Inclusion & Openness: reimagining diversity for millennials

Getting to grips with diversity and inclusion improves your bottom line. Unfortunately, many companies still fail to appreciate its strategic importance. Appealing to millennials as consumers, as well as recruiting and retaining us as employees should sharpen companies’ focus on getting diversity and inclusion right. Indeed, several clients have started talking to us in the last month about doing exactly that.

Grab consumers’ attention

Take advantage of the recent trend for consumers selecting brands and basing loyalty on how they perceive that brand’s approach to its employees. Several companies are using their “employer brand” (broadly, how they appear as an employer) as part of their consumer brand in order to drive sales based on exactly this insight. Interesting recent examples include a campaign repositioning people’s perceptions of GE and UPS simultaneously showing why you’d want to work for them and why you’d use their services. There are many myths about millennial consumers’ attitudes. However, there’s consistent agreement, across multiple studies (see Forbes, for example), that we’re into authenticity and highly sceptical of authenticity spin. Also, once you’ve persuaded us that you are authentic and build a bond with us – we are loyal.

There’s a range of data about millennials’ social attitudes. Most of it suggests, like this survey, that we don’t see how things like race, gender, sexual orientation should be a barrier to anyone doing anything. Just stop and take stock of all this. If millennials perceive you as failing to include such a range of different people, this will impact our engagement with your brand. Improved success with millennials through inclusion could have real explanatory force. As this overview from Deloitte = shows, sociology and business academics are still in the early stages of understanding how diversity affects businesses. However, the available quantitative research demonstrates the positive effect of diversity and inclusion on financial results. It stands to reason that, being such a large consumer demographic, millennials’ purchasing decisions would contribute significantly to this effect.

Recruitment & Retention Magic

62% of millennials want to work for a company that makes positive impact on society, compared to 42% of all workers.

If anything, the case for properly strategic diversity and inclusion is even stronger when it comes to recruiting millennials as employees.

Millennials expect to be able to express their views at work, have them considered, valued and encouraged. We expect to feel ownership over our company’s purpose and an ability to influence its direction. Perhaps most importantly, 62% of millennials want to work for a company that makes a positive impact on society, compared to 42% of all workers.

As numerous clients have repeatedly said to us – predominantly Generation X senior management struggles to understand, engage with and, in some cases, even tolerate such attitudes. They know this is a problem but often don’t appreciate the full scale or precise contours of the issue. Rarely do they have any ready answers.

Let's be straight

We need to recognise the problems before we fix them. The challenge can be a vicious circle. You may already be experiencing it – don’t worry, it’s fixable given the right approach.

  1. A company with a non-millennial friendly employer brand will find it harder to attract new, millennial talent.
  2. At the moment, the average job tenure for millennials is 1.3-years*. To maintain or improve on this is tricky without considering or reacting to millennials.
  3. Beware of inter-generational conflict. Without a strategic inclusion program both Gen X and Gen Y employees can get uncomfortable in their work environment.This has the potential to harm productivity for everyone, in addition to any retention issues.
  4. Evidently, the above three issues don't help consumer perception of an employer brand, and so may further impact revenue and profitability.
  5. Issues 1-2 also impact innovation, revenue and profitability. Research by New York-based thinktank Center for Talent Innovation indicates that companies with teams of diverse teams of people who feel valued and hear are:
    • 158% more likely to successfully innovate for their target audience
    • 70% more likely to enter a new market
    • 45% more likely to improve market share.

This is all supported by the available quantitative research that connects company performance on diversity with significantly improved customer numbers, revenue and profitability.

The good news is that there is a single, simple solution: a properly strategic inclusion program.

This is about inclusion for everyone

Millennials can smell tokenism a mile off

However, do not get confused. This is categorically not about getting different faces in the room. Millennials can smell tokenism a mile off.

The benefits to your business also depend on getting the fullest possible range of perspectives on solving your challenges. Just having a few different faces does little to that end.

In fact, this is about inclusion for everyone – you need that full range of perspectives to be heard and valued, including your white male Gen Xs. That requires considered planning, careful integration and full employee engagement.

Think about it like diversifying your product range (or portfolio, or investments). You don't just randomly throw together different products and hope for the best. You judiciously select, monitor, optimise and actively manage.

Similarly, half-baked diversity efforts will be counter-productive. There's a raft of research (helpfully summarised both here and here) that shows that just throwing a bunch of diverse people together and hoping for the best leads to team dysfunction, dissatisfaction and decreased performance.

Instead, like the portfolio example, careful communication, integration and training (for everyone) are far more likely to yield a happy, profitable workplace. The good news is that, even with millennial motivation, this work will benefit everyone in your business.

An easy way to start the journey

High racial diversity can result in 30% higher than average profitability and high gender diversity, 38%

So you've got this far. You want to innovate, bring in the best talent and increase revenue.

Good, keep going.

This starts with unpacking millennials' perceptions of your brand and sector, then your internal cultural state of play.

Less good but still good news: once you've worked out how, there's no substitute for putting in the hard yards. Depending on what your unpacking exercise reveals, this could involve work in one or more of these areas:

  • Assessing how the insights affects your innovation, recruitment, marketing, sales and R&D needs
  • Collecting and considering employees' views and expectations
  • Redesigning how you communicate around inclusion internally
  • Training senior and middle management on inclusion
  • Engaging employees of all levels in joint team-building work
  • Establish forums for everyone to share ideas for the business
  • Create mechanisms for senior management to demonstrate how it has considered and applied employee contributions.

Please don't let this list put you off.

Seriously, don't be put off by the road ahead

With careful guidance, you can really get to grips with what your organisation needs and work your way, step-by-step, to the top of the millennial engagement mountain.

Our guidance

External eyes are not only for fresh perspective. We've found that:

  • People are more open - genuinely open
  • It can be easier for external eyes to broach difficult topics - cut through company politics if you like
  • Embedding Diversity & Inclusion into business is something everyone can buy into. It engages everyone - it is, by nature, inclusive/

Why not?

The journey has begun for some. In June, 30 US tech companies including Airbnb, Intel and Zynga 'pledged' to take on more women and minorities. They pledged to "treat this goal as a top management priority and business imperative because tapping the full measure of talent from across the country is critical."

The same companies have joined the likes of Facebook, Google and Apple in committing to publish diversity reports.

Be smart. Be inclusive. Be brave.

*US Bureau of Labor Statistics figure for employees aged 20-24, 2014. For comparison, the average tenure is 3 years for 25-34 year-olds and 5.2 years for 35-44 year olds.