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The future of diversity and inclusion: How do we think about diversity and inclusion for the next generations? 

Author: Dr. Poornima Luthra

With Generation Z (Gen Z) entering the workplace in a few years time, it might be a good time to take stock of the efforts to date in the area of diversity and inclusion? Gen Z assumes they will be entering a diverse workforce. Can we say that today’s workplace in your organization meets that expectation? 

Generation Z is the generation born from 2001 to 2015, while babies born post-2015 form Generation Alpha. Gen Z is the first generation to be the most comfortable with and accepting of differences, be it gender, race, or sexual orientation. They have grown up in multiracial homes, and in America, Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation to date with 50% of the American population being multicultural. In the coming years, how do we prepare our workplaces for these generations. What have we learnt from the past that we can focus on to bring our workplaces up to the expected level of diversity that is assumed to exist by Gen Z? What’s extremely crucial is to keep in mind that it’s not just getting the diversity numbers up, it’s more importantly about inclusion. We might be able to attract diverse Gen Z talent but the question to ask is: do we have an inclusive workforce that they will want to stay in? The analogy often used is diversity is getting people to come for a party, inclusion is getting them to dance. Will Gen Z dance in your organisation? 

While there is no magic formula when it comes to diversity and even well-meaning and sincere organisations still struggle to truly create inclusive workplaces, what are some of those best practices out there that would enable creating an inclusive and diverse workplace?

Diversity has often been segmented into gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, and age/ generational, and we need to broaden how we look at diversity. What underpins all these aspects is the organisational need for cognitive diversity – diversity of perspectives, views which come from having a talent pool that adequately represents all segments of the society and markets we operate in. 

A top down and bottom up approach to addressing diversity and inclusion is critical – one without the other will only result in half-hearted efforts. From the top, identifying and communicating the business need for diversity and making it an integral part of the organisation’s strategy is important. Diversity leads to faster growth, higher market share, greater employee engagement, and better shareholder performance. Numerous studies have shown that diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue thanks to innovation while racially diverse teams outperform non-diverse ones by 35%. Teams where men and women are equal earn 41% more revenue. In addition, having a diverse workplace ensures creating a sustainable talent pool for the future. This requires top leadership to move from tolerating diversity to actively supporting diversity – creating a culture that truly embraces diversity making it inclusive. At the same time, the push from the top has to focus on ensuring that processes and systems are in place to enable diverse talent to enter and progress through the organization.

Bottom up processes help create inclusive workplaces that are crucial to the sustainability of diversity efforts. This begins with conscious efforts to hiring diverse talent at all levels of the organization, sending a message that the organization values diversity. Inclusion goes beyond getting the diverse talent into the organization, its about creating behavioral changes at all levels of the organization to enable retention of talent. Talent development programs that include diversity training, unconscious bias training and coaching require employees to become aware of their own behaviours, and its impact on creating an inclusive workplace culture. Part of this involves introspective opportunities for self-evaluation. Appraising employees performance, including leadership, against pre-defined diversity and inclusion metrics sends a clear message that the organization is serious about creating an inclusive workforce for diverse talent.

The culturally diverse and tolerant generation Z is set to enter what they assume are diverse and inclusive workplaces – is your workplace ready for them?