For younger job seekers, D&I in the workplace aren’t a preference. They’re a requirement.
Millennial and Gen Z professionals are avoiding companies without a diverse workforce, clear promotion traffic and a commitment to confronting systemic racism in their ranks
Last summer, Arionne Lloyd went job hunting with a fresh set of priorities. For three years, she had been one of the few Black people in the sales department at a national movie theater chain. It wasn’t always a good feeling. Movies headlined by Black actors or a Black director were often pigeonholed as “Black” entertainment, and Lloyd was frequently the sole voice advocating for a wider marketing campaign.
When she had applied to the job in her mid-20s, she hadn’t asked about diversity. “It was about getting the role and getting the paycheck,” said Lloyd.
But this summer changed everything. “I can’t really put into words how George Floyd and Black Lives Matter greatly, greatly affected me,” Lloyd said. “When it came to entering the workforce, I wanted to make my next move as meaningful as possible.”
Lloyd knew the pandemic and recession might limit her options, but she remained uncompromising. When she found a company that looked appealing, she checked for a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) officer on staff or an emphasis on DEI programming for employees. She looked for certification from the Society for Human Resource Management, which emphasizes unconscious-bias training.
And she pored over Glassdoor, Indeed and LinkedIn, to ensure that employees of color hadn’t posted negative reviews in the last 12 months. It was a lot of work, but it paid off. In November, she was offered a sales associate role with Bloomerang, an Indianapolis-based software company that helps nonprofits fundraise.
She says the company not only decided to seek qualified and diverse employees but also tries to promote the importance of DEI in the nonprofit sector as a whole.
Over the past decade, highly educated young professionals have increasingly prioritized personal values in deciding where to work, whether it’s a commitment to sustainability, philanthropy or social impact.
It’s why so many companies say their mission is to “change the world.”
But now, millennials such as Lloyd and Generation Z job seekers are setting a higher bar; they want employers to be equally committed to changing themselves.
This includes hiring a more diverse workforce, helping employees of color advance through the ranks, giving them more decision-making power and facilitating uncomfortable conversations about systemic racism. Mission statements about racial justice and prompt responses to current events are also important, but they must be more than set pieces. Young job seekers say they’re attuned to anything that smacks of performance.
“This is a generational shift in the belief that these values are really important and foundational to their experiences as workers,” said Alvin B. Tillery Jr., director of the Center for Diversity and Democracy at Northwestern University.
“You can say there’s no systemic racism, but millennials and Gen Z don’t believe that. If you’re under 35, you expect these conversations, and if you don’t offer them, you’ll have trouble recruiting.”
Recent data appears to reflect this. According to a September survey from Glassdoor, 76 percent of employees and job seekers said a diverse workforce was important when evaluating companies and job offers. Nearly half of Black and Hispanic employees and job seekers said they had quit a job after witnessing or experiencing discrimination at work. And 37 percent of employees and job seekers said they wouldn’t apply to a company that had negative satisfaction ratings among people of color.
After the last recession, young job seekers were more inclined to take any available job, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor. “The difference now is we’ve spent the last 10 years moving toward a world where companies are much more engaged around issues — not just DEI but culture and employee engagement,” he said. “A lot of trends the pandemic has either accelerated or derailed, and this is a trend that will last through.”
Since 2008, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has asked new graduates to rank the importance of a diverse workforce. That first year, diversity ranked 12th out of 15 options. By the spring of 2020, it had risen to seventh out of 19 options; over 79 percent of respondents called it “very important.” Edwin Koc, director of research at NACE, said employers are starting to recognize this shift.
NACE’s 900 employer members represent every major industry, from manufacturing to finance and beyond. About a quarter are Fortune 1000 companies. After Floyd’s death in Minneapolis in May, most of them told NACE they had released statements about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion. Koc said many were reexamining their hiring and personnel policies through a DEI lens.