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.
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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