research study completed in 2015 about 5% of the labor force is Gen-Z, 35% is millennial, 33% is Gen-X, 35% is boomer, and 2% is silent generation. Different generations bring different and complementary skills to the table. It’s also important to consider your company’s audience or consumers. For example, if you’re building products for a 50+ consumer, you need to have people building that product who understand and empathise with the demographic.

2) If your company is multi-generational, are there systems in place that facilitate connections between them?

As we know, it’s not just about the diversity of a workforce, but how they are included. Working with organisations like CIRKEL can allow you to make meaningful connections between disparate employee groups, so that everyone feels that they belong and have valuable knowledge to contribute.

3) Are you investing the same amount of resources to support the careers of employees of all ages?

McKinsey Data shows us that skills are constantly in flux for coming workplace demands. With people living longer, we will all be working longer. Companies often allocate learning and development resources to the youngest employees, however employees of all ages will need to re-skill and adapt for coming automations and industry evolutions.

Q > Finally, what is it that you love most about what you do, and what are your hopes for the future when it comes to addressing this important aspect of diversity and inclusion?

Charlotte > CIRKEL magic! My team talks about our method for making intergenerational connections as 'CIRKEL magic', because there really is joy when we pair people outside their age bubbles. We feel the joy of connecting people, and we also see the joy that individuals have when they meet someone new with a fascinating story to share.

We want to bring this special experience of learning new things and gaining new perspectives to as many people as possible. Our goal now is to bring intergenerational networking to internal teams at corporations and help design more age-inclusive workplaces as we move towards a more innovative future of work.