By Julie M. Felix, MSc, PHR

By now most of us know that in 2015, millennials became the largest demographic in the U.S. workforce. Their growing dominance is creating new opportunities as well as challenges for companies with a multi generational workforce. Among the opportunities is a chance to shift the conversation around diversity and inclusion. 

A recent study by Deloitte concludes that ” ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ have long been common terms in corporate cultures across the globe-but when we really deep dive into what each of these terms mean to each generation, there are some striking contrasts.” The report points out that baby boomers (1946-1964) and Generation Xers (1965-1980) tend to view diversity in terms of “the right thing to do” (morality), compliance and equality. Millennials (1981-2000), on the other hand, tend to view diversity in terms of the presence and blending of unique perspectives within a team. Unlike previous generations, millennials are the most multicultural generation born in the U.S., which may also help to explain their unique view of diversity. They are less concerned about racial, ethnic, sexual or age differences.

Recognizing these changing perspectives, Mesirow Financial recently hosted “Diversity of Thought Drives Innovation”, an event focused on digital innovations disrupting traditional business models, including financial services. Guest speaker Howard Tullman, CEO of 1871, spoke to an audience of over 100 senior and middle managers and staff on the importance of understanding these shifts. He addressed potential business implications, as well as the importance of building an inclusive workforce to respond to the ever-quickening pace of these changes. At the conclusion of the talk, Tullman highlighted the need to bring different perspectives to the table and embrace diversity of thought and backgrounds to produce the best results.

Some suggestions for Increasing Cognitive Diversity in the Workplace:

  • Identify the cross-transferrable skills needed for key roles and consider hiring talent from different industries to bring unique perspectives to the organization
  • Create opportunities for employees to regularly share ideas and feedback
  • Promote cross-collaboration between departments to enhance learning and produce better outcomes

With millennials projected to make up 75% of the workforce by 2025 (according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics), the rise in their influence presents challenges for companies with a multi generational workforce, but their growing numbers are also helping reframe the conversation around diversity and inclusion and providing opportunities to improve both.

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