Why is diversity so important to employers who want to recruit today’s college students?

Posted October 14, 2020 by

A lot of workplace experts have made a lot of money by selling books and delivering presentations on generational differences. Yes, there are differences between the generations but a lot of the so-called differences are actually better explained by what I would call age-appropriate behavior. If your behavior or attitudes change as you age, it is more likely to be a symptom of your age than which generation you’re a part of.

Before we dive headlong into the discussion, let’s be sure that we’re on the same page regarding the definitions of the different generations. The starting and ending birth years are somewhat arbitrary, but generally defined as:

  • Baby Boomers are those born between 1946 and 1965.
  • Generation Xers (also known as Gen X) were born between 1966 and 1976.
  • Millennials (also known as Generation Y, Gen Y, or Echo Boomers) were born between 1977 and 1994.
  • Generation Z were born between 1995-2012. Given that the oldest of these people are now 25-years-old, they comprise the bulk of today’s college students.

I think that most readers would agree that a Baby Boomer is less likely than a Gen Xer to change jobs in order to make an extra dollar an hour and the Gen Xer is less likely than a Millennial and a Millennial is less likely than a Gen Zer. But why? Is the likelihood determined by their birth year or is it more a function of their comparative financial status? In other words, the Boomer is far less likely to change jobs than the Gen Zer for an extra dollar per hour because the dollar an hour means a lot less to the average Boomer than it does to the average Gen Zer. Boomers have been in the workplace for decades and, on average, make a lot more money and have accumulated a lot more wealth than Gen Zers.

One significant difference between generations is how they view diversity in the workplace. A typical Baby Boomer cares a lot less about whether their employer recruits diverse college students and other candidates than does a Gen Zer. We can debate the reasons why, but the impact on the employer’s need to recruit and retain diverse college students, recent graduates, and others is unmistakable.

According to the Pew Research Center, Gen Z is the best educated and most ethnically diverse generation in U.S. history. In addition to being more diverse, more believe that diversity is important. Some 62 percent believe that it is important to society that we increase racial and ethnic diversity. Employers who want to recruit diverse college students, therefore, need to understand the importance of diversity to this cohort and then tailor their recruiting strategy to reflect the views and values of Gen Z, including the very different attitudes they have toward diversity, equity, and inclusion as compared to the attitudes of previous generations.

According to research by Yello, diversity in the workplace is slightly more important to Gen Z than other generations. The importance of diversity increases as we move from generation-to-generation with it being least important to Boomers and most important to Gen Z. Not only does Gen Z talk-the-talk about the importance of employers recruiting and retaining diverse college students and other employees, but they also walk-the-walk. Gen Z is more likely to refuse to work for an employer who isn’t committed to diversity, including a lack of diverse employees involved in the interview process. They’re also more likely to quit if they felt their employer failed to demonstrate a commitment to promoting a diverse workplace.

For many members of the Baby Boomer and even Gen X generations, diversity typically means race and, in some occupational fields, gender. If you inquire further, many of them will also agree that veterans and people with disabilities are also, in most workplaces, diverse. But not to Gen Z. Members of Gen Z, when asked what they consider what types of diversity matter the most name personality as the most important followed by age, race, gender, education, sexual orientation, religion, disabilities, geography, marital status, parental status, and then veterans.

How does an employer demonstrate its commitment to recruiting and retain a diverse workforce? According to Gen Z, the most important factor is a compensation policy that ensures fair and equal pay. Other factors which are important are maternity and paternity benefits, accommodations for people with disabilities, flexible work options, benefits that accommodation employees in same-sex relationships, asking about pronoun preference, diversity training, and then mentorship and leadership development programs for underrepresented minorities.

So, when your organization is advertising its job openings to members of Gen Z or even recruiting on-campus, what are the most effective ways to communicate your organization’s commitment to recruiting and retaining diverse college students? According to Gen Z, the most important is that you have underrepresented people in management. Other important factors to demonstrate your commitment to workplace diversity are underrepresented people in your C-suite and other executive positions, a statement of commitment to diversity on your website or other publications, partnerships with student and professional diversity organizations, corporate citizenship and social impact initiatives, employee resource groups or mentorship programs, recognition from diversity organizations, positive social media posts from employees, and recognition of your diversity efforts by trade publications.

In summary, Yello’s research recommends that employers who want to successfully recruit and retain Gen Z students and recent graduates do the following:

  • Enhance diversity at your workplace – it means a lot to Generation Z and can even be the difference between whether one chooses to work for your organization or stay. 
  • Make sure there is diversity among the people in your recruiting, interviewing and hiring processes. 
  • Consider whether acquired traits – like personality and education – should be added to your definition of a diverse workforce. 
  • Evaluate whether your culture values individuality and truly allows your employees to be themselves at work.
  • Commit to and report progress on achieving pay equity.
  • Offer family-friendly benefits and accommodations. 
  • Include job boards as part of your sourcing options to reach Gen Z.

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