Diversity and Inclusion: The Millennial Perspective

Up to this point, U.S. businesses and the government have defined diversity by factors like age, gender, race, and disability. Millennials have an entirely different perspective on Diversity and Inclusion and for a good reason. Millennials are one of the most diverse populations the U.S. has experienced to date, so they aren't impressed with diversity statistics focused on demographics.

Instead, the millennials focus more on the willingness of a business to embrace and include a diversity of ideas and perspectives within a positive and supportive culture. If you create a culture of diversity that recognizes past and current perspectives, your workforce will be more engaged and more productive.

millennials in the workplace

Millennials Expanding the Principle of Diversity and Inclusion

Millennials will account for as much as 75 percent of the workforce by the year 2025. The millennial perspective on diversity and inclusion matters. Just when business leaders thought they had mastered the principle of diversity based on demographic differences, along came the millennials with a new perspective.

As one of the most racially and ethnically diverse adult populations in U.S. history, millennials assume workforce diversity, based on characteristics like race and gender, will naturally develop. After all, the workforce cannot help but get more diversified as more millennials enter the workforce. Couple that with the easy access to people around the world through the internet and social media, and diversity and inclusion are not things to work toward. It just exists.

Put the two perspectives side by side, and the differences are clear. The perspective of the older generation of business leaders is that diversity is based on demographics. The perspective of millennials (and Gen Z) is that diversity and inclusion refer to a diversity of ideas, thoughts, perspectives, and insights.

"Inclusion" for baby boomers meant things like hiring a certain percentage of African-Americans. Or creating work teams that reflected workforce or customer demographics. Inclusion for millennials means giving all people opportunities to share their perspectives, network, and contribute innovative and creative ideas.

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No Boundaries

Baby boomers like statistics and goals, measuring factors like the number of women in leadership positions or the percentage of people hired or promoted who are minorities, disabled, veterans, and so on. Millennials are more interested in subjective factors like the level of employee engagement, the percent of the workforce that believes there is a positive workplace culture or whether there is a sense of belonging. For millennials, subjective factors are as, if not more important as hard statistics.

Jason Greer, Founder, and CEO of Greer Consulting, explains diversity and inclusion, "Millennials often look at diversity from a global perspective largely because the internet and social media have opened them up to people from multiple walks of life."

Greer goes on to explain that, "Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Xennials were often confined to their neighborhoods and local schools which restricted their access to other demographics. So, their ideas on such things as race, class, gender, and sexual orientation were most often defined by their parents, teachers and local influencers. Millennials and subsequent generations have little to no boundaries."

Greer wants employers to understand this critical point: "Millennial perspectives are global, but still limited in the sense that a true understanding of diversity comes from real, physical interactions which the internet and social media does not allow."

Many of your younger employees may recognize their social limitations, leading to their desire to feel a sense of community and belonging in the workplace. Inclusion takes on a new level of meaning because it infers giving people opportunities to work directly with each other.

It is not the number of Asians assigned to project teams that is important. Inclusion means giving employees the opportunities to directly work together - face-to-face. This doesn't preclude using technologies like interactive webinars to ensure remote employees are included in these opportunities.

RELATED: 11 Tips for Millennials as Business Leaders

Millennial perspective in the workplace

Imagining an Honest Conversation

Employer: "Our company's workforce statistics indicate we have achieved 30 percent diversity. We're making real progress in meeting our hiring goals. Isn't that wonderful?"

Millennial:" I'm not impressed because you aren't giving them opportunities to share creative ideas and grow as employees. Innovative ideas and perspectives aren't given expression, and that hurts your company, as well as your employees."

Employers that primarily focus on statistics based on traditional demographics are missing out on an important strategy to engage and connect multiple generations of employees who have differences across a continuum from demographics to differences in thinking. An often-quoted Deloitte study, explains that baby boomer leaders have pursued conformity in the workplace for decades and assign one-dimensional identities to people. The results are corporate diversity and inclusion programs that categorize people based on a particular demographic, and in doing so, fail to allow them to express themselves in their fullness of multiple identities.

Millennials find this unacceptable because it maintains separateness instead of inclusion.

Shattering the Glass Ceiling of Diversity

One of the most important functions of business leaders today is creating an inclusive culture that embraces diversity and inclusion as a source of innovation. Being satisfied with diversity by the numbers won't create an inclusive culture. Looking at people only through the lens of the color of their skin, country of origin, disability or gender actually reinforces biases.

Looking at diverse people as a source of creative thinking shatters those biases when people are encouraged to meld their different experiences and perspectives in a supportive work culture of relationship-building, open communication, genuine dialogue, and authenticity.

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About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is Director of IRI's Digital Workplace Solutions Group, and the founder of A Better Leader. Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.