By Damika Arnold
Today, it’s easy to name companies and organizations that have survived and prospered without gains in diversity and inclusion. Google, for example, this year disclosed that more than two-thirds of its employees are men and more than 60 percent are white.
But in three or four decades, I bet we won’t be able to name a single organization that is not paying particularly close attention to these issues. Why? Creative thinking and innovation are becoming “currency” in a global, technology-led world. Innovation gives companies a competitive edge, and new ideas and innovation require diversity – of thought, expertise, perspective, experience, and more.
In other words, paying attention to diversity and inclusion in the workforce is no longer optional. The future success of companies and organizations will hinge on how diverse and inclusive work environments are. But what those environments look like will be very different from what we’re used to today.
For one thing, the very nature of diversity is changing. The 21st century American workforce already is a melting pot of different races, genders, ethnicities, ages, nationalities and religions. Millennials, now ranging in age from 18 to 30, are America’s most racially diverse generation, according to research released by the Pew Research Center in March. The study also found they are relatively unattached to organized politics and religion. For these reasons they are different from older generations.
Toward a Precise Definition of Diversity
I see younger workers both in the United States and around the world as being more inclusive. Take our six employee caucus groups a Xerox for example. These grassroots organizations were formed as a way for minorities to lean on each other and navigate the company together. In the past, they attracted younger workers, but we’re finding Millennials show little interest because they don’t define themselves according to traditional categories such as gender or ethnicity.
As the decades pass, I believe we will move toward a definition of diversity that is more precise. Instead of being based on race or gender, diversity will encompass a spectrum of characteristics that defines each of us as individuals.
To make this more concrete, think of employee productivity. Ultimately we want a work environment where every employee can thrive. But different generations have different approaches to work. Millennials and Generation Xers don’t want to be tied to a desk all day, but some Baby Boomers may believe if someone is not at the office from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., they can’t be working. This is diversity that demands inclusion.
New Technology Will Bring New Work Environments
There is a natural tendency in all humans to embrace uniformity but, in the coming decades, it will be more important than ever to struggle against this in ourselves and in the way we do business. I’m convinced struggling against our craving for the familiar will eventually produce work environments where innovation can flourish in new ways.
I think technology advances will play a huge role in making inclusion more tangible. Imagine what will happen as virtual environments become more refined. In the future, physical location will not be considered a barrier to the benefits of face-to-face communication. If I have a job opening in Kansas, I can hire the best candidate – even if she lives in Spain – because that person will be able to interact seamlessly with others and with customers via a virtual world.
Big Data analytics is another area that will influence diversity. As a manager, for example, I may be able to predict which groups of employees will work best together and produce the widest range of ideas for a particular project.
A Look Forward
Thinking about the future and challenging the status quo is hard. Most of us stretch just to respond to the tasks we have in front of us every day. But if we don’t grapple with what’s coming we can’t be proactive, strategic and prepared – which is what a rapidly changing business world demands.
I invite all of us to spend a little time this year pondering the future. Which emerging attitudes, demographics and technology will shape how we approach our work and each other in the coming decades? How can we maximize and capitalize on workplace diversity in a changing and increasingly connected world?
Please post your ideas or comments at the bottom of this blog. Let’s keep this conversation going.
From the editor: Damika M. Arnold works with groups and organizations inside and outside of Xerox – including senior management, human resources and government agencies around the world – to carry out diversity initiatives that are aligned to Xerox business goals.
She serves as both a champion and thought leader for inclusion efforts at Xerox, staying in close touch with diversity organizations to enhance Xerox’s public profile and recognition as one of the best places to work.
We asked Xerox people:
Will diversity and inclusion become more or less important over the next four decades? Why do you think that?
According to our survey, continued progress toward inclusion of all people – regardless of race, age, gender, and more – will have the largest impact on corporate culture over the next 40 years. Perhaps due to this belief, many Xerox people feel that diversity and inclusion may becomeless important in the future because it will simply be “business as usual,” and not something we actively think about anymore.
Many employees pointed to how technology plays a role in breaking down traditional barriers. Someday, we may “all be seen as systems IDs and unique identifier numbers, instead of names of people with an associated gender/race.” Technology also bridges geographic boundaries. This is becoming increasingly important because “globally scaled problems will only ever be solved by globally aware and alert people/institutions.” One person tested the limits, asking: “Artificial intelligences that interact on a personal level and that you think of as coworkers … will they eventually be considered people?”
But the overall feeling is perhaps best summed up by this response: “It is inevitable … we are no longer able to conduct business without inclusion” – a sentiment shared by Xerox Global Diversity & Inclusion Leader Damika Arnold.
From a Survey of Xerox People:
Which trend of a diverse and inclusive workforce will impact corporate culture the most over the next 40 years?