Generational Shifts in the Workforce

According to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census data, millennials-at 34 percent-make up the largest share of the American workforce, surpassing both baby boomers and Generation X. And by 2020, millennials will account for over 50 percent of the American workforce.

And with this generational shift comes a change in perspective-specifically around workforce diversity.

How Baby Boomers and Generation X View Workforce Diversity

Research from Deloitte and the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative states that baby boomers and Generation X view workforce diversity as a moral issue affecting demographics, equal opportunity, and representation.

In other words, having a diverse workforce that equally represents various identifiers-gender, race, religion, etc.-is the right thing for businesses to do.

How Millennials View Workforce Diversity

On the other hand, the researchers found that millennials view diversity as a means to a business outcome. This means that through a culture of collaboration, diverse teams can solve business problems. And to millennials, diversity includes the mix of unique experiences, identities, ideas, and opinions individuals bring to their work.

A different study conducted by Universum, INSEAD and The Head Foundation came to the same conclusion: millennials value cultural diversity, which includes traits such as personality types, work styles, sexual orientation and accents in addition to the traditional visible markers of diversity.

Which Diversity Perspective Should You Embrace?

Just because millennials now make up the majority of the workforce, it doesn’t mean businesses should only focus on their definition of diversity.

In an interview with the Society for Human Resource Management, a critic of the Millennial perspective, Adia Harvey Wingfield, an assistant professor of sociology at Georgia State University, points out that if businesses define diversity too broadly, it can harm groups of people that have been helped by more traditional diversity programs and affirmative action.

However, if you completely discount the millennial perspective, it could lead to a reduction in engagement and productivity among your millennial employees.

The answer is to embrace both traditional and cultural diversity. So now the question becomes: how do you build and manage this type of diverse workforce?

Building and Managing Your Diverse Workforce

The Hiring Process

Your first challenge is the hiring process. You need to make sure that you’re giving equal opportunities to traditionally diverse candidates-minorities, women, persons with disabilities, etc.-but also to groups of people with diverse experiences.

For example, if the job requires multitasking abilities, account for on the job experience as well as the nontraditional experience like a stay at home mother would have raising children.

Also, recruit outside of the traditional places: referrals, newspapers and job boards. Reach out to places that your potential candidates are already visiting.

For example, try participating in a Facebook group dedicated to job seekers in your city. Or create partnerships with schools or professional organizations comprised mainly of an underrepresented group.

These additional efforts show potential employees that not only do you want to create a visually diverse workforce but that you share the same cultural values.

Managing Your Team

Hiring a diverse team is just the first step. You need to educate and train your team how to work together and truly benefit from each other. The diversity training offered should cover a wide variety of different topics, such as how to:

  • Identify and move past stereotypes and implicit bias
  • Incorporate respect throughout communications and actions
  • Lead and leverage diversity for a competitive advantage
  • Build thriving cross-cultural teams
  • Help baby boomers, Generation X and millennials work together

Additional Strategies for Embracing Diversity

Baby boomers and Generation X view workforce diversity in the traditional sense of representation. Millennials believe diversity extends to differences in experiences and culture. And the studies show that ignoring either of these perspectives is bad for business.

You must embrace both types of diversity in your workforce. You can do this through your hiring process and by training your employees on diversity.