Millennials Sound Off on Diversity in the Workplace

April 3, 2017

Millennials get a bad rap around the office. An April 2016 Forbes article on how to motivate young professionals says people between ages 18 and 35 are frequently criticized by older peers for being lazy, entitled and liable to bounce to another job as soon as they grow bored of their current one.

However, a December survey from the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) and Weber Shandwick shows that by playing a bigger role in the career world, millennials are helping improve one particular dimension of office culture: diversity. The study found that 47 percent of millennials consider the diversity and inclusion of a workplace before selecting a job, compared with only 33 percent of Gen Xers (ages 36-51) and 37 percent of boomers (ages 52-70).

Also, 64 percent of millennials are comfortable talking about issues of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, while only 57 percent of Gen Xers and 54 percent of boomers are.

Dr. Sarab Kochhar, director of research at IPR, sees technology as an important factor in young employees’ emphasis on office heterogeneity. “Millennials have grown up with the internet and smartphones,” she says. “They are socially connected, engaged in the digital world and have very different priorities when it comes to life commitments and work choices.”

Businesses are starting to be aware of these “priorities,” too. Women now comprise 42 percent of Deutsche Bank’s total employees, Ford is working to diversify its suppliers, and in 2015, Google donated $775,000 in grants to CODE2040, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting diversity in the tech sector. “Many organizations also have multicultural talent management systems to create a more inclusive workplace environment,” says Kochhar.

There’s still much to accomplish, though. While 53 percent of millennials find their workplace “very diverse,” only 45 percent believe it’s simultaneously “very inclusive.” Also, only 46 percent of millennials feel employers do an adequate job communicating their inclusion goals and initiatives.

Bias issues

Because young employees are aware of workplace diversity, they’re cognizant of bias in the office as well. According to the survey, 69 percent of millennials reported that they see or hear about some form of discrimination at their job, compared with 57 percent of Gen Xers and 46 percent of boomers. The types of biases also differ among the groups; millennials and Gen Xers are especially plugged into racial and gender discrimination (27 percent and 23 percent for millennials and 21 and 16 for Gen Xers, respectively), while boomers found age bias to be most prominent.

Kochhar believes these discrepancies are logical, considering the way generations have evolved over time. “Research on generational differences has defined Gen Xers as bookended by predominantly white baby boomers and the more diverse millennials,” she says.

Employee cynicism

When asked why they believe employers emphasize diversity and inclusion at their job, a 38 percent majority of millennials selected “to make it a better place to work in general.” This was the most popular answer among boomers, too (29 percent), while a 27 percent majority of Gen Xers picked a similarly positive answer (“to increase opportunities for all employees”).

However, 26 percent of Boomers said employers emphasize diversity “to improve their reputation,” and 25 percent of Gen Xers said it was “because of outside pressures.” “The way these generations think and perceive diversity and inclusion at workplace is very different and this is what the research,” says Kochhar.“The way these generations think and perceive diversity and inclusion at the workplace is very different and this is what the research highlights,” says Kochhar.

Beyond the office

Despite their emphasis on diversity and inclusiveness at their place of employment, millennials don’t necessarily lead the most diverse personal lives. When asked if their offices feature more diversity than their own friend groups, 36 percent of millennials said yes — the highest among all three generations. While this particular statistic surprised Kochhar, she doesn’t think it’s necessarily related to office heterogeneity, which she believes will increase significantly over time.
“This [pro-diversity] trend will continue to grow with more millennials joining the workforce and choosing a diverse and inclusive organization,” says Kochhar. 

Dean Essner

Dean Essner is the editorial assistant for PRSA’s publications. A former resident of Washington, D.C., he holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and English from the University of Maryland. Email:


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