Generational Quick Tip: Defining Diversity in the Workplace

Each generation in the workforce has different ideas about what diversity means to them. These definitions are influenced by: 1) the context in which each individual person was raised and 2) their experience with the field of diversity as it has developed overtime in the workplace. For older generations working in the 1960s -1970s, such as traditionalists and baby-boomers, diversity in the workplace began predominantly with affirmative action and equal opportunity programs that dealt with discrimination complaints and lawsuits after the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. As Generation X was entering the workforce in the 1980s and 1990s, equal opportunity initiatives were expanded into diversity departments.  This focus on diversity was driven by the increasing number of number of African-Americans, Asians, Latinos, Women, and Asians in the workforce and employer’s desire to create a workforce that reflected the changes the demographics of the US.  Today, Generation Y is being introduced to a highly diverse and global workforce that focuses on increasing diversity, as well as leveraging diversity to create inclusive work environments.

Action Step:
Be very clear about how you define diversity at your company because each generation may have a different experience of what diversity in the workplace means to them.

Significant People of a Generation: Muhammad Ali

During the height of his career through the 1960s and 1970s, Muhammad Ali was (and remains) an iconic figure and sports legend.  For the Baby-Boomers coming of age at this time, Muhammad Ali was both a hero and a controversial figure, whose actions and fearless bravado voiced the opinions of many of their generation.

Ali was born to the name Cassius Clay on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, KY.  At the age of 12, he started boxing after thieves stole his bicycle and he wanted to learn the skills to “whoop” them.  At only 18 years old, he won the Light Heavyweight Gold Medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. In his 1975 biography, Ali claims that shortly after receiving the medal, he threw it into the Ohio River after he was refused service at a “whites-only” restaurant.  In 1964, Clay fought Sonny Liston to earn the title of Heavyweight Champion, as the youngest boxer to claim the title. In the same year, Clay converted to Nation of Islam, a religious and political movement aimed to improve the condition of African Americans, and was renamed Muhammad Ali.  For many in the mainstream community, the change made Ali a controversial figure, as Nation of Islam was associated with Malcolm X and the Black Power movements and was often looked at with suspicion and hostility. Ali was very vocal about his beliefs, at times promoting separatist ideas that were considered to be radical.

In 1966, Ali was informed that he was eligible to be drafted for the Vietnam War. Famously, Ali declared that he would refuse to serve, saying he was a conscientious objector because it was against his religion to fight a war that was not in the name of Allah. Muhammad Ali faced criticism from many for being unpatriotic and was charged with draft eviction. However, he also had support from many as a figure for the peace movement that had been growing in the US since 1964. While on trial for draft eviction, Ali famously explained his reason for opposing the war: “Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.” It was a reason that resonated with many Baby-Boomers who felt that the war was an abuse of government authority. He was stripped of his heavyweight title and exiled from the boxing community for 5 years. During this time, he spoke at peace rallies at colleges and schools in favor of ending the Vietnam War.

With his return to boxing in 1970, Muhammad Ali came back with increased swagger and boasting to reclaim his title. In 1974, Ali fought George Foreman in the epic  “Rumble in the Jungle Fight” where Ali, projected as the underdog, reclaimed the heavyweight title. He used his “Rope-a-Dope” technique to tire Foreman out before finishing him with a heavy rain of blows. This fight was followed by the famous 1975 “Thrilla in Manila” fight against Joe Frazier, where Ali, after 14 grueling rounds of fighting, was again victorious. This time the fight was a close call and both fighters were in very poor shape by the end of the fight. The fight has been marked as one of the Top 5 Sporting Events of the 20th Century and was viewed by 700 million people worldwide.

During the height of his career, Muhammad Ali was also prevalent in the mainstream media. He appeared in commercials and did many interviews, offering his opinions loudly and without shame, claiming he was “the greatest.” Although he was a controversial figure, many Baby-Boomers of very different backgrounds could agree that he was a hero and a champion.  He was supported and revered by the peace movement; by African-Americans who aligned with his beliefs or those who were proud of his example; by the white population that shared his beliefs or valued him greatly as a sports hero and public personality. Many of his ideas challenged the ideas of the mainstream, which resonated with many Baby-Boomers who were seeking to overturn and progress government institutions and laws.

Muhammad Ali officially retired from boxing in 1981. In 1984, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He would go on to open the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center. He has continued to engage in many philanthropic pursuits, such as in 1991 when he met with Saddam Hussein to negotiate the release of American hostages and his 2001 peace talks in Afghanistan. In 1996 Ali famously lit the giant Olympic torch in Atlanta to kick off the start of the Summer Olympic Games.  He currently resides with his family in Arizona.

Cultural Statistics

Limited English Proficient Population of the USA:

  • In 2011, there were 25.3 million Limited English Proficient (LEP) individuals, both foreign-born and US-born, residing in the United States
  • Over the past 20 years, the LEP share of the total US population has grown from close to 6 percent in 1990 to about 9 percent in 2011
  • The total number of LEP individuals has grown by 81 percent since 1990
  • Although most LEP individuals are foreign born, a sizable share (about 19 percent, or 4.8 million) of this population is native born

Source: Migration Policy Institute (www.migrationinformation.org)

African Immigrants in the United States:

  • Almost half of the African foreign born in the United States have arrived since 2000.
  • The top countries of origin for African immigrants are Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ghana, and Kenya.
  • From 2001 to 2010, African nationals accounted for 28.4 percent of refugee arrivals and 21.2 percent of persons granted asylum.
  • Over one-third of all African immigrants reside in New York, California, Texas, and Maryland.

Source: Migration Policy Institute (www.migrationinformation.org)

Gay Marriage Around the World
Countries that allow gay marriage: Argentina (2010), Belgium (2003), Brazil (2013), Canada (2005), Denmark (2012), England/Wales (2013), France (2013), Iceland (2010), The Netherlands (2000), New Zealand (2013), Norway (2009), Portugal (2010), South Africa (2006), Spain (2005), Sweden (2009), Uruguay (2013)

Countries where some jurisdictions allow gay marriage: Mexico (2009), USA (2003)

Source: Pew Research Forum (http://www.pewforum.org)

Generational Quick Tip: Work Environment

Each generation brings a unique cultural background to the workplace that impacts the type of work environment they prefer. These preferences may be impacted by their views on authority, informality/formality, leadership, etc. The Baby-Boomers desire a “flat” organizational hierarchy where a democratic approach to feedback and opportunity is desired, which is different from their Traditionalist predecessors, who preferred hierarchical organizations and chain-of-command. Baby-Boomers also want to create a warm and friendly atmosphere, though do not confuse the  Boomers friendliness with informality, as they stick to more traditional views on formality in communication and dress. Both Gen X and Gen Y agree that the workplace should be a positive, fun, and informal environment. Gen X greatly values efficient and fast-paced environments, where there is easy access to information and ability to work independently. Gen Y enjoys diverse and highly creative work environments that provide many opportunities for collaboration and advancement through training and learning.

Action Step:
Ask a colleague what aspect of their current work environment is most important to them in regard to getting their work done quickly and efficiently.

Significant Events of a Generation: Baby Boomer – The Vietnam War and Draft

“Hell no, we won’t go!”: a common slogan for the anti-Vietnam War movement

The Vietnam War occurred from November 1, 1955 – April 30, 1975 and took place in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. On one side of the war was the Vietnam People’s Army (Viet Minh) of North Vietnam backed by communist China and supported in South Vietnam by the guerrilla efforts of the communist Viet Cong. The opposing allies of the war were composed of the Republic of Vietnam (the democratic government of Southern Vietnam) France and the United States. The United States joined the war to prevent communist takeover in South Vietnam because they believed it would lead to the communism throughout the region, a strategy known as containment.

In 1955, President Eisenhower deployed the first American troops for military assistance to South Vietnam. The deployment was in response to North Vietnam ignoring the 1954 Geneva Conference decision to hold national elections in 1956 for the reunification of Vietnam. Instead the Viet Minh began training and mobilizing troops to overtake Southern Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Over the course of 20 years, the war would claim the lives of almost 2 million Vietnamese on both sides of the war including heavy civilian losses.

During the war, over 58,209 American soldiers were killed and 303,704 were wounded. At the time, the Baby-Boomer generation was entering young adulthood and many of the young men born between 1944-1956 faced the threat of being drafted into the war. Officially, the draft of the Vietnam era lasted from 1969-1973 and was from a pool of approximately 27 million young men. The draft raised 2,215,000 men for military service (in the U.S., Vietnam, West Germany, and elsewhere) during the Vietnam era.

The draft also raised widespread anti-war movements across the United States, particularly after people became aware of the failure of the 1968 Tet Offensive. College campuses and major cities such as New York, Washington D.C., Oakland, and Berkeley exploded with protest movements. Selective Services reported that a total of 206,000 persons were reported as conscientious objectors or delinquent for dodging the draft. The number of draft resisters was so great, that they eventually outnumbered the actual draftees, rendering the draft ineffectual.

During the early 1970s-1975, the Nixon administration sought means to end American involvement in the war due to the rising anti-war tension of Americans at home and at war. His administration adopted a policy of Vietnamization, the process of training Southern Vietnamese forces and aiding them with fire power, as well as beginning peace talks with North Korea.  Despite protests by South Korea, the last American troops pulled out of Vietnam by 1974 and on April 30, 1975, the capital of South Korea, Saigon, fell to North Korea. In 1977 after the war, President Carter granted general amnesty to all those men charged with dodging the draft.

Whats Currently Trending With Gen Y

MSN Now
MSN Now is a wonderful site that is real-time tracking of trends on the internet at they occur. The site, which acts like a super-search engine across all the major social media platforms and search engines, compiles a list of updates that automatically updates in real-time as trends occur. The Biggest Movers section gives up to the minute accounts of what the top ten search keywords that are trending. If you want to be in the know in real-time, MSN Now is a great site for tracking the internet’s activity.

Mary Kay Virtual Makeover App
Gen Y loves to be able to customize the looks of friends and celebrities (Beyonce is a favorite) with endless combinations of eye makeup, lip colors, hairstyles, hair colors, accessories and more. Users of this free app can choose a photo from their library, take a picture from their mobile device or select from a variety of models. Gen Y particularly loves sharing their new looks with friends on facebook and twitter.

Cultural Quick Tip: Tell Stories to Build Strong Communities

Across the globe, cave drawings thousands of years old have preserved the remnants of ancient civilizations. While the drawings may be scattered over great distances and originate from different cultures, they all have one aspect in common: they tell stories.  The drawings recount stories about successes, hunts, trials and daily life. Storytelling is at the heart of what makes us human and is a universal tool used by groups of people to explain who they are and the experiences that shaped their history. While we might not use cave drawings anymore, we still use storytelling to capture collective histories and lessons learned. On our work teams, we use stories of past successes and failures to improve our current and future work plans and also to strengthen our sense of community. As work teams become more diverse, the team’s stories will evolve to include new perspectives.

Action Step:
Share team and company stories with new employees to help them get adjusted more quickly and to feel like a welcome addition to the group.

Cultural Quick Tip: Assess Your Communication Style

The alphorn is a musical instrument that originated in the Alps and was used as a European communication system. It was developed in response to the natural geographic barriers that inhibited communication between the small villages scattered throughout the Alpine valleys and hillsides. Hundreds of years ago when it was created, the alphorn was a cutting edge innovation that fostered greater communication across longer distances. While outdated today, the Swiss still learn and play the alphorn for music and as a form of maintaining their cultural traditions. Just as technologies for communicating across distance have evolved, so have communication techniques between people. When communicating with others, particularly people from other countries, it is important to recognize when your communication style has become outdated and when it is time to upgrade to a new technique.

Action Step:
Assess which communication method would be the most effective for your intended audience before communicating.

Cultural Statistics

Percent of People Speaking Languages In Massachusetts in 2010

  • English – 78.9%
  • Spanish – 35.6%
  • Portuguese – 14.1%
  • French – 5.2%
  • Chinese – 5.2%
  • French Creole – 4.2%
  • Italian – 3.4%
  • Russian – 2.9%
  • Vietnamese – 2.7%
  • Greek – 1.9%

Source: American Community Survey

Marriage in the US:

  • In 2010 15% of all new marriages were between spouses of a different race or ethnicity from one another
  • In 1980 6.7% of all new marriages were between spouses of a different race or ethnicity from one another
  • Among all newlyweds in 2010, 9% of whites, 17% of blacks, 26% of Hispanics and 28% of Asians married outside their race or ethnicity
  • Between 2008 and 2010 22% of all newlyweds in Western states married someone of a different race or ethnicity, compared with 14% in the South, 13% in the Northeast and 11% in the Midwest

Source: Pew Social Trends (www.pewsocialtrends.org)

Immigration Trends Around the World in 2010:

  • There were an estimated 216 million immigrants – people who live outside their country of origin
  • Europe had the most immigrants with approximately 70 million
  • North America was second with approximately 45 million immigrants
  • The most popular destinations for immigrants were the US, followed  by Russia and then Germany
  • Mexico had the most people who migrated to another country, with almost 12 million people leaving Mexico

Source: International Organization
for Migration (www.iom.int)

Generational Quick Tip: Working Hours

Each generation has very different views on the number of hours that should be put in at work and what the amount of time-spent working says about your work value, ethics, and productivity. Baby-Boomers invented the 60-hour workweek and many of their generation believe that working long hours and clocking time at the office is a right of passage that establishes experience, self-worth, and career fulfillment.  As baby-boomers are getting closer to the age of retirement, many of this generation are revising the attitude towards work-hours to include flexibility and work-life balance.  Generation X greatly values work-life balance and the ability to spend more time doing things outside of work. They believe that working smarter, efficiently, and with greater output means that you do not need to spend over 40-hours to achieve quality results. Generation Y also believes in flexibility and work-life balance. They believe strongly that work should be evaluated on work-product – not how, where, and when the work gets completed.

Action Step:
Try not to judge colleagues and employees based off of the amount of time they spend at their desk, but look instead at the value of their work.

Generational Quick Tip: Learning Opportunities and Training

Each generation brings different attitudes towards training and learning opportunities in the workplace. Traditionalists will engage in training if it is clear how the training contributes to the organization’s goals, even if they do not see the personal benefit to their career. Baby-Boomers also want to understand how the training will improve big picture operations at the corporation, but they need to be convinced that training will reap personal rewards, such as career advancement. As the individualists of the company, Generation X is not motivated by the benefits training will have on the company; they see training as an investment in their future and an opportunity to make personal advancements. For Generation Y, who may have only been out of college for a couple of years, training offers an exciting learning opportunity! GenYs love a classroom setting and any opportunity to learn; they are also very ambitious and are looking a competitive edge to place them above their peers. It is important to understand how each generation views training opportunities, so companies can effectively market training opportunities that appeal to employees of all ages.

Action Step:
Clearly state the benefit-case for the company, as well as the benefit-case for the individual, when informing employees about available learning opportunities.

Generational Quotes

“The competencies of both generations are valuable tools in the market place.”
-Sandra Allen O’Connor, VP/GM Boston office of Personnel International Corporation

“You can take as much as you can from the generation that has preceded you, but then it’s up to you to make something new.” -Jackson Browne, Musician

“That which seems the height of absurdity in one generation often becomes the height of wisdom in another.”
-Adlai Stevenson, U.S. Vice President1893-1897

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The dead might as well try to speak to the living as the old to the young.”
-Willa Cather

Cultural Quick Tip: Understand Your Expertise

The average margin of victory in a Formula One race is 10 seconds, thus victory is dependent on every second spent on the track. During a pit stop when all four tires are changed, the pit crew must exercise over 50 maneuvers  in an average of 7 seconds. Many Formula One races are won or lost by the pit crew’s speed, skill, and execution. Successful collboration on the track or in an office requires a team with diverse roles and skills working in concert. Diverse teams with members from different backgrounds will offer an even greater variety of expertise and personalities. While it may take an increased amount of respect and awareness to work in concert, the team has a greater potential for victory.

Action Step:
Understand the expertise you bring to the team and commit to performing your role with confidence and skill.

Cultural Quick Tip: Pay Attention to Non-Verbal Communication

When new parents first bring home their baby, they are faced with many new communication challenges as they try to understand and meet the needs of their newborn. Without verbal communication parents must rely upon observable types of communication in the form of facial expressions, cries and body movements. Parents have a vested interest in learning to decode their child’s nonverbal communication, as it will help them to raise a healthy and happy baby. While your colleagues in the workplace communicate both verbally and non-verbally, understanding how to interpret their nonverbal communication can be a great advantage. Keep in mind that the meaning behind body language and facial expressions may vary from culture to culture, so it is always good to check for understanding.

Action Step:
Research communication etiquette from other cultures to aid your understanding when communicating with people from outside your country or culture.

Generational Quick Tip: Generational Motivation

Each generation is inspired by different values and incentives in the workplace that encourage them to work productively and enthusiastically. Traditionalists are motivated by being respected and told that their experience and contributions matter to the company. They are also motivated by the promise of job security.  Baby-boomers appreciate being told that they are of value to a company and that their skills are needed in order for the company to be successful. They are also motivated by the opportunity to earn high wages, raises, promotions, and benefits. Getting time off and the freedom to complete tasks and projects independently without micro-management or strenuous rules, motivates Generation X. Generation Y is inspired by training opportunities, working in dynamic groups, and flexibility in scheduling. They greatly appreciate time-off, as well as opportunities to volunteer and give back to the community. Understanding how to motivate employees from different generations is important in successfully hiring new employees, improving retention rates, and increasing overall productivity.

Action Step
If you are a manager, at your next check-in with your employees ask questions to assess their current motivation level.  Investigate if there is anything that you can adjust in order to connect the employee with a cause that motivates them and helps them to do their best work.