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We have a business and social imperative to transform equity, inclusion and social justice

Image: Sandra Blaser

Jo Ann Jenkins
Chief Executive Officer, AARP
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This article is part of: The Jobs Reset Summit

At AARP, we are deeply concerned about the disparities that exist in our society—in healthcare, economic opportunity and quality of life. We fight against ageism, racism and gender inequality because we believe all people should be empowered to choose how they live as they age. These disparities are not random, but instead are the result of a long history of inequality due to a lack of social, economic and political opportunities.

Global crises like COVID-19 have a way of shining a spotlight on our social shortcomings. Here in the U.S., COVID-19 has disproportionately affected communities where, historically, there has been less opportunity. Not only are Blacks and Latinos being hospitalized and dying at higher rates due to COVID-19, but we are also witnessing increasing incidents of racial violence.

This pandemic is forcing all of us not only to address immediate needs but also to think about the longer-term solutions that will help us all live and age better in the future, lessening the impact of future crises. It has also given us the time and space to rethink who we are, to try something new and to reimagine our future.

This is especially true when it comes to work. Because of the pandemic, business leaders now are rapidly adopting telework, flexible work, caregiving and sick leave policies once thought to be onerous and costly, launching us into a new, grand experiment on the future of work.

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Last year, the Business Roundtable, an association of chief executive officers in the US, recognized the role business must play to ensure that every person can fully realize opportunity and justice in America by issuing their new “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation.”

It stated that businesses have a broader purpose that goes beyond “maximizing shareholder value” and “maximizing profits.” They must also “foster diversity and inclusion, dignity and respect.” They recently followed that up with a set of recommendations focused on addressing the economic opportunity gap, including disparities in access to good jobs, financial resources and quality education and healthcare.

I applaud the Business Roundtable for putting diversity front and center as a business goal. It shows that America’s largest companies recognize that the world is becoming more diverse and that advancing inclusion is in their best interest both socially and economically. It’s the right thing to do. It by no means guarantees they will make progress, but it is a prerequisite for it.

Transforming equity, inclusion and social injustice is not only a social imperative, it is a business imperative. In the U.S., for example, we are evolving into a multifaceted, multicultural society. By 2030, racial and ethnic minorities will be 42 percent of the US population, and one in five Americans age 65-plus will be Hispanic.

One of the best ways to serve a diverse market is to have diverse employees. To meet this challenge, companies should create a diverse and inclusive talent strategy that develops all employees’ critical digital and cognitive capabilities, their social and emotional skills, and their adaptability and resilience.


At AARP, diversity and inclusion is not just a part of our business strategy, it is our business strategy. It’s embedded in our public policy, our HR policy, and our organizational strategy. Everything we do must include diversity, inclusion, and serving the low-income vulnerable.

As an organization whose purpose is to empower people to choose how they live as they age, one area we’re focused on is helping businesses create a multigenerational workforce.

That’s why we established The AARP Employer Pledge Program to engage a nationwide group of employers that stand with AARP in affirming the value of experienced workers. By signing the pledge, they are committing to developing diverse organizations. So far, more than 1,000 companies have signed the pledge.

Our recent global employer survey of roughly 6,000 employers across 36 OECD nations found that 83 percent of global executives recognize that a multigenerational workforce is key to business growth and success.

Yet, 53 percent of the global executives we surveyed do not include age in a Diversity & Inclusion policy. So, it’s clear there is much more work to be done to embrace an age-diverse workforce.

In 2019, we joined with World Economic Forum and OECD to establish a learning collaborative—called Living, Learning and Earning Longer—to identify and share workforce best practices for building, supporting and sustaining a multigenerational workforce in this age of increased longevity. We will release our conclusions in mid-December in an OECD report and in a digital learning platform that will help all interested executives build their organization’s capacity to build and get the most out of a multigenerational workforce.

I believe that great leaders will emerge from creating workspaces where diverse voices thrive and are provided the opportunity to be taken seriously from the outset. It is incumbent on all of us as leaders to carve out those spaces and to build a pipeline that draws on talent representative of the world we live in.

We will eventually get past this pandemic and business will be back on track. When that day comes, businesses will benefit from having a workforce that is representative of the consumer at-large that understands their needs, desires and pain points­­—in other words, a multicultural, multigenerational workforce that promotes equity, inclusion and social justice for all.

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World Economic Forum

May 21, 2024

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