What makes workplace diversity potentially one of the most polarizing issues today in business?
I have rarely, if ever, worked for someone who was my mirror image. However, many, if not most of us, feel more comfortable and more at ease with someone who shares our same belief system, likes and dislikes … and, yes, even looks like we do.
What I’ve just described will solicit a different reaction from those filtering my words. For example, those reading who are between 35 to 65+ years of age may have quite a different reaction from someone 18 to 35 years of age. Within this dichotomy of perspectives rests our hope, our future and our burden in business and society today.
I have been fortunate to teach undergraduate and graduate classes at New York University in the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management. NYU attracts an international, national and regional student population. On a regular basis, I have the opportunity to listen to students, both male and female, describe how they do not fit into any one culture and how each is creating a new identity for him or herself.
Two students, one Italian, the other Japanese, during a recent class discussion, shared a unique commonality. Each expressed that neither had the same cultural proclivities of their parents or that of their parents’ generation. Nor were they complete converts to the American ways or any other culture. They said they didn’t fit in anywhere, because what they were experiencing has never existed. They told me theirs is a new culture, and even they weren’t sure what it looked like or will look like in the future. The class of 25 students broke out in a collective, “ah-ha” moment, after hearing what these two students had to say. The general sentiment of these young students from around the world, many first and second generation Americans and citizens of other countries were hearing: “They don’t know me, and I have to find my own way – and I am not the mirror image of anyone.”
Does this sound like every generation who has gone before them? “I am not like my parents, and I must find my own way.” Never before, however, have there been so many in a burgeoning workforce with a multi-national upbringing and diverse perspective.
Many of today’s young, global generation are forging new ground and know that misunderstanding and even biases against them may exist. The students I have been teaching at NYU are gaining an education so they can be successful in business and in life. They are learning as they go.
Sylvia, a recent graduate of NYU, who moved as a young girl with her family to New Jersey from Poland, has this to say about diversity: “Many individuals of my generation (Generation Y/Millenials) have grown up attending schools with students from all walks of life. The rise of the Internet and, more recently, social media, further brings people together no matter what their geographical location…. It is even apparent when analyzing consumer trends,” she added. “One of the features a Millenial will look for when purchasing a product is personalization/customization.”
Recent graduates, of which there are 14.4 million more in the U.S. than there were 20 years ago*, may, like Sylvia, believe that if a company does not practice diversity it can be seen as more conservative and hierarchical or even unwelcoming.
Another 23-year-old, seeking a position in public relations and media, told me, “I believe that many people like myself [young college grads] do accept individuals from other backgrounds or cultures and aren’t as quick to question or criticize them as the older generation. It’s easier to wear certain clothing, sport certain hairstyles or listen to certain types of music. Nowadays, I think employees can show more of their personal side in the workplace without being singled out or judged.”
Layering the perspectives of a global and international workforce, on top of this notion, there is evidence to believe that inclusivity and the most recent shift of wealth from the Western World to the Eastern Hemisphere has brought us to a new cliff, one where we can see the future clearly. We can embrace the amazing gift of inclusivity and diversity or turn around and run back to the caves or familiar mirrors where we all look the same.
A colleague of mine who runs a global diversity organization recently made this point: “We may never get through to everyone about the importance of diversity and inclusion, so it is very important to focus on those individuals and leaders who will be the early adopters and ultimately the fastest growing market of innovators that the world has ever seen.”
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Resources for further reading:
Harvard Business Review article about diversity in the workplace: 3/12/2012 @ http://blogs.hbr.org/bregman/2012/03/diversity-training-doesnt-work.html?cm_sp=blog_flyout-_-bregman-_-diversity_training_doesnt_work
US Gov.: Corporate Advantage: How Women Leaders Elevate the Bottom Line Globally @ http://www.state.gov/e/eb/rls/othr/2012/184988.htm
Cary Broussard is the engine behind the creation of one of the hospitality industry’s longest running women’s marketing programs – Women on Their Way at Wyndham Worldwide. She also has authored a book –From Cinderella to CEO – published by John Wiley & Sons, which has been translated into 10 languages. Cary is currently a marketing and diversity and inclusion consultant, based in New York for global companies. She teaches part-time at New York University. You can read more about Cary and her work at www.cinderellaceo.com.