What qualifies as a “diverse” workplace? Does it mean that employees are of a variety of different races and genders? Or does it mean they’ve had a variety of life experiences?
Millennials seem to be tilting toward that latter, more easily attainable vision. A recent study from Deloitte and the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, found that when it comes to defining diversity, rather than focusing on demographic features, such as race, or gender, Millennials—those born roughly between 1980 and 2000—are more concerned with hiring those who may have different cognitive viewpoints due to growing up in a different part of the country, or attending a different type of school. Differences in race or gender can play a role in those differing viewpoints, but they may not be singled out as important diversifying characteristics. “Diversity means to me your background based on your previous work experience, where you were born and raised, and any unique factors that contribute to your personality and behavior,” said one Millennial who was surveyed.
This is a departure from what older generations understand diversity to mean. “Millennials frame diversity as a means to a business outcome, which is in stark contrast to older generations that view diversity through the lens of morality (the right thing to do), compliance, and equality,” the study of more than 3,700 individuals spanning different generations, races, and genders found. According to Christie Smith, one of the study’s authors, this generation is already comfortable with the idea of diversity in a traditional sense and they’re looking to expand the definition, which could be a good thing.
It could also be troubling, says Adia Harvey Wingfield, an assistant professor of sociology at Georgia State University who studies issues of race, class, and gender and their impacts in the workplace. “Diversity becomes defined so broadly that using diversity programs or affirmative action as a way of remedying ongoing historical inequalities can easily become overlooked and dismissed,” she said. “People become focused on having diversity for the sake of diversity and it loses the power to addresses existing inequalities.”