Melissa Wolff is an astute person who keeps tabs on generational changes and social bias.

Melissa Wolff is an astute person who keeps tabs on generational changes and social bias.

After all, she is a member of the Oregon Department of Human Services' Diversity Committee for Jackson and Josephine counties. She is also the department's local program manager for self-sufficiency.

But she recently got a lesson in communications etiquette from the younger generation.

"I was informed the other day by one of my children that, 'Mom, it is so rude that you call me — you interrupt me,' " Wolff said. "From my perspective they should pick up the phone right away. From their perspective, they would prefer that I text them when they are in the middle of a college class or whatever."

The incident illustrates the generational differences we all experience, observed Wolff, 41, a member of Generation X. Her children, ages 18 and 20, are of the text-savvy Millennial Generation.

Those differences are among many issues to be tackled in "Unconscious Bias and Generational Differences in the Workplace," a day-long conference scheduled for Friday, May 10, at Southern Oregon University in Ashland.

The free event in Stevenson Union will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Registration is from 8 to 9 a.m. that day.

The workshop will feature Carol French and April Lewis, educators and diversity trainers who engage audiences with humor, fun and provide an interactive learning experience, according to organizers.

The morning workshop will focus on unconscious bias, including how to lessen its impact on personal and professional levels. The afternoon workshop will explore generational differences, both personally and organizationally. Participants will learn how to develop strategies for improving inclusion, harmony and synergy in a multigenerational working environment.

The conference is being organized by the Oregon Department of Human Services, ACCESS, Rogue Community College, SOU, United Way of Jackson County, Southern Oregon Goodwill, OnTrack, Jackson County Health and Human Services and RCC's Diversity Programming Board.

About 400 participants are expected, although there is room for 500, Wolff said.

"We encourage anyone interested in the different generations to attend to learn more about the differences and how unconscious bias plays a part in how we interact with each other," she said, noting that most workplaces represent a myriad of values, beliefs and work ethics.

A bias against a group of people can be very detrimental in a workplace, she said.

"It is the way we are as human beings to organize information and make decisions quickly based on that," she said. "It is normal to have bias.

"However, in order to be open to people, we have to be aware we might be acting on some sort of bias that is either conscious or below the level of consciousness," she added.

Understanding the point of view of others improves workplace efficiency and cohesion, she said.

Events in a person's life shape that person's view of the world, she noted.

"If you are working with somebody from a different generation, you need to be aware of that to be able to work effectively together," she said.

"Let's say I'm a member of the Silent Generation (those born from 1920 to 1942) and have generalized feelings about Millennials (those born from 1983 to 2000) coming into the workplace who are maybe more collaborative and not as interested in hierarchy as I am," she said.

"If you develop a personal relationship with somebody from the Millennial Generation, that helps you let go of that bias," she added.

To register for the conference, call Margaret Wales at 541-776-6172, ext. 705. Although there is no charge for the conference, participants are requested to bring three cans of food to be donated to ACCESS.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at