Friday, August 15, 2008

Diversity Means Nothing Like You Think It Does

It's always fascinating to tune in to a Gen Y wrestling with how his generation, and the older generations, deal with the question of diversity as it exists today: Has Gen-Y transcended race? by G'Ra Asim on The Daily Voice (Black America's Daily News Source).

This writer himself, demographically and educationally for example, embodies the contradictions so common among Gen Ys, when it comes to identity. As they enter the workforce in droves (they are a huge generation, compared to Generation X, and there are massive numbers of jobs that need to be filled over the next 10 years), my prediction is that companies will try, and fail, to integrate them into their Diversity Programs. They will fail to make this happen for the simple reason that diversity doesn't mean to Generation Y what it means to so many of us that built these "diversity" programs and initiatives in corporate America.

One of the managers in a recent session I facilitated brought up the example that the feedback from their company's firm-wide diversity training was decidedly mixed, from the younger demographic of participants. He shared that one young person asked "why do I have to learn how to work with my friend who's black?" Looking at the baggage that Baby Boomers carry around about race, and the desire to "fix it" through corporate diversity initiatives, you can see where the disconnect starts to occur, between the old guard and Generation Y: young people who've never known anything BUT a multi-cultural, multi-faceted environment.

A big open question for me is this: Is the answer to scrap all legacy diversity programs, because they don't resonate with incoming employees who will someday grow into the company's manager's and leaders? Is our "work" really done on the legacy issues of gender and race parity, especially at the senior level of companies, and in certain industries? And, finally, demographically speaking, do companies have a choice in the matter?

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