As a college Sociology professor and post-Baby Boomer, also known as a Generation Xer, I was once baffled by a student who was using their phone to complete an online exam. It seemed impractical and unnecessarily difficult to view such tiny text and have so little space to respond. Admittedly, I had been on a self-imposed media hiatus, but that was several years ago and the hiatus is over.
A combination of a set of frustrated teenagers at home who could never reach me outside the house and several students who were baffled at why a sociologist wouldn’t be engaged in social media, finally convinced me to give it a try. That Christmas, my gifts included a laptop and a cell phone. From there, I’ve managed to master several social media platforms, including SnapChat, WordPress blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I confess, at this moment I’m using a piece of technology to speak my writing into my phone and it’s automatically uploading the text to my computer’s Word document.
This is giving me the opportunity to think faster because I can’t type as fast as I can talk (even though I did take a typewriting class in high school and like to entertain my students with stories about ancient artifacts such as typewriter ribbon and eraser pencils with fans on the tip.)
Many people understand why colleges and universities would need to consider generational diversity, because most professors are older than most students. But whether companies are newer with a younger demographic (such as Google or Apple) or are long-standing foundational companies with a top-heavy older employee base, understanding and incorporating principles of inclusive excellence can only improve the experience of interacting with both customers and employees.
Because issues surrounding workplace diversity have been on the table for some time, many companies have adopted the principles of inclusive excellence in some areas of difference and not others. Differences in age group are correlated to attitudes about racial and ethnic, gender, and other forms of equity, including age. While many of these differences are perpetuated as stereotypes or caricatures of various age groups, there are some ideas that are shared by each group because of the historical context of their upbringing and which occurred during their developmental periods.
For instance, many Baby Boomers came of age during a time of national civil unrest and their work-related attitudes may reflect that. They also were exposed to a great deal of debate about the value of equality, so as they aged, many developed an attitude of expectation of equity that Traditionalists may not have experienced. Many Traditionalists experienced the Great Depression and were old enough to remember World War II, so their attitudes about waste, frugality, and the chain of command differ from other generations. In the workplace, this may manifest in stereotypes about inflexibility.
Workers who were teenagers during the Vietnam War developed attitudes that may differ from those who were teenagers during World War II. After World War II, the U.S. was prosperous, victorious, and hopeful. But workers who were teenagers after Vietnam may remember the national angst, shame, and unrest. They may have developed attitudes of distrust in authority and question why decisions are made and who made them.
Generations X and Y have been exposed to examples of diversity from their youths via socialization from books, media, family composition, and peer groups. They are accustomed to seeing more faces that are more inclusive of our society’s diversity. When members of these various group work together there may be conflict, which can be mitigated by focusing on increasing awareness of differences, expectations, and generational attitudes by learning to respect their experiences.
Workers who are Generation Z or the Microwave Generation, are growing up in the computer age, a time when computerized devices are mainstream and where people can access each other and buy products online. Many of them have been using technology, programming, and game systems since they were children. These workers know that it is possible to multitask in different locations at non-traditional times. They may have expectations of immediacy that other generations do not. These workers will be entering the workforce within a few years, and they bring with them a fearlessness of technology and an expectation that all business platforms will be user-friendly. This generation is perfectly positioned to bring our economy and our country into a diverse and inclusive era.
By working together and sharing our collective strengths, we can be assured of a more cooperative and productive future.
By KC Williams
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