How The Millennial Generation Has Redefined Diversity

A client came to me once and said, ‘Aerial, how do we get our millennials talking? They bring value to our organization and seem have a deep appreciation for diversity but we just don’t know how to engage them. Is there some kind of internal communication strategy we need to implement?”

I belong to the millennial generation so I understood the necessity behind their inquiry. An obsession with Generation Y, also know as millennials, has overtaken all aspects of culture. Millennials are likely the most studied generation to date. Brands and organizations have formed a fascination with how to relate and connect to millennials. Media and scholars have developed a 21st-century style of urgency to understand this demographic. Not since the baby boomers has a generation been the target of such fixation and the growing generational gap is redefining how we think about diversity and inclusion.

 

Millennials Leading a Cultural Shift

Not only are millennials the largest generation to date, we are the most traditionally diverse generation in history. A culture shift in the population shows that of the 80 million millennials and counting, 60% classifying as non-Hispanic white in comparison to 70% of the previous generation. That percentage is projected to continue a decline as ethnic minorities (blacks & hispanics) will account for 60% of the population by 2045. Of millennials in the US, 59% are white and 27% have immigrant backgrounds. The ethnic profile of the millennial is far more blended that than of previous generations. In addition, there are millennials who come from an increased percentage of single-parent homes, blended families, and families with same-sex parents than ever before (Broido, 2004).

Authors Neil Howe and William Strauss described the generation as an ethnically diverse generation who are team players, optimistic, confident, trusting of authority, rule-followers, achievers in school, and generally achievement-oriented in everything they undertake. Furthermore, millennials will make up an estimated 50% of the workforce by 2020 ultimately changing the face of organizational leadership.

Here at the 2016 NOW Diversity Workforce Diversity Breakfast Forum with panel of young professionals for The Millennial Report on Workforce Diversity – myself, Kinika Young (Bass, Berry & Sims), Marcus Johnson (Edward Jones) and Luke Marklin (Uber) and Q&A facilitator Jonquil Newland (News Channel 5) giving insight on how millennials are changing the workforce. (Photo Credit: NOWDiversity.org)

Millennials Needing Expression and Acceptance

For millennials, walking into an organization and seeing all types of people is a norm. Diversity of race and gender is a given and in some cases a must. While older generations likely consider demographics, equal opportunity, and representation as the frame for diversity, millennials are much more concerned about the diversity of thoughts, ideas and philosophies as we contain an unending curiosity to understand differences and explore opportunities for collaboration.

There is a growing segment of millennials who are refusing to check our identities at the door while many organizations are remaining unchanged in their response to our need for expression and acceptance. This need is not just an expectation we hope to receive for ourselves but one we want to see granted to other cultural groups as workplace demographics evolve. Our appreciation for share of voice is aligned with an appreciation for cognitive diversity.

This means organizations are forced to rethink and redefine their approach. Instead of using the phrase ‘diversity and inclusion’ to describe race, age and gender in a traditional fashion with no ties to business growth or evolution, the millennial generation has compelled organizations to consider a combination of unique traits to overcome challenges and achieve business goals as the diversity of experience and the inclusion of thought become increasingly more crucial to future innovation.

Millennials Commanding Inclusion and Innovation

As millennials move into leadership, a transformation in traditional diversity and inclusion models will challenge past approaches and break barriers that have hindered the progress.

Connectedness is part of our generational DNA and breeds the kinds of transformation organizations of the future will command. While there is much work to be done, the millennial generation is a likely catalyst to show how advocacy, learning, and leadership can collectively leverage opportunities to see greater inclusion and innovation.

If making a commitment to diversity and inclusion truly means allowing an individual to bring his/her true and whole self to work, organizations must ensure millennials, along with other culturally advanced cohorts, can work in a collaborative environment that openly values tangible participation from individuals who have different ideas and perspectives that can have positive impact on business outcomes.

This post is an excerpt from my thought leadership series, The Original Millennial.

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The Original Millennial Aerial Ellis

Inclusion Must Honor the MLK Legacy

As we return to work after observing the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, we must pause to honor his legacy and reflect on the impact of his work as it lingers throughout our communities.

If we consider the presence of that legacy being carried out in our organizations, we would immediately consider the practice of diversity and inclusion.

Sadly however, many organizations spend more time talking about how they can and should improve workplace diversity than taking any measurable action toward workplace inclusion.  Statements and declarations, committees and councils, trainings and assessments — all sound great. None of those things truly move the needle toward inclusion. When policies are not matched with strategic efforts, results will never come about.

In light of this much needed work, I was happy to create and coordinate the annual MLK Diversity Breakfast hosted by the Lipscomb University Department of Communication and Journalism and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on Friday, January 15, 2016 in partnership with the Council on Workforce Innovation and National Organization for Workforce Diversity.

This event is aimed at inspiring interactive conversation among local leaders who are champions for diversity and inclusion by sharing ideas, addressing issues and rethinking practices that affect our multicultural communities.

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(Aerial Ellis opening the 2016 MLK Diversity Breakfast at Lipscomb University.)

The MLK Diversity Breakfast is an opportunity for area professionals to gain a greater understanding of how to communicate about diversity and inclusion as a priority within their organizations and have access to a network of colleagues who collectively celebrate the cultural progression of the Nashville community. Our keynote speaker is a C-suite or civic leader connected to the practice of cross-cultural communication with a passion for the ways in which diversity and inclusion impacts business and community.

This year’s event featured Rose Jackson Flenorl, Manager, Global Citizenship, FedEx Corporation as keynote speaker. Flenorl directs and implements the company’s community outreach strategy in the areas of disaster relief, safety, environment, education, and diversity. She leads a team of professionals committed to representing the heart of the corporation by executing strategic programs and maintaining relationships with national and international non-profit organizations. Flenorl provided insight on the global corporation’s work in serving an evolving base of multicultural consumers, strengthening its pipeline to recruit, retain and advance diverse talent, and supporting minority business owners and community initiatives through citizenship engagement.

Last year, our inaugural event featured Anthony Carter, Chief Diversity Officer at Johnson & Johnson. Take a look at our 2015 highlights.

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(L-R: Rose Jackson Flenorl of FedEx – 2016 keynote speaker, Jacky Akbari of Now Diversity)

In addition to the breakfast, Rose Jackson Flenorl spent time talking with our communication and journalism students about the path to success in the industry. Discussions about diversity allow our students to better identify bias and stereotypes, discover advocacy with an objective lens, and communicate across global cultures as future journalists and public relations practitioners.

Though her visit, I believe all were able to consider diversity as a social action that challenges those norms, values, styles and patterns of thinking that can inspire more inclusive conversations.

If organizations strive to live up to the tenets of Dr. King’s vision, they must honor his legacy through actions that show real progress toward workplace inclusion. Initiatives must not only embrace employees for their individuality but also celebrate the differences that contribute to the success and innovation in the workplace regardless of gender, creed, color or sexual orientation.

Beyond commemorative events and celebrations, we have an obligation to act. Inclusion at any point should always be our goal. In this new year and moment of cultural reflection, I challenge you to thinker deeper about the ways Dr. King’s legacy can inspire and shape your organization’s practice of inclusion.

See a few highlights from the 2016 MLK Diversity Breakfast.