‘Diversity’ is undoubtedly one of the most significant organizational buzzwords of the last decade.
When it comes to tackling the challenge of diversity in the workplace, many organizations are turning to their millennial workforce for the insights and understanding they need to nurture and encourage diversity across their companies.
While it’s not just millennials who support the argument for more diverse workplaces, they are the most prevalent generation of workers set to dominate the global workforce by almost 75% by 2025. Not so surprisingly - and as we’re about to discover - this generation of employees not only wants more diversity in the workplace but expects it.
But diversity can encompass more than just one ‘type,’ and most organizations are challenged by a range of diversity issues.
Let’s take a closer look at the key types of diversity that can present challenges for organizations and why millennials demand more diverse professional environments.
Cultural vs. Generational Diversity
When it comes to choosing a place to work, 67% of people consider diversity a significant factor.
Diversity as a term has a simple enough definition: the condition of being comprised of different elements. But as an organizational challenge, diversity isn’t so simple.
Take, for example, cultural and generational diversity.
Whereas cultural diversity embraces a range of elements, such as religion, ethnicity, race, language, and more, generational diversity typically refers to a wide representation of different age groups.
Today, most organizations are at least generationally diverse, where, for the first time, there are 4-5 generations existing in the workforce at once. This doesn’t mean, however, that all are culturally diverse or otherwise.
Both of these ‘types’ of diversity bring unique perspectives to the workplace, but it's the responsibility of organizations to consider the needs of their diverse workgroups and how they can nurture harmony between culturally and generationally diverse teams.
When we think of diversity, we’re likely to think of differences among people, such as age, race, gender, language, and more. As it turns out, however, diversity can also comprise how you think.
Thought diversity is almost as new a concept as workplace diversity itself but is something millennials consider more than previous generations, which could explain why differences in logic, rationale and thought have only been considered a type of ‘diversity’ in recent years.
Simply put, thought diversity refers to the experiences and ways of thinking that people from different backgrounds - whether culturally, generationally, experientially or otherwise - bring to a group. Future generations are likely to view diversity through the lens of experiences and opinions, rather than the traditional definitions or ideas of diversity.
According to Gallup, millennials view diversity as including everything from cultural, gender and sexual differences, to thoughts and perspectives. In the workplace specifically, millennials want to hear more voices and ideas from different people to help foster transparency and inclusivity.
Similarly, studies by companies like Deloitte have found that millennials view traditional diversity (like age, gender, race, etc) as a given, and now consider cognitive diversity (thoughts, values, philosophies, approaches, etc) as an equally important organizational component.
Inherent and Acquired Diversity
Some research posits that there are two types of diversity: inherent and acquired.
Inherent refers to traits you are born with, such as your gender, race or ethnicity, while acquired involves traits you develop from experience (like working in another country, or selling products or services to a specific demographic).
Both may sound similar to cultural and generational diversity, and to some extent, that’s true. However, organizations need to recognize how each diversity type presents its own unique challenges when it comes to establishing diverse workplaces where people feel confident sharing their experiences and ideas; ones which are born of many factors, including age, gender, race, thought, and more.
Now that we’ve broken down some of the common diversity types and their relevance to the workplace, let’s look at why it all matters to millennials
Compared to previous generations, millennials are the most diverse when it comes to the workforce, with 44.2% of millennial workers categorized as belonging to a minority.
Though diverse workplaces may seem more common nowadays compared to previous decades, the first look into diversity in organizations only occurred in the early 2000s. This means millennials have grown up with the idea of diversity as both a critical factor to organizational success as well as an ethical and professional imperative.
Diversity, as it applies to race and gender, is more prevalent among generations like Gen Y (millennials) and Gen Z, which tend to think of diversity as encompassing different identities, including LGBTQ, women, and first-generation immigrants.
Diversity means better workplace cultures for millennials
Recent studies have found that a majority of millennial workers are dedicated to supporting fellow employees in their workplace who are different or diverse from themselves.
And that’s not all.
When it comes to the millennial workforce, young people are reportedly more tolerant of races and groups than older generations (47% vs. 19%), with 45% agreeing with preferential treatment to improve the position of minorities.
Diverse workplaces have a significant impact on how millennials feel about their organizations and their work. For example, 69% of millennials whose leaders or senior management teams are diverse feel their workplaces are both more stimulating and motivating.
Not only that, but those same millennials believe diversity in the workplace can lead to fostering better ethics, developing talent, and promoting creativity.
Diversity can also foster collaboration, a key factor of organizational culture that millennials often look for when considering potential employers.
While fostering diversity in the workplace can attract millennials and deliver on many aspects of the employee experience they want, there is yet another important factor that can contribute to a great workplace culture for millennials.
Inclusion and belonging matter
According to Gallup, diversity represents “the full spectrum of human demographic differences” and inclusion,” but there are inclusion and belonging, as well. Whereas inclusion is “the invitation to join a conversation,” belonging refers to the “experience of being appreciated as a full unique person - when you're comfortable speaking up and exercising your capabilities.”
If the latter sounds akin to psychological safety, that’s because belonging and acceptance are important to millennials, and psychological safety can encompass that.
In other words, where there is diversity in the workplace, there is an opportunity to better one’s organizational culture.
Millennials prioritize diversity
47% of millennials prioritize diversity when considering organizations as a future employer. And, if that weren’t surprising enough, roughly half of millennial workers report diversity as tantamount to creating the ideal workplace.
That means a significant proportion of millennial job seekers are closely examining companies and looking for signs of diversity and inclusion.
That could also explain why more organizations are taking action to create strategies that not only attract but retain diverse teams.
SHRM found, for example, that 64% of C-suite execs have a diversity and inclusion strategy, while the number of C-suite executives who cite diversity and inclusion as a top priority rose 32% between 2014-2017, according to Deloitte.
Studies have found that leadership, such as the C-suite, has to be involved in all aspects of diversity and inclusion in their organization, reflecting the values of their diversity and inclusion initiatives! When 57% of employees feel their organizations could be doing more to increase diversity in their workplaces, having leadership buy-in is a must.
Diversity can positively impact engagement
Employee engagement is a key concern of many organizations, where disengagement and poor productivity costs companies upwards of $600 billion each year.
However, when diversity is prioritized and promoted across organizations, millennials experience improved workflow and engagement. For instance, studies show that millennial employees are more productive in diverse workplaces, as they are able to learn more about and support one another.
Further, teams that are more diverse also solve problems and develop solutions more quickly than employees who are cognitively similar, which speaks to the necessity of nurturing thought diversity among your teams.
While previous generations were 31% more likely to focus on things like equity, millennials are 71% more likely to focus on teamwork and 28% more likely to place emphasis on a person’s business impact.
And let’s not forget about customer satisfaction. The Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict found that diversity in the workplace also benefits customers, where employees develop more skills to better serve the unique needs of diverse customer bases.
That’s important, given predictions that, by 2020, customer experience will become a top priority for companies, overtaking both product and price in importance.
What about the benefit of diverse workplaces for businesses?
You’ve likely heard that improved employee engagement, recognition, and experience all benefit a company’s bottom line, but what about diversity? What are the benefits for businesses when it comes to fostering more diverse organizational cultures?
Consider a few key factors:
- Inclusive companies are 1.8 times more likely to be ready for change and 1.7 times more likely to be innovators in their market
- Diverse organizations are also 70% more likely to capture a new market
- Companies in the US with diverse C-suites see up to 95% higher returns on equity
- Companies that focus on workplace diversity are 35% more likely to see financial returns that are above the industry average
- Organizations with gender diversity among their executives experience significant increases in innovation, specifically when the proportion of female execs reaches 20% or more
- Companies with higher representation of women at the C-suite level experience 34% greater returns to shareholders
- 83% of employees are actively engaged in diverse workplaces versus 60% who are disengaged in a scarcely diverse workplace
Consider competitive advantage
When your workforce is homogenous, it ultimately suffers from a lack of distinct and varied skill sets, thought diversity, and collaboration. It may also impact how your teams solve problems and approach organizational objectives. Forbes’ Global Diversity and Inclusion study found that 85% of enterprise companies believe diversity drives innovation and organizational success.
Diversity can also place your company in a better position for attracting top talent, given millennials consider diversity and inclusion as key components of a successful organization. As 50% of workers want their companies to increase diversity, offering a diverse culture could just give your company a one-up on the competition.
Diversity benefits organizations through both employee experience and business results, but the perceived positive impact on one’s bottom line shouldn’t be the main motivator in nurturing a diverse workplace.
Taking into consideration how your employees and potential hires actually feel about, and perceive, your company is equally important.
In a survey conducted by PwC, for example, 71% of female employees feel that, while their organization talks about or tries to foster diversity, opportunities aren’t equal for all. Similarly, many millennials feel that diversity can quickly lose its meaning when organizations hire for diversity without any intention of following through on inclusion.
How can organizations improve their diversity and inclusion strategies?
Consider training for diversity and inclusion
Diversity and inclusion training helps both employees and senior executives understand how cultural, generational, and thought diversity can impact the way in which people interact and perform their tasks while at work. It can also provide actionable solutions for improving communication among your teams so everyone across your organization can feel equipped to work together (even when there are diverse differences).
Prioritize team collaboration
When people work with the same team members on a daily basis, they can become almost too comfortable with the work dynamic, and may not know how to navigate working with other teams or employees when they need to. By bringing together a diverse cross-section of talent across your teams, you can encourage employees to collaborate with one another while learning from each other.
This not only benefits productivity and output but employee relationships and experiences, as well. You’ll prevent homogeneous work teams that ultimately don’t help drive your business or employee experience forward.
Ask yourself if your organization fosters psychological safety
Diversity reaches beyond cultural and generational differences to include things like thought diversity. But in environments where people don’t feel psychologically safe, they are unlikely to share their perspectives, provide constructive feedback, or have open and transparent discussions about their work.
Creating a workplace wherein people feel safe being their authentic selves with the ability to share their perspectives without fear of rejection or retaliation, especially from diverse thought processes, is key to ensuring diversity thrives in your organization!
Embrace multilingual teams
Today, it’s common that many workplaces will have employees who speak different languages and bring different cultural experiences to the table. This is something you should embrace rather than be fearful of.
When team members find new ways of communicating with one another and learn from the different barriers that multilingual workplaces can present, there’s actually a unique opportunity to develop better interpersonal skills and an appreciation for other cultures. This positively impacts everyone, both from a work culture perspective and professionally, right down to your customer experience!
Make recognition inclusive and accessible
The traditional top-down model for recognition in the workplace is no longer enough to keep employees engaged and ensure they are acknowledged for their contributions!
By making recognition visible and accessible to everyone across your organization, you can begin to develop a more inclusive workplace where all employees feel empowered to recognize one another and communicate appreciation of each other’s work, skills, and contributions!
Don’t forget inclusivity statements
When hiring new talent, many companies can forget to make applicants aware of the fact that they have diversity and inclusion policies. Given that millennial workers consider diversity as a key organizational factor when looking for new roles, a D&I statement is key. For example, when posting a new role to a platform like LinkedIn or advertising a new position externally, don’t forget to include a statement about accepting applications from those with diverse backgrounds.
Here’s a sample of a D&I statement you can use in your next job posting:
“At (Company), we not only accept diversity, but celebrate, support, and thrive on it. We’re proud to be an equal opportunity employer and are committed to nurturing an inclusive environment. We encourage all qualified applicants to apply and thank you in advance for your interest.”