Diversity is more than a representation of races, genders and sexual orientations. It turns out personal definitions for diversity and inclusion are different depending on the generation.
“The Radical Transformation of Diversity and Inclusion,” a study by Deloitte and the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative released in May 2015, examines how millennials and their generational counterparts, Generation X and the baby boomers, view diversity and inclusion. The resulting data indicates a need for change in the workplace.
The study, which polled more than 3,700 professionals across job levels, ages, genders, races, ethnicities and sexual orientations, suggests that when millennials believe an inclusive culture exists, 74 percent feel they can be engaged in innovation. This is in stark contrast to the 10 percent who feel engaged when an inclusive culture does not exist (Figure 1). “That’s a huge drop,” said Christie Smith, managing principal at Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion.
Smith said the findings could have great implications for organizations that don’t foster collaboration and teaming to empower, engage and create opportunities for individuals to bring their authentic selves to work.
According to the research, millennials are more concerned with cognitive diversity than with racial diversity. They define diversity as “pertaining to the individual mix of unique experiences, identities, ideas and opinions.” For other generations, it’s more simple: Diversity is more about “demographics, equal opportunity and representation of identifiable demographic characteristics.”
Millennials are 32 percent more likely to focus on respecting identities, 35 percent more likely to focus on unique experiences and 29 percent more likely to focus on ideas, opinions and thoughts. Nonmillennials are 21 percent more likely to focus on representation, 19 percent more likely to focus on religion and demographics and 25 percent more likely to focus on equality.
For millennials, cognitive diversity is “essential for an inclusive culture that supports engagement, empowerment and authenticity.” This idea is supported by the 2014 Scientific American article “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter” in which author Katherine Phillips said diversity enhances creativity. “It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision-making and problem-solving.”
One millennial respondent from the aforementioned study said, “Diversity is a variety of cultures and perspectives working together to solve business problems.”
This shift in definitions of diversity comes from a diverse population. Deloitte’s Smith said 59 percent of millennials come from an immigrant or diverse background, and this shift in ideas is happening organically.
D. Sangeeta, chief diversity officer at measurement and research company Nielsen, said her conversations with millennials revealed that for them, diversity is a given. Diversity “should exist, and it will exist,” she said. “If it doesn’t exist, [millennials] might not want to work in that kind of environment.”
For example, her 20-year-old daughter attended a leadership session at an equity firm. Upon coming home, she said there were only white men, making her unsure if she would want to work there.
Sangeeta said she thought, “My God, this is so important. Companies need to understand that you’re going to miss out on some really good talent if you don’t have a diverse workforce.”
Behavior is changing. It’s no longer acceptable to have a homogeneous population. And this isn’t just about race and gender; it’s about thinking.
Ideas on Inclusion
Rather than simply putting different types of people in a room together, millennials see inclusion as connecting these people in teams to collaborate and make a stronger business impact.
The research found that millennials define inclusion as “having a culture of connectedness that facilitates teaming, collaboration and professional growth, and positively affects major business outcomes. Leadership is supportive of individual perspectives and is transparent, communicative and engaging.”
The older generations’ definition of inclusion is more about “acceptance and tolerance of demographically diverse individuals,” which is related to the moral issue of demographic equality “that is necessary whether it directly benefits the business or not,” according to the research.
When it comes to inclusion, however, millennials are 28 percent more likely to focus on business impact, and 71 percent more likely to focus on teamwork. Nonmillennials are 28 percent more likely to focus on fairness of opportunities and are 28 percent more likely to focus on acceptance and tolerance.
One nonmillennial respondent said inclusion is “offering roles and opportunities to all qualified candidates regardless of race, creed, gender, sexual orientation, age or religious affiliation.” On the other hand, a millennial said, “inclusion is having an impact at all levels … and having open lines of communication, transparency and strategic initiatives communicated to employees by executives.”
Some 86 percent of millennials said including a variety of opinions allows teams to excel. Yet, only 59 percent feel their leaders share the same view. The divergence continues with regard to engagement, empowerment and being true to one’s self, and how definitions of diversity and inclusion affect these areas.
The research defines engagement as “the extent to which an individual is cognitively, emotionally and behaviorally involved in and committed to their work.” Findings show a 23 percent jump in millennial engagement when the organization fosters an inclusive culture (Figure 2). Millennials want a supportive leadership and culture, which requires a “collaborative environment in which employees can see the impact of their work, understand the value they bring to the organization and are recognized for their efforts.”
The Deloitte research cited a Dale Carnegie Training article, “The Importance of Employee Engagement,” which said that organizations with many “engaged employees outperform others by more than 200 percent.” This statistic suggests an engaged workforce is crucial in today’s competitive business world.
Empowerment means “the extent to which courage and integrity is enabled as it relates to workplace behaviors and outcomes.” The research shows a 15 percent jump in millennial feelings of empowerment when organizations foster an inclusive culture, compared with when they don’t.
The research also looked into how employees act at work. Are they true to themselves at work, or are they “downplaying their identities and differences”? Among millennials, 22 percent more are true to themselves when they feel their organization fosters an inclusive culture vs. when they feel it doesn’t. Why? They feel their differences and identities bring value to business outcomes, the research said. Further, because millennials desire free expression, 71 percent don’t follow their organization’s policies when it comes to social media.
In regard to engagement, Sangeeta said her company has looked into how diversity, financial performance and other factors relate. Nielsen found if there are more females and more female leaders, the company is more profitable. If there is more diversity in gender and ethnicity, the result is a more engaged organization, a stronger culture and a stronger client focus.
“To me, engaging millennials is an absolute key part of success of any organization,” Sangeeta said.
Billie Jean King, accomplished tennis professional and founder of the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative — which backed this research study — said HR teams should consider this research in how diversity and inclusion are handled in their company.
“HR is very important, and it should not be sitting on the sidelines,” King said. They need to push the leadership to change, as it will no longer be enough to check off typical diversity boxes for race and ethnicity.
Sangeeta agreed. She said chief diversity officers should sit down with senior leaders to review metrics and potential opportunities. Having the metrics helps to guide the conversation. Where there’s a gap in the metrics, go figure it out.
She also suggests thinking about how leaders can do things differently. How can HR recruit differently in schools? How can leaders engage with millennials differently? What kind of onboarding should welcome them? How should organizations retain them?
Mentorship can be a great tool, King said. She said millennials love mentors and seek them out often. By pairing a millennial with an older mentor, collaboration can lead to innovation, making for better products or ideas.
Nielsen has informal and formal mentorship programs in place. In formal programs, top diverse talent is exposed to senior leadership for conversation, and external advisory councils consult with them. There’s training, mentoring and coaching for participants throughout the year. As a result, within the first year after completing these programs, more than 50 percent of participants were promoted because of visibility, mentoring and coaching.
According to the study as millennials enter leadership roles, “their perspectives will demand a shift in traditional diversity and inclusion models.”
The 2014 Employee Tenure Summary from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said 75 percent of the workforce will consist of millennials by 2025. “We’ve got 10 years to try and get it right,” King said. She said these research findings are a wakeup call to companies to change the way they do business.
If employers don’t foster ideals of an inclusive workplace, Deloitte’s Smith said areas of innovation will see negative implications. She said companies are committing hundreds of millions of dollars to improve diversity and inclusion, so it’s extremely important for them to understand how to spend that money to create the best impact on multiple generations, especially millennials.
Smith and King said when they’ve talked about this with boomers and members of Gen X, many said they understand where the millennials are coming from and want to get involved. While there may be a large difference of definitions between the generations, their desire to work together is similar, and the ability to close the chasm is closer than we may think.
Click here to read the sidebar that accompanies this feature.