Two Scenarios on Diversity and Generations

I thought that this week I would try something a bit different to spark a conversation and perhaps get some deeper understanding of issues we are all dealing with or probably will be soon.

Over the past almost two weeks I have been in Europe leading workshops, working with a few clients, and presenting to recruiters from Germany, France, the U.K., and The Netherlands. We all face the same issues. Some of these are generational differences, an aging workforce, lack of loyalty, difficulty to engage and attract new college graduates, the economic recession, and growing talent needs in some areas with meltdowns in others.

I picked out one challenging area: that of how to deal with diversity and the generations.

In a workshop I held a couple of days ago, one of the scenarios we grappled with was whether diversity is growing or lessening and the role generational differences play. I presented them with the following scenarios and asked them to discuss (argue?) and challenge each other on which of these is closer to their experience and belief.

I asked them to get data to support their positions and look at the generational issues on a macro scale as well as on a local or personal level. For example, it is a fact that there are more countries in the world than ever. Large unions, such as the Soviet Union, have broken into smaller countries and others have fractured within themselves. We also know that people are more mobile than ever and that many young people have traveled to, lived in, and worked in many countries.

Read the two views expressed below and then let us know what you think. This might be a great discussion for your weekly staffing meeting or for an offsite.

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Your opinions will shed light and provide examples that will help us all decide which of these is most likely to be the reality. Or you may decide that the reality is some sort of fusion of the two or even something entirely different.

What do you think? What are implications for recruiting and development? Will recruiting these younger people be a significant challenge or just the same as usual? How will our views of diversity evolve?

View One: Gen Y and the generation following, often called Gen M for mobile, don’t carry the same baggage about gender, ethnicity, and other surface differences between people. They grew up with more awareness about different learning and communication styles and many of them are of mixed heritage/cultures themselves. Over the next few years, we will chuckle at the conflicts and issues that challenged us in the Twentieth Century. We will overlook physical differences, cultural and language differences, and embrace each other’s strengths. We have elected a President who is half white and half black. He bridges divides and unites us in the process. This will be the direction of the world.

View Two: While the “surface” diversity of sex, color, and ethnicity decrease, new differences emerge. Religious and cultural differences are growing every day and some parts of the world are polarizing. Rather than less diversity, we are discovering more and more areas of difference and are latching onto those differences to discriminate in many ways. Shiites, Sunis, and Kurds cannot find common ground. Religious sects are proliferating. Rather than become one, we are becoming ever more fragmented. We have learned how to hide our feelings, but express them in nuanced ways. Recruiting diverse people will be very hard and there may be conflicts that we haven’t anticipated. The world is more fragmented than ever.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


10 Comments on “Two Scenarios on Diversity and Generations

  1. Kevin, great questions. There is no clear answer.

    Diversity as we have defined it in the past is becoming less of an issue AND we are becoming more fragmented over narrower and narrower issues. Diversity is not becoming irrelevant and we need to lead our organizations (or our clients) to understand the finer meaning of diversity today. Fortunately the same tools (sensitivity, understanding and communication) will help us bridge the gap to reach that promised land of inclusion.

    Gen Y and Gen M don’t pay particular attention to skin color, race, etc. But they do define themselves very specifically in many other ways and we cannot afford to disregard their self-perceptions or we risk disillusioning and losing this valuable sector of the workforce.

    Diversity has never been an easy thing to master or to teach and it’s not going to get any simpler.

    Thanks for raising this point.

  2. The assumption of all discussions of “Diversity” is that whatever we feel it is – it trumps reality. Somehow we can recognize differences and use exclusionary language (the “Jewish Vote”, the “Pro Choice vote”) and labels (African-American, Italian-American, Gay-American) to describe it in every day, accepted speech. Yet we are implored – in fact, legally mandated – to be inclusive. In essence, to be blind to the reality of differences.

    Psychologists see this dichotomy as causing cognitive dissonance. Children see it as lying to ourselves. Is it any wonder that younger people are more disillusioned than ever? To think that we could possibly “master” or “teach” inclusion in a climate of overt descriptive exclusion is just plain silly.

  3. Kevin,

    As recruiters, we deal with candidates whose attitudes and outlooks encompass the views you have put forth in both 1 and 2. A key concern in recruiting any candidate is understanding how willing he/she may be to embrace a corporate culture and values that may be in varying degrees in agreement or at odds with his/her values. We all don’t have to march in lock-step to achieve a common goal and we have to be willing to accommodate one another’s differences, just so long as we can agree that those differences will not be an obstacle to achieving our goals. Candidates have to understand the culture and values of a firm before signing on and the company needs to embrace the diversity of its candidates, with the focus being on can they get the job done.


  4. I see what Dave’s saying. Martin Luther King’s vision was for people to be not seen for their skin color. But we’re constantly bombarded with such descriptions as “the first African-American quarterback in a Superbowl” and “the first African-American senator from this state not including the mid-1800s” and so on. Even the ballot initiative in California about gay marriage seems to be degenerating into a radio-talk-show discussion over the racial vote breakdown. We keep talking about how we’re going to not talk about race, which in the end means we keep talking about race.

  5. A thoughtful article.

    I see a variety of trends:
    1) A more tolerantly “diverse” (in the usual sense) society as bigoted geezers die. (Don’t expect ’em to go down without a fight, though.)

    2) A new kind of discrimination- “the hate that dares not speak its name”: Classism. If you insist on hiring people from *Elite and 1st tier schools, you are hiring largely rich and white people.

    3) Depending on how long and how deep this recession last, you may not have to worry about having to bend over backwards trying to entice the allegedly spoiled and favored members of Generations Y,Z, M, or WTF, because they will be so darn grateful to be doing ANY kind of halfway-decently paid work. If it is long and deep, it may leave a deep mark on the American psyche.

    4) Increasing segmentation of various groups in particular locations based on lifestyle and temperamental preferences, which leads to further concentration of economically advanced and economically depressed areas. (Read Richard Florida’s books.)


    Keith Halperin


    At university level, the rise in the cost of education has taken Ivy League universities out of the reach of most middle-class and poor families. The median income of families with children at Harvard is $150,000. The wealthy have always dominated elite schools, but their representation is rising. Between 1976 and 1995, according to one study, students from the richest quarter of the population increased their share of places at America’s elite universities from 39% to 50%.
    Even outside elite schools, students from poor backgrounds are becoming rarer. The budget squeeze on states in 2001-04 forced them to increase fees at state colleges, traditionally the places where the children of less wealthy parents went. Those children also face increasing competition from richer kids squeezed out of the Ivy League. As a result, a student from the top income quarter is six times more likely to get a BA than someone from the bottom quarter. American schools seem to be reinforcing educational differences rather than reducing them.

  6. Thanks putting these questions on the table, Kevin.

    Traditional notions of what diversity is and isn’t, are both absolutely necessary to give us background and at the same time they have necessarily evolved.

    Common group identity distinctions (we have all seen myriad diversity wheels if we have ever had a Diversity 101 training) are one part of a set of broader distinctive elements (some emerging and not well understood nor easily discerned) that not only allow us to have a glimpse of who people might be, but in a more substantive way allow us to more effectively manage our enterprises, innovate, and manage talent in a customer-centered fashion, more so than ever before. That is, if we seek to understand the feedback that the so-called Generations M, Y, (or what have you) shares about what matters to them, what motivates/inspires them, and what our future business productivity will be in large part dictated by.

  7. Todd – MLK actually said we should not be “judged” by the color of our skin. A far different meaning than being “seen”. My point is exactly that we ARE seen and we are, categorically, judged. Just take a look at Keith’s second point, above. Apparently being rich and white are bad things in his view of “diverse”. This is overt, obvious, and patently discriminatory language that many find acceptable – so long as it is targeting rich and/or white people. Just try opining about Howard grads being mostly poor black people and see how quickly you get smacked down. And rightly so. Both positions miss the second half of MLK’s quote – and thus the “content of one’s character” is completely disregarded.

    I do find Keith’s third point interesting though. If the recession is long and deep, he states, everyone will be “grateful to be doing ANY kind of halfway-decently paid work”. This, he feels, “may leave a deep mark on the American psyche”.

    I whole heartedly agree. Being grateful for ANY employment is something my father taught me. And it came as a direct result of the Great Depression where he worked side by side digging ditches with dozens of others representing races, religions, and nationalities he would have otherwise not been able to appreciate.

    Sometimes the simplest answer is the right one. Humility, gratefulness, fairness, acceptance, truth; each one a simple concept, each one diverse in it’s breadth and scope, and not one of them judgemental or discriminatory.

  8. First, in my opinion, Diversity was replaced by Proversity over 20 years ago. I was personally challenged while going through Proversity Realization to describe a person by any description OTHER THAN their ethnicity. If you look at a group of people and want to describe one of the people in the group by something OTHER THAN their ethnicity, all of a sudden yu realize that diversity no longer matters.

    Second, from that time on, for me, when I see blogs like this I realize that there are still people out there who have not made the change – and that is too bad. As far as I am concerned, diversity views do not need to “evolve” they should not be an issue even open for discussion unless you still have deep set animousities that you are dealing with.

  9. Thank you Kevin for another thought provoking article and to those who have contributed to this timely discussion.

    Years ago, at the time of the last U.S. Census, I’d written an editorial in the Arizona Republic about how it’s time to get rid of the check-boxes for “race” – guess because I come from a mixed-race family and subscribe to View #1.

    I also see View #2 as the backlash phenomenon and how it operates as the politics of division in the US and abroad. The “us vs them” mentality that creeps into a society or culture – it’s usually fear-mongering and rekindling flames of past hatred by those in power and those with a financial or political interest in maintaining the status quo. Make no mistake, religion is politics and big business.

    I believe View #1 will prevail, simply because it must. With the increasing globalization of the world’s economy, we’re all going to have to find ways to work together — or perish.

  10. As a gen Y recruiter from a country that prides itself on its diversity, I found this article a real eye opener. A quick chat with my colleagues (one being Chinese, the other Punjabi and I’m Tamil) got us realising that although we personally dont see each other based on race and ethnicity, we’ve each been put in situations where race especially has been an issue when filling jobs.

    Our decision? View one for the win. Even if our clients are fragmented in their preferences, the diversity of our tiny office is already an indication of things that will necessarily come.

    The world is becoming incredibly more united in its stand and I believe it is only a matter of time that people of various nations, classes and creeds will come together. Would it not be natural that our vibrant and ever changing world of recruitment would follow suit?

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