The New Generation in the Workplace – Driving the Value of Diversity

My last blog was “Three Key Points in Response to the Recent Anti-DEI Backlash” where I provided ways that organizations can proactively address the recent increase of vocal opposition to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. I now want to add to the discussion triggered by an article I read in the March 1-7, 2024 issue of the Triangle Business Journal.

It was actually the cover story and titled “A New Generation, A New Workplace” written by Laura Brummett. The tagline on the front page read, “Starting this year, Gen Z will make up a larger portion of the U.S. workforce than baby boomers. But are companies ready for this change?”

The first statistic shared in the article is that this year, the Gen Z (people 27 years and younger) population in the workforce surpassed the number of Baby Boomers (ages 60 to 78.) And not only that, I’d like to add a point that I raised in my last blog … that this younger generation is much more diverse; over 50% are people of color, and over 20% identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

The TBJ article raises many critical points about this growing younger workforce. They include:

• This new generation is known for caring about social issues, such as diversity initiatives and sustainability.

• This generation is leading to a more progressive culture to seep into the corporate world.

• Savvy hiring managers seeking the best talent are now looking for grit, curiosity and ambition from candidates, instead of the names of prestigious schools or grade point averages. This shift results in companies bringing in more diverse talent pools.

• And as I mentioned in my previous blog, diversity in talent brings different workplace perspectives that drive innovation and transformation.

• Employers are now increasingly seeking talent from community colleges, where 50% of graduates are first-generation college attendees and even more diverse that the general Gen Z population.

• Gen Z-ers are more entrepreneurial and willing to change companies, so organizations wanting to retain and grow excellent diverse talent need to provide this generation what they want from a job. This includes continual learning and growth as well as work-life balance.

As we continue to understand the generational shift in the workplace, DEI strategy and execution become increasingly critical. Those who are part of this anti-DEI movement will soon find themselves obsolete, and ultimately less relevant and less profitable.

Three Key Points in Response to the Recent Anti-DEI Backlash

I have been asked by several clients lately for discussion and suggestions on how to handle the recent anti-DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) backlash. State legislatures in several states continue to shut down publicly funded diversity work and the Supreme Court recently ruled Harvard’s and University of North Carolina’s diversity focus in admissions as unconstitutional. As DEI critics become more vocal and emblazoned, organizations are starting to worry about how that can impact their DEI efforts.

Interestingly enough, over the past decades, it has been the business world taking the lead on DEI efforts as our governments and religious institutions have failed us. See my May 2022 blog, “Once again – Corporations are Called to Lead on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.” And at this juncture, it will need to be corporations taking the lead on fighting this harmful backlash.

I make three major points when asked about how to address this anti-DEI movement:

1) No one can deny the demographics – our country is becoming increasingly diverse.
• Some time around 2040 or 2042, the US will be a “minority-majority” country; the African-American, Asian and Hispanic populations will outnumber white Americans.
• According to a Gallup poll, 20% of adult Gen-Zers (people between 18 – 26 years old) now outwardly identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
• And every decade since the 1960s, both the percentage and raw number of people living here born outside the US has increased.
We cannot hide from this fact and need to be ready to manage a more diverse workforce and serve an increasing diverse customer or client set.

Studies show that well managed diverse teams deliver better business results.

2) The DEI naysayers are reacting more out of fear of losing power and influence instead of focusing on the positive aspects of diversity. Diversity is what has made the USA unique and strong; people coming from all over the world bringing their ambitions and ingenuity. And in the business realm, many studies show that well-managed diverse organizations out- perform homogenous ones. One of the most often quoted series about this is from McKinsey & Company, with their 4th study “Diversity Matters Even More: The Case for Holistic Impact” published December, 2023.

3) The DEI naysayers frame the discussion as “we vs them” instead of “everybody is a valuable part of the diversity mix.” Diversity includes everybody, and should never be a discussion of the diverse vs. the non-diverse. Every single person is a unique combination of all their intersectional diversity attributes and hence has something special to offer. Everyone should ask, “what makes me unique, and what special strength can I contribute to the enterprise?” And when everyone brings their full selves to the organization in a positive way without demonizing (see my 2019 blog “Why So Much Hate?”) or putting down others, the results can be phenomenal.

Let’s now all work together to value and leverage the diversity that all of us bring to our world!