PERSPECTIVES

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion through a Gen Y/Z Lens

2021-10-06


Amid the big quit, younger workers see workplace DE&I differently, challenging business leaders to reassess how they approach talent recruitment and retention.

It’s on — a record number of people have left their jobs in recent months. In April, May and June alone, the US Department of Labor reports 11.5 million employees have quit their employers. And it’s not over.

While there are a variety of issues driving the Great Resignation, a July 2021 Wiley survey of Gen Ys and Gen Zs in technology found that 50% had left or were wanting to leave their jobs “because company culture made them feel unwelcome or uncomfortable.” The percentages were higher for women (53%), Black/African Americans (56%), Hispanic/Latino (58%), and Asian/Pacific Islander (53%).

The takeaway? Clearly, issues of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) are contributing to workplace attrition at unprecedented levels. DE&I is more than a simple hiring issue; it’s an important workplace culture issue. Given this, we wondered how younger workers identify potential new employers. What are the positive signs, the green flags, that signal this might be an organization with an inclusive culture, a place where they can feel they belong?

In June 2021, we asked over 3,000 Gen Y/Gen Z individual contributors in the US what sources of information they used to understand what their organizations are doing on the DE&I front, as the following figure illustrates.

Our analysis found:

  • While part of a typical DE&I communication effort, information posted on the organization’s website, on popular media, and on job-posting sites had relatively low take-up. As true digital natives, these generations are quite comfortable collecting and cross-referencing a wide variety of information sources — integrating their online and offline experiences. When looking at the responses as a whole, it’s clear that potential new hires assess organizational commitment to DE&I using multiple touch points in the hiring process.
  • Formal internal communication efforts from senior leaders and the DE&I office were seen as “important” sources of information across the board. This is particularly true for women. When asked to identify what senior leader behaviors had the most impact on feelings of belonging, several items stood out: demonstrating commitment, measuring DE&I efforts, and being publicly transparent about progress in meeting DE&I commitments.
  • Specific policies and procedures along with materials on company benefits have increased scrutiny from women, Blacks/African Americans, and Hispanic/LatinX/Spanish groups. Respondents said that ensuring the organization’s hiring, promotion and pay processes feel fair and unbiased are very important drivers of feelings of belonging. Increasingly, access to specific benefits signals organizational commitment to a wide variety of diversity and inclusion concerns. Most recently, issues associated with pay, flexibility and wellness are top of mind.
  • While the percent responses were higher in most categories, respondents with Asian/Pacific Islander heritage had a similar response pattern as did White respondents. Both groups found formal communications from senior leaders to have the greatest impact on their understanding of DE&I efforts. This was surprising given the reports of increased discrimination and violence against Asian Americans during the pandemic.
  • For Gen Ys and Gen Zs, managers and colleagues play a crucial role as the connection point in the relationship between the organization and its employees. Having access to these two pivotal groups in the hiring process allows them to assess whether this is an inviting organizational culture — a place where they can bring their differences to work, and those differences are valued. A place where they can be successful based on what they see and hear.
  • Finally, what was particularly noteworthy was the lower level of importance people placed on formal diversity and inclusion training programs as well as employee resource or identity groups. This suggests that Gen Ys and Gen Zs look for DE&I to be baked into the organization’s culture through organizational policies and procedures and regularly reinforced through formal communication channels. Specific programs are certainly important but may come and go over time. Policies and procedures demonstrate a more solid and sustained cultural commitment to inclusion.

The DE&I green flags are clear. Organizations that will be successful in attracting and retaining a diverse pipeline of talent will be those in which all employees can be their authentic selves in the workplace; in which workers know others are committed to helping them succeed; and in which employees believe the people and the systems that affect their development and advancement are fair and unbiased.

To learn more, read our research report, “What It Means to Belong @ Work,” visit our Diversity & Inclusion page, or contact us.