Millennials want to work for employers who value diversity and inclusion, but despite a changing zeitgeist that favors diversity programs, many employers are either procrastinating this programmatic development or failing at its execution.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission offers some standard guidelines to use as a template for individual workplace diversity programs, but these aren’t appropriate for all workplaces, and aren’t valued by all employers.
So how can you, a young professional in a non-diverse environment, make your voice heard, and inspire more active changes in your workplace?
Let’s start by addressing some of the main challenges that Millennials face trying to bring more diversity and inclusion to the workplace:
- Inexperience. The oldest Millennials are currently reaching their mid-30s, and are rising to positions of leadership, but the youngest of them are just entering college. For the most part, Millennials haven’t earned the reputation or authority necessary to introduce changes on their own.
- Baby boomer values. There’s also a significant discrepancy between Millennials’ and baby boomers’ views on diversity and inclusion. Though both demographic groups recognize the value of diversity, they tend to define it differently, and set different types of goals for its achievement.
- Routines and bureaucracy. In small companies, or in autonomous roles, Millennials have more power and flexibility. But in established companies and big businesses, it’s much harder to influence a major change. Executives are resistant to changes, and bureaucratic processes make it hard to push those changes through.
Goals And Strategies
So what can Millennials do to overcome those challenges and build more workplace diversity?
- Listen. Though your first instinct may be to raise your voice and speak out to influence change, it’s better to close your mouth and listen to others (especially if you belong to a majority group). Successful diverse integration requires cultural competence, which means understanding others’ perspectives; the only way to do that is to hear those perspectives for yourself. Better yet, by listening more intently to others, you’ll set an example for your peers, subordinates, and even your leaders and supervisors.
- Amplify minority voices. One of the biggest problems facing workplaces in the realm of diversity isn’t the absence of minority voices; it’s the volume of minority voices. Despite being present in a meeting, or being in a position of leadership, women and ethnic minorities still often take a backseat to male and white voices. You can drive change by listening to the minority voices present and amplifying them, reinforcing those ideas, focusing attention on the originators, and echoing their sentiments.
- Talk to community workers. You can generate ideas for how to reach more members of your community by talking to the community organizations most ingrained in those neighborhoods. Chances are, your city has at least a handful of organizations dedicated to providing resources to the various communities in your area or supporting minority voices. The leaders of those organizations are well-versed in tactics to reach out to individuals and drive changes within companies; it’s a perfect opportunity to brainstorm, or even get your company involved in neighborhood efforts.
- Build influence with diversity leadership. Diversity and inclusion programs have become somewhat popular; about 73% of large companies have a diversity education program in place. If that’s the case, try to get in contact with the leadership of your business’s diversity program, and build influence with them. Chances are, your supervisors will be thrilled at your willingness to put extra effort into supporting the business, and your ideas will be welcome. If you don’t currently have a diversity program, try to build influence with the people who could be responsible for creating the program in the first place.
- Work on attracting and retaining more diverse candidates. Most businesses are willing to hire a more ethnically and culturally diverse workforce—so long as they have enough minority applications to support the effort. So instead of trying to hit certain targets based on the applications you get, focus your efforts on getting a more diverse stream of incoming applications. Write up job descriptions that appeal to a wider audience, and advertise job openings to more diverse sections of the community. Once you have a more diverse workforce in place, you need to focus your efforts on retaining those employees by supporting them, providing them with growth opportunities, and valuing their voices.
Establishing a diverse workforce is one of the most productive and impactful changes an employer can make; with benefits like better performance, higher employee retention, and a stronger brand reputation, the real challenge isn’t convincing people it’s a good idea—it’s making sure the idea is considered and executed effectively.
With these strategies, you can take meaningful steps to ensure your workplace becomes or remains forward-thinking for the foreseeable future.
By Sarah Ferguson, UNICEF USA