There has been a subtle and growing shift in the workplace over the past decade. Today, young professionals are making their mark and carving out prominent places for themselves in various industries. Evolving from what was once considered a disadvantage, young professionals are using their age to push corporate boundaries. From work-life balance to company culture, more leadership roles are offered to drive these changes.

Workplace diversity is a hot topic these days, but much of the conversations tend to focus on adding equality through gender and ethnicity. While these types of workplace diversification are extremely important, age diversity is another equally important piece in achieving parity in the workplace.

Recently appointed as the Young Professionals Committee’s Co-Deputy Chair for the Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA) SA, Hayley Edwards is a highly skilled Urban Designer, Master Planner and Graduate Landscape Architect.

At just 26, Hayley has received two scholarships, won various design competitions and worked on projects which are monumental to Australia, including Charles Darwin University, Subiaco East Redevelopment, Wagga Wagga Health and Knowledge Precinct, Queanbeyan CBD Master Plan and SA Future Submarines Project. Hayley is no stranger to success and says that opportunities are expanding more and more for today’s young professionals.

Hayley is from rural Australia, “I don’t own designer suits or funky glasses, I’m not tall or male, I wear RM Williams boots, and I look young,” she responds when asked on the perceptions of an urban designer. “Every time I introduce myself, I have to push through the initial assumptions.”

Statistics show men feel strongly that their work makes a difference, while female architects feel recognised for working hard, rather than for the work itself. “I can relate,” Hayley begins. “Being a young woman with limited options for female mentorship from women in senior positions places more pressure on us to work harder, work faster and work longer than our male colleagues.” Hayley says without women in senior positions to guide her and share their experiences, she feels restricted in the progression of her career as a young professional and less supported and valued within the industry.

Hayley says ageism is the one discriminatory practice that people are least afraid to practise openly. “You’re much more likely to hear someone say a potential candidate is ‘too old’ or ‘too young’ for the job than ‘not the right gender’ or ‘not the right race,” she claims. It’s evident from these conversations that the idea of older workers deserving more respect because they are presumably more mature and wiser is outdated. “As far as I’m concerned, experiences do not necessarily make you wiser, so respect everyone, because you might be letting irreplaceable talent walk out the door,” comments Hayley.

There is also the assumption (by some) that a young professional is less intelligent or capable of doing their job than an older colleague. Hayley challenges, “I am in this job for the same reason you are, and my age doesn’t mean that I can’t do it just as well as you can.”

The young professional moved 300km away from home to a new city to start her job in Adelaide. “Any qualms (they) had about my age disappear around this point because I’m fully supporting myself on an entry-level salary while back-paying student loans,” says Hayley.

On the benefits of being a young professional, Hayley says there is nowhere to go but up. “There are so many opportunities for professional growth at Hames Sharley because it is a multi-disciplinary company with studios all over Australia.”

And while it’s true that more and more opportunities are expanding for today’s young professionals, that doesn’t mean it is getting any easier for those to gain respect in the office. There are a few common myths about millennials in the workplace. That they want a pat on the back every time they do something right, that they are digital addicts, and that they are not loyal to employers.

However, in 2015, an IBM study found that millennials value workplaces that are ethical and that they prefer to learn new skills offline. Hayley says being appointed as the Co-Deputy Chair will allow her to become more involved in UDIA’s engagement with the Federal Government on issues critical to the property industry such as spanning tax, population, infrastructure, land use planning and beyond.

“I also engage with the young professional committee members to guide them and facilitate dynamic and uniquely prosperous relationships within the industry.” Hayley explains that this contributes to their career trajectories and supports their personal growth as a young professional. “For those taking their first steps into the corporate world or trying to move up the ladder, it can be hard to prove their worth when surrounded by older and more experienced professionals.”

It is evident through conversations with Hayley that being a young professional doesn’t mean you’re any less capable of doing your job. And in promoting #EachforEqual, we must remember to think more broadly about how the profession, and society, can work together to achieve more balance, not just in terms of gender, but for all ages too.

Almost a third of Australians perceived some form of age-related discrimination while employed or looking for work a 2018 survey with The Conversation reported. The national survey interviewed 2,100 men and women aged 45 years and over and found the most form of perceived discrimination was negative assumptions about older workers’ skills, learning abilities or cognition.

Beyond the moral and ethical issues of how both younger and older employees are treated, everyone brings with them a range of beneficial characteristics which are unique to the workforce. Hayley believes the best way to tackle work-related ageism is to address negative perceptions regarding the competency of workers.

“The introduction and reinforcement of policies supporting diversity in the workplace is another important step forward in achieving a truly equal and enabled world,” Hayley says. Fighting and challenging age-related stereotypes and perceptions all assist in improving both society and the workplace to be more diverse, equal, and enabled.

Valuing diversity allows businesses like Hames Sharley to deliver and connect with a wide range of people and engage with employees by allowing different ideas, suggestions and solutions to the workplace. Embracing age diversity recognises the value of individual differences and positively embraces, harnesses and supports qualities to achieve organisational and individual benefits.

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