Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace by Generation

This is a unique moment in workplace history. Four generations are working at the same time: the baby boomers, Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z. And, if you have been in a workplace including members of more than one of these generations, you know they see things from very different perspectives. This is as true for diversity and inclusion as it is for anything else.

Recent research by Deloitte explored how different generations view the concept of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. With nearly 4,000 survey respondents spanning all four generations and accounting for diversity of race, age, sex, orientation and seniority level, the research provides a comprehensive look at current perspectives in the workplace. 

To create the workplace harmony that leads to effective collaboration and high performance, it is important for each of these generations—and for leadership and HR, no matter which generation they belong —to understand how others perceive diversity.

This is because the meaning of diversity and inclusion has changed over time. As defined in a recent Ideal article, diversity refers to understanding, accepting and valuing differences between people of different races, ethnicities, sexes, sexual orientation, religion, disabilities, and age and with differences in education, personality, skills, experience, and knowledge. Inclusion focuses on creating a collaborative, supportive work environment that welcomes and respects the contributions of all. Or, as Michelle Raymond, a leader in diversity and inclusion in the UK, puts it: “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is feeling comfortable enough to dance….”

Each generation has played a role in advancing diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Let’s take a closer look.

Baby boomers (1946-1964)

According to the Deloitte findings, baby boomers view diversity through the lens of morality, compliance, and equality. This likely is because baby boomers are the first generation to practice compliance in business. To them, diversity is about integrating people of different ages, race/ethnicities, sexes and so forth into the workplace. They do not necessarily consider a direct connection to business results. Boomers are, in fact, more likely to consider diversity a reputational issue for their companies.

The research also found to boomers, inclusion is acceptance and tolerance of demographically diverse individuals in a single workplace.

Generation X (1965-1980)

Generation X is the bridge between the older boomers and the millennials. They tend to demonstrate more independence and display more entrepreneurial tendencies than the boomers who came before them.

Respondents to the Deloitte survey revealed many Gen Xers, especially the older in the cohort, consider diversity as a representation of and fairness to all individuals, no matter their individual identifiers. Gen X managers, for instance, may be focused on ensuring the mix of people on their teams is diverse by looking at identifiers. Younger Gen Xers, though, may identify more with the millennial concept of diversity.

For Generation X, inclusion is the process by which all individuals, including those who are demographically diverse, are protected, treated fairly, and provided consistent opportunities. 

Millennials (1981-1996)

To millennials, diversity is a broader concept than our physical traits. And inclusion is highly sought after. In fact, one millennial respondent to the Deloitte survey said, “Diversity is a variety of cultures and perspectives working together to solve business problems.” To millennials, their more expansive definition of diversity is really cognitive diversity—which is about considering experiences, identities, and opinions in the workplace as a wellspring of innovation and ingenuity. Their perspective on diversity also includes the freedom to express opinions and ideas—and to be listened to. 

According to the Deloitte research, inclusion also means something quite different to them. It’s the creation of a culture that connects everyone, encourages collaboration and drives business results.

Generation Z (1997-2010)

This youngest generation is just entering the workforce as interns or new graduates. As the first generation to live their entire lives in the digital age, they may be even more expansive in their attitudes toward the concepts of diversity and inclusion than millennials. They are likely to push the boundaries of diversity and inclusion even further. In addition, their experience with and connection to technology is likely to be an influence on shaping the workplace as they ascend into their careers.

To bring out the best in all generations, it is important to understand the differences in how they view diversity and inclusion in the workplace. How is your workplace seeing what diversity means to different generations?

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