Diversity has become a hot topic among business leaders and it seems pretty clear that there's a business argument, as well as an ethical one, for striving to make your workforce as diverse as possible.
But there are undoubtedly obstacles to increasing diversity in your company. Whether you are aiming to balance the ethnicity, gender, or sexuality bias your workplace may have, challenging the status quo can be problematic.
Issues caused by a significant generation gap in your workforce can be one of the most obvious instances of diversity causing friction. Millennials are dominating most industries, and this is naturally only likely to increase. This means many employers will see a shift in their company's dynamics as this demographic expect very different things compared to previous generations.
However, it's not just their attitude towards work that sets them apart from their older colleagues. Research suggests that millennials are the most diverse generation ever, bringing a whole new mix of employees into the workforce.
But could this growing generation of workers actually hold the secret for your diversity and inclusion programs?
Millennials often get a bad reputation for how they view the corporate world, but they can actually be a valuable asset if you work with them. Even if you're still skeptical, they are soon going to make up the majority of your workforce so understanding them is in your best interest.
Diversity and inclusion in the workplace
Although often lumped together, diversity and inclusion are very different. Diversity revolves around ensuring your staff reflects the diversity found in the wider population, while inclusion concentrates on making these professionals feel motivated and engaged in your organization.
The problem is that the generation gap in many workplaces means that there is a divide in what these two terms mean in reality. For example, what makes a millennial feel valued and motivated may not resonate with older generations and could even do the opposite.
A Deloitte study found that non-millennials are 21% more likely to focus on representation, and 25% more likely to focus on equal opportunities, while religious and demographic backgrounds are also key concerns.
In comparison, professionals in the millennial category have a different perspective on what diversity in the workplace means. Millennials are 32% more likely to focus on respecting identities of individuals, 35% more likely to focus on unique experiences, and 29% more likely to focus on ideas, thoughts, and opinions.
These may seem like vague concepts but it means that millennials are much more focused on bringing unique viewpoints and experiences into the company.
The same is seen when asked about inclusion in the Deloitte study. Non-millennials concentrated on fairness of promotions or raises, acceptance and respect, which ensures that minority populations aren’t discriminated against. Millennials, on the other hand, focus on bringing diverse populations together and creating a connected culture and teamwork.
What does this mean for the company?
It's not about prioritizing one viewpoint over others, though it does seem that the millennial perspective of ensuring all voices are heard in a company is more constructive in the long term than making sure quotas are filled.
With the idea of demographic-led diversity and inclusion programs being around for longer, there's research to support that diverse companies perform better, while there's very little evidence to back up the millennial perspective. It would also appear that you can't have a company that allows different voices to be heard, without first employing people from different demographics into the organization.
However, creating a diverse workforce can be one of the most beneficial measures that employers can take in terms of creativity, profits, productivity, loyalty and other key metrics. So what can you do?
What about the generation gap?
The generation gap still poses challenges in the workplace and to embrace diversity you need to take steps to bring millennials and non-millennials together. This relies on creating a culture where both sets of professionals are valued and engaged.
This can be achieved by acknowledging their differences and their similarities. For example, millennials are still relatively inexperienced, with some just entering the workplace and others rising to higher positions. Ideally this would allow you to reach out to more experienced non-millennials to work alongside their younger colleagues to find solutions to the diversity problem.
Even though both generations have slightly different views of what diversity and inclusion means, in reality, they both recognize that it's something businesses need to work towards and prioritize. This sets the foundation for a constructive team that can find solutions to improve the company.
The most important thing for employers is that all your current employees feel heard and understood in their role. This means listening to what the challenges are and working to find ways to resolve diversity issues.
It's especially important that if there are voices of minority groups in your company that you allow them to be heard. Even though they may be present, they can still be reluctant to come forward or speak up.
You also need to view your top-level positions as almost their own company. It might be that you have a good balance in the wider workforce but who are the people making all the decisions? Building diversity among your leadership is the best way to bring diversity and inclusion to the rest of your company and allow it to be your secret sauce.