by Alexandra Levit
Millennials have captured the global workforce’s imagination. And Millennials are important, of course, as they are our current and rising leaders. But what about Generation Z, born 1996-2012? This year, the oldest Gen Zers will enter the professional workforce, and they are very different than what we’ve come to expect from the Millennials.
Comprised of the children of late boomers and Gen Xers, Generation Z is a relatively small cohort. And, at least in developed countries, Generation Z is so racially and ethnically diverse that they are less attuned to what they look like and more focused on what they believe. As an example, my 10-year-old son has a friend who is one-quarter Taiwanese, one-quarter Mexican, one-quarter African-American, and one-quarter Jewish. If you ask him about his race, he’ll look momentarily confused. “I’m not really anything,” he’ll say. “Well, maybe American?”
Like their older Millennial brothers and sisters, Gen Zers don’t particularly understand the purpose of diversity programs that aim to get equal numbers of diverse employees in the same room. “Why do we even have to force this diversity thing?” one college student recently asked me. “If I can’t walk into a company’s lobby and automatically see a whole bunch of different-looking people, there’s something wrong.” To Gen Z, true diversity and inclusion is cognitive, meaning that employees are respected for their individual backgrounds, perspectives, and opinions, regardless of their level or role.
When I researched Gen Z for an article in the New York Times, I learned that this generation is independent and resourceful. As the first digital natives, Gen Zers grew up learning to ask Siri or Google (rather than their parents or teachers) if they wanted to know something. They have hacked their own education and, because of the Internet’s reach and access to global connections, are jumpstarting their careers and solving society’s problems at a far younger age than previous generations. They wait for nothing and no one.
When I started talking about the Millennials in 2004, the oldest ones had just entered the workforce, and to put it bluntly, companies didn’t care. I warned leaders that they were going to need to change the way they did things, but until Millennial workforce participation reached critical mass a few years ago, the uptake of my advice was slow and painful.
I’m hoping that we don’t make the same mistake with Generation Z. We are at an inflection point right now: if we make the effort to understand what they want and need, we can pivot accordingly, and our mid-century organizations will be exactly the places Gen Zers want to work, thrive, and eventually lead. These additional insights about Generation Z, derived partly from a recent Universum study and partly from my own experiences working with this group, should assist you.
Alexandra Levit is the author of the new book Humanity Works: Merging Technologies and People for the Workforce of the Future (Kogan Page, October 2018). A partner at People Results, she helps Fortune 500 and government organizations and their leaders prepare for the future of work through proprietary research, consulting, and program development.