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3 ways millennials can advance workplace diversity and inclusion

December 3, 2018
Diversity & Inclusion

When you picture a traditional business leader, what generation are they from? Likely they’re not a millennial. But by 2025, 75% of the workforce will be millennials.

That means millennials globally will occupy not only the majority of individual contributor positions but the majority of leadership roles as well. They’ll be responsible for making important decisions that affect workplace cultures and people’s lives.

In our latest millennial research, we outlined three distinctions between millennials and previous generations: millennials are connected, unconstrained and idealistic.

  • They’re connected because they were raised with instantaneous access to the internet. They’re aware of a vast range of perspectives, lifestyles and choices, giving them a broader definition of diversity and inclusion than previous generations.
  • They’re unconstrained because they’re comfortable with uncomfortable conversations. They’re more likely than previous generations to want to discuss sensitive topics such as diversity and bias in the workplace.
  • They’re idealistic because they envision a world — and workplace — where everyone’s voice is heard and valued. They actively try to make this ideal a reality by seeking out and listening to diverse perspectives and ideas.

Sound familiar?

These three attributes affect how next generation leaders will lead, and how they’ll create a diverse and inclusive space in the modern workplace. They can advance the conversation and understanding of inclusivity as the definitions of diversity and inclusion evolve.

Humans have an innate need to be valued, respected, accepted and encouraged to participate fully in whatever culture they are a part of.

As companies have become more aware that their employees’ psychological needs don’t end at the office door, they’ve started to expand their definitions of diversity and inclusion to include belonging as well. And as more millennials step into leadership positions, that expansion is likely to continue.

Diversity represents the full spectrum of human demographic differences. Inclusion is the invitation to join a conversation. Belonging is the experience of being appreciated as a full unique person — when you’re comfortable speaking up and exercising your capabilities. Belonging is the invitation to be that unleashes the breadth of human potential.

Verna Myers, VP of Inclusion Strategy at Netflix, sums up the difference by saying, “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” This quote has since been amended to add, “Belonging is dancing like nobody is watching.”

More and more companies are trying to create and support an environment with undeniably millennial qualities: A workplace where employees can be their authentic selves without fear of judgment or retaliation. A workplace where individuals with differing ideas and perspectives can all participate.

Leaders of previous generations might fear that such freedom, authenticity and acceptance would destroy order and productivity in the workplace.

But millennial leaders won’t be surprised that workplaces with those qualities see improvements in innovation, productivity, engagement — and pretty much every other metric that matters to business leaders.

So, how do millennials begin to lead a diverse and inclusive team where everyone feels they belong? By capitalizing on how they are naturally wired: connected, unconstrained and idealistic.

1. Be Connected
Every time you open an app, you see headlines about current events from across the country and the world.

Many recent news headlines tell stories of harassment and discrimination in the workplace and the public domain.

Does being bombarded with news result in millennials having a heightened sensitivity to social inequities and an enhanced passion for improving opportunities for all? It’s possible, and curiosity is a good place to start.

But to truly earn the credibility it takes to initiate or advance a sensitive conversation with their team or fellow leaders, millennials need fact-based understanding.

To get the facts, they should do their homework. They can start by reading our perspective paper Three Requirements for a Diverse and Inclusive Culture — and Why They Matter for Your Organization and by researching diversity and inclusion as separate topics.

Equipped with the essential information, they can contribute to and advance the conversation about diversity and inclusion in a meaningful, productive and factual way.

2. Be Unconstrained
Because of their connectivity, millennials want to push for change in the world. They don’t just accept “that’s the way it’s always been done” as an answer.

Millennials have not only opened the floodgates on the definitions of diversity and inclusion, they’ve begun to shape the workplace to reflect those definitions.

To millennials, diversity includes everything from race, gender, sexual orientation and different thoughts and perspectives. In the workplace, their generation wants to hear more voices and ideas, and they want to facilitate more open and transparent conversations by creating an inclusive environment.

Because millennials are more likely than older generations to be aware of workplace discrimination in the news, they’re more likely to be attuned to discriminatory behavior at their own workplace.

They’re also much more comfortable discussing diversity and inclusion issues at work than your older colleagues.

Studies show that millennials in the workplace desire open communication, and lots of it. That’s great news because there’s power in conversation.

Creating an inclusive environment as a millennial, or really as any individual, flows from self-awareness.

Leaders should reflect on an experience in which they had to be mindful of another individual’s unique traits and ask themselves the following questions:

  • What does diversity and inclusion in the workplace mean to me?
  • What skills have I worked on to develop the ability to work across cultures?
  • What skills do I currently lack?
  • What are my automatic assumptions?
  • What does transparency mean to me? How might my understanding of transparency differ from others?

Continue practicing self-awareness, even though it could be uncomfortable at first.

One caveat: colleagues could perceive millennials’ willingness to talk openly about sensitive topics as insensitivity. Millennials should be mindful that race and gender inequalities are still relevant and prevalent issues in corporate America today — and talking about them a lot doesn’t equate to solving them. Again, self-awareness on this matter is key.

3. Be Idealistic
When millennials are deciding where to work, they’re likely motivated by the sense of being a part of something bigger. They want an organization with purpose.

Twenty-one percent of millennials changed jobs within the last year. Nearly half (47%) of the millennials surveyed in a study by the Institute for Public Relations believe that diversity and inclusion are important criteria when looking for a potential employer. So, half of job hunters are looking specifically for signs of a diverse and inclusive workplace.

It’s up to leaders to create the ideal environment they themselves would want to work in. Be the change.

Today’s world of work demands an unprecedented level of collaboration. According to research, millennials not only recognize this, but prefer working in teams because collaboration helps bring about the work environment of their ideals.

They gather and share perspectives, creating an environment where people of all perspectives and demographics are not only brought to the proverbial table, but included in the collective conversation about how to achieve an outcome.

Remember that inclusion increases innovation: According to a recent study for the HBR Leader’s Handbook, a core leadership demand is ongoing innovation to help reinvent vision, process and strategy.

At the end of the day, success begins with intentionality.

Millennials cannot alter the experiences and conditions that have shaped their approach to leadership, diversity and inclusion.

As they step into leadership positions, they’re poised to change the conventions and conversations around diversity and inclusion.

They can review and rewrite the best practices on inclusion for modern management, as well as start difficult but necessary conversations about diversity and inclusion with their peers and direct reports.

And their combined efforts will lead the modern workplace to new levels of innovation, engagement and productivity in the future.

By Camille Patrick and Ella Washington

Source: Gallup

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