By Mark Feffer
HR managers and recruiters have already learned that Millennials have their own way of approaching work. Among other things, they expect their jobs to have meaning, their employers to be connected, and their lives to have balance.
Given their bent toward strong communities, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Millennials have expectations about diversity, too. The most diverse generation America has yet seen, Gen Y demands a workplace that's inclusive, with a strong sense of community and teamwork. And the mentoring and training programs you've set up to encourage diversity in the workplace? They may be beside the point.
The reason for this: Millennials have already been exposed to a wide variety of cultures and backgrounds. In college, they developed relationships with students and faculty from all over the world. They've traveled more and are more likely to have studied abroad than previous generations. "That's given them a different view of the world. It's shaped their expectations," says Mike Fenlon, U.S. and Global Talent Leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Those expectations encompass a sense of diversity that goes beyond gender or ethnic background, adds Dennis Kennedy, founder and CEO of the National Diversity Council. Interests, nationality, lifestyle, religion, language, geography and sexual orientation are all part of the mix. "Millennials do not discuss diversity per se," Kennedy says. "They live it as it is part of their mindset."
It's that sense of "living it" that makes formal diversity programs less relevant to Gen Y. Millennials are already "operating diversely day to day," Fenlon says. That means programs that aim to teach empathy and the business case for diversity may not resonate to a group that's already immersed in conversations with colleagues from a range of backgrounds.
Instead, Fenlon sees Millennials learning through the experience of working on diverse teams and hearing feedback in real-world situations. "We're talking about real-time development, learning on the job," he says. "We all have blind spots, shaped by our own experiences. Our goal is to create a feedback-rich environment."
Such dynamics will only grow in importance as the Millennials become a greater proportion of the workforce. By 2025, 75% of global workers will be Millennials, according to Kennedy. In the U.S., they already comprise 25% of all workers. By 2020, that number will rise to 46%. Millennials "expect inclusive work environments that allow them to contribute with their diverse backgrounds and experiences," Kennedy says. "Organizations must recognize these expectations if they want to attract and retain this talent pool today and in the future."
Indeed, PwC sees diversity as offering companies a competitive advantage. "Diverse teams do better," says Fenlon. "Their ideas, their diverse life experiences serve our clients more effectively."
Mark Feffer has written, edited and produced hundreds of articles on careers, personal finance and technology. His work has appeared on Dice.com, Entrepreneur.com as well as on other top sites.