“The disconnect between the traditional definitions of diversity and inclusion, and the millennial definitions, is already causing business hardship.” That hardship comes in the form of clashes with managers and upper-level executives who don’t allow millennials to express themselves freely.“Millennials yearn for acceptance of their thoughts and opinions, but compared to older generations, they feel it’s unnecessary to downplay their differences in order to get ahead,” the survey authors write. “Millennials are refusing to check their identities at the doors of organizations today, and they strongly believe these characteristics bring value to the business outcomes and impact.”
Yeah….I’m weird, and I’m ok with that. I can be pretty shy and awkward, a little silly, and just generally different. I’ve struggled because of that. But I’m also the person who will argue against liking the Beatles, and I’m probably one of the people they had in mind when they coined the term diversity of thought (they = the small group of business writers that form the International Buzzword Committee).
I’ve never been quite sure why I feel so strongly about being yourself at work, and now I realize it might have something to do with the moment in which I entered the corporate world. Diversity in terms of equal representation is still a work in progress, but it’s nothing like it was when more experienced employees entered the workforce:
The baby boomers and generation-Xers should be given credit for getting us from Point A to Point B in the inclusion discussion. Millennials, however, are ready for Point C.
And what is Point C, you might ask?
“If you want to build a truly inclusive culture—one that leverages every individual’s passion, commitment, and innovation, and elevates employee engagement, empowerment, and authenticity—you should be willing to break down the narrow walls that surround diversity and inclusion, and limit their reach.”
This means that everyone needs to bring themselves to work, not the persona they’ve developed for work to seem more extroverted, serious, normal, CEO-esque. It means that everyone gets heard, regardless of how they feel most comfortable speaking up.
The article calls this concept “cognitive diversity,” and large companies are beginning to explore these ideas in different ways. Microsoft, for instance, has a program to place talented autistic programmers (read this awesome article about it in Fast Company, apparently the only thing I read). Learning this made me unimaginably happy at the direction corporate culture is moving in, and it helped me expand my own thinking a lot. Now, if I’m at a meeting and someone doesn’t act in the narrowly defined business manner, I try to think about why, and ask myself what I can learn from this person. When I make snap judgments based on behaviour that isn’t “normal,” I’m doing myself a disservice by possibly missing out on some interesting ideas.
Now you might be saying to yourselves, “These are deeply poetic musings, Kristen, but why is all of this important to us in the business world?” Or maybe not the first part. There is one critical reason why this is important to business: inclusion engenders innovation. And the inclusion I’m talking about has room for people from all backgrounds, with a wide range of abilities and thought processes, and all of them are not only invited to the table, but they’re being truly heard.