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Stereotypes: The Number One Threat to Talent Development

Gen Y have an unjustified sense of entitlement and are over-confident. They expect to leap from entry-level employment to senior management in no time flat. They are so engaged with technology that they can’t communicate face-to-face and social media and gaming dominate their lives, to the extent they can’t be trusted with internet access in the workplace. Yeah, right!

These stereotypes are about as accurate as older workers being a health risk, unable to learn and afraid of technology; women being emotional, unreliable (due to their fertility) and not aspiring to leadership roles; and the plethora of myths about minority groups and disabled people!

The difference is, while modern research has shone light on misguided beliefs and reduced any excuse for discrimination based on gender or race, demonstrating that talent is not a factor of sex or colour, popular literature has done the opposite when it comes to “Gen Y”, “Gen X” and “Baby Boomers”. Browse any business bookshop or use a search engine online and you’ll find any number of titles that promote ideas of generational differences that beguile the imagination.

That’s why the Australian Institute of Management (AIM), in its discussion paper Beyond Belief: The Management Reality of Generational Thinking examines the most popular stereotypes. It notes:

“A veritable industry has been built around the supposed generation clash, enthusiastically offering solutions to the very discontent and disconnection that it creates”

AIM is concerned that poor management practices, fostered by popular but unfounded views on generational differences and “Gen Y” stereotyping, is detrimental to the development of young leaders on whom our future depends.

The authoritative, research-based discussion paper systematically takes apart the Gen Y stereotypes and recommends that:

“… the development of young managers should instead leverage the qualities and capabilities of the individual.”

What if this principle were applied across the board rather than just to young talent? What if development strategy deliberately ignored age entirely? If it were blind to stereotypes based on age, gender or race? What if talent development had one aim: to “leverage the qualities and capabilities of the individual”?

Think about a fifty year-old woman, as just one example. She eased back in her career while kids were young but now they’re older and independent, so she’s free to hit the fast track. She has a wealth of experience, a ton of untapped talent and fifteen or twenty working years available – if you can keep her interested, help her find her strengths and develop her potential.

Chances are – even if you happen to be a fifty plus woman, like me – there might be some lingering doubts, based on stereotypical myths or fears. It is these beliefs that get in the way of talent development. How many people in your organization have hidden talent, ripe for development? How many are under-rated because of assumptions or beliefs based on stereotypes?

Mentoring is one of the best ways to leverage the qualities and capabilities of the individual because it is the most personalized, flexible and cost-effective method of development. But the number one threat to talent development is stereotypes and we have to see past them to ensure mentoring works.

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About Ann Rolfe

Ann Rolfe is internationally recognised as Australia's leading specialist in mentoring, and is available for speaking, training and consulting. Here Ann shares her knowledge and allows you to ask your most pressing questions about mentoring.

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