Charlotte Japp Gets Older and Younger Professionals to Network Together
This millennial founded CIRKEL so all ages would share their knowledge
Charlotte Japp, the 30-year-old founder of the uplifting CIRKEL community platform for intergenerational networking, drew inspiration for it from what happened to her parents.
"Growing up, I saw both of my parents get aged out of their careers and pretty much get forced to pivot and start their own businesses," she recalls. "So, for me, it seemed normal that after you hit a certain age, you just worked for yourself in this age bubble, or silo, at home."
That didn't seem right to Japp, who was recently named one of the nonprofit Encore.org's 2020 Gen2Gen Innovation Fellows. Through CIRKEL (the Danish word for circle, since workers need to close the intergenerational loop), Japp is helping older and younger people to network with each other, one generation assisting the other.
Next Avenue: What made you get interested in intergenerational mentoring?
Charlotte Japp: It was a personal revelation when I started working for the first time after college [at the media company, Vice]. I saw how age-segregated our world is, but more specifically how age segregated our work lives are.
I said to myself, 'There's no one around here who's more than ten or fifteen years older than me. That's not just weird because we all look kind of the same, but it's also weird because there's no one here to guide me in this really foundational moment in my career.'
So, I thought: Is that really so crazy to have someone in your life who's older than you, who can give you guidance?
My parents ended up being that for me, they gave me a lot of ideas and a lot of kind of coaching about navigating your first job — my first office experience. And I was giving them a lot of tips and tricks and intel from my life working at this cutting-edge media company as well.
"Ageism is a huge issue and it pushes people out of the workplace before they're ready to retire or before they want to retire."
So, for me, it wasn't just that multigenerational workplaces need to be normalized and that mentorship should be more accessible. But that also mentoring needs to be a two-way street — and my parents needed that support and guidance in their careers, just like my friends and I did.
So, what did you decide to do about this?
I decided that I wanted to put something out there and see if people liked it. And that was the first CIRKEL event, in New York City, in June 2018.
I just wanted more spaces where there were people with different ideas, different experiences — life and work experiences — in a room and have a drink with them and see what happens. And it turned out that a lot of other people wanted those spaces, too.
And the first event was a hit. People wouldn't leave at the end of the night, they couldn't stop talking. And it was really refreshing. You know, it was just such a simple concept.
Tell me more about that first event. How did you do it? Who showed up? How did you find them?
I wanted to feature a woman that I looked up to who already had a successful career, but a career that evolved with the times. I thought that was really helpful to both younger professionals and older professionals. So, I tapped my best friend's mom, Diane di Costanzo, who is in her late fifties.
She's an editorial director at Meredith Corp. [a media giant that publishes magazines and websites] and has become way more digital. She talked about how the industry had changed and how she had to evolve with it. And so, she gave a presentation to a multigenerational audience from age twenty-one to late seventies.
People wanted to know what was next. They were like, sign me up for your newsletter and I didn't even have a newsletter. So I did more events from there.
What happened next with CIRKEL and where are you with it today?
For the next year, I continued to put on these events, each one focused on a different industry. We've done everything from tech to fashion. And I brought on a co-founder who had more of a finance brain. And we started working together on a problem — kind of a good problem — that we were seeing at the events. People of all ages and professional backgrounds turned up and they wanted to find the right people in the crowd to talk to.
So, we developed what is now CIRKEL Up, our member platform, to help people find relevant connections, people who are relevant to your next step, who can teach you that skill that you're missing out on or if you want to make a pivot into a new industry.
It was just in New York a year ago. People were getting matched over email; some people would meet up for coffee or a cocktail and have these one-on-one conversations that were so eye opening.
We've had CIRKEL Up going for a year and we're continuing to grow. And we went virtual with COVID. The blessing to that was we've been able to open up to global members. So, we have members in fifteen countries and all over the U. S. and it allows us to really find those overlaps, those kinds of people all over the world that you wouldn't normally cross paths with, across generations, that we think you need to connect with.
The meetups were only in person for about a little over six months. I miss those times, having a glass of wine with someone who has so much wisdom and great stories to share. Now, people say things like: 'Okay, well when we're back to normal, we're getting a drink in person if we're both in New York.'
I can understand how this is all really helpful for younger people. What's in it for the older people?
Ageism is a huge issue and it pushes people out of the workplace before they're ready to retire or before they want to retire. We're living longer and we need to work longer to fund that longer life. So, we're seeing a lot of people in midlife who are seeking a paycheck because they need to continue to work, but they're also looking for purpose. And sometimes the thing that they need is some mentoring of their own.
And it's amazing how someone who's younger than them can actually fill in any gaps that are needed for them to take on that next step in their career.
I really love how we're empowering longer careers, whether that's helping you set your foundation when you're younger or continuing to power your career as you're taking on a new stage in life later.
"Everyone has something that they can teach."
So, you're finding the mentoring is really helping the younger people and the older people in different ways.
We just had a multigenerational future of work conference and Chip Conley [a former Next Avenue Influencer in Aging] was one of our speakers. He's the perfect example of how we need to stay curious, to have that growth mindset and to be a mentor.
He started his own hospitality company at twenty-six and in his fifties started working with Airbnb's founders in the early days. He found that he was also an intern, because there were so many things that he had to learn about working in the tech world. So, he was teaching about hospitality and running a business and at the same time he was learning about how to ship new products. So, he's become a real figurehead for two-way mentoring. He wrote the book 'Wisdom at Work: The Making of a Modern Elder.'
Now you've also started an online learning service, Learn With CIRKEL. Tell me about that.
With COVID, this crazy time has opened up a lot of questions about what's next. If you got laid off, how are you going to equip yourself with the tools you need for the next job application? What is the game plan moving forward? And so, we noticed that a lot of our members want resources. They want inspiration.
And Learn With CIRKEL is a program where our members who are all very experienced in different ways, whether they're twenty-five or seventy-five, they all have skills they've accumulated over time.
And this is the platform for them to share that knowledge in a very short lesson.
So it's a virtual lesson where anyone anywhere in the world who's a member can experience it. Everyone has something that they can teach and the audience of other CIRKEL members can learn something.
What are they teaching?
The first lesson was about drawing, from one of our artist members.
Some lessons are more technical. I taught one about Squarespace [a website building and hosting company]. A lot of people use websites as a business card basically. So, if you want to sell a product or a service, you really need to have that online real estate.
We had one about Google Analytics, which can be very intimidating. We had one about personal branding, which I think was a big hit. That's pretty big these days.
What would you say you've learned about intergenerational mentoring since starting CIRKEL?
Sometimes it's a hit, sometimes it's a miss; mostly it's a hit thankfully. But sometimes, the younger person feels like they have to take a back seat and just listen and learn. And I actually have to remind people you're here for a reason; everyone has something that they could be learning or improving.
And sometimes you need to listen as much as you're speaking. That seems simple, but you have to say it over and over again to remind people how to approach a simple meeting when you're talking to someone from a different generation. So, we often encourage people to ask the question: 'How can I help you?' What are you dealing with right now that I could potentially offer some advice on?'
And what are you finding that older people are getting from younger people?
A lot of times, people who are over fifty work for themselves or as consultants or freelancers, and so they can sometimes feel a little out of the loop. These little tips and tricks that help people feel like any disadvantage that would be caused by their age can be smoothed over.
Any final thoughts?
Our lives are enriched by diversity, and that's a big topic right now. And age needs to be included in it.
Research shows that multigenerational teams perform better and are happier and more productive. But are all these generations doing their best work if they're not talking to each other, connecting and trusting each other? At CIRKEL, we're starting to talk to businesses, trying to bring all the magic that we've created to work world.
Two Questions for Our Influencers
If you could change one thing about aging in America, what would it be?
I would like to see an America where the more life and professional experience you have directly correlates to more career opportunities, not fewer. Unfortunately, over half of Americans over fifty years old get pushed out of their jobs before they choose to retire. If we're going to change that paradigm, we need to create more ways for older and younger professionals to connect and exchange their different, but equally valuable, knowledge.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your perspective on aging?
COVID-19 has not only been a public health crisis, but it has also been a period of immense racial and political tension. At a time when people of all ages had to self-isolate, it was also a time when people so deeply needed to come together. While I've always believed in the power of intergenerational connection, I was reminded how much networking can address so much more than just career development — it's good for our mental health and overall well-being for all ages. During the pandemic, I've connected with people ages eighteen to eighty-four and it's been clear that we all share so many vulnerabilities and fears that can be addressed when we have open, cross-generational conversations.