The quest for workplace equality is not going away any time soon

A survey last week highlighted why employers need to take diversity and inclusion seriously. The younger generation expects it.

cartoon heads stuck on people's faces


There are a lot of surveys about women and equality these days. Many are thinly disguised attempts to sell a particular product. Some throw up unlikely results, but others are significant and some contain interesting data buried in the midst of other stats. Last week, the work reviews site Glassdoor published survey results about discrimination. It covered the US, UK, France and Germany.

Some of the results may have been puzzling, but what the survey did show very clearly was a difference in response to discrimination from different generations. The number of those surveyed who witnessed or experienced each of the measured forms of discrimination (gender, race, age, LGBTQ) decreased with age. For instance, gender discrimination was witnessed or experienced by nearly half (47 percent) of millennial employees compared to just 17 percent of those aged 55+. Racism was witnessed or experienced by 42 percent of millennial employees compared to 12 percent of those aged 55+. LGBTQ discrimination was witnessed or experienced by 39 percent of millennial employees compared to just 9% of those age 55+.

Significantly, when it came to doing something about it, young people were also more likely to expect action. More than six in ten (62 percent) millennial employees said they believed their company should do more to increase diversity and inclusion, falling to less than half (44 percent) of employees aged 55+.

This tallies with conversations with diversity and inclusion specialists. One told me that there was noted friction between younger women and older, white male managers. They were more prepared to question the status quo and challenge a lack of diversity at the top, she said.

The big spotlight that gender pay audits and the #MeToo movement, among others, have shone on workplace culture means that the younger generation are much less willing to accept the kind of blandishments my generation were palmed off with – the idea that it was simply up to women to change themselves in order to get ahead. It will be interesting to see how this pans out, given that the move towards greater equality seems to be going forwards achingly slowly, with many companies – even those who appear to be doing a lot of the right things – reporting figures going backwards rather than forwards.  Cultural change takes time, but many of the young – and some of the old too – are growing impatient of waiting. They are also more than aware that time is short.

What the survey shows clearly is that employers need to respond. Younger people expect equality. They expect discrimination to be challenged. It’s not just climate change that they are fed up about.

People who have fought against discrimination for many years may reserve judgement on their commitment and in our search for some sliver of optimism these days it may be all to easy to idealise the young and put too much responsibility on them. Having teenagers makes you very much aware of the realities of teen life, much of it pretty grim. Yet when my niece says to me that she is proud of her generation as they are at the forefront of many of the protests for greater equality, climate justice and human rights around the world, I think she has a right to be. The fight for equality is not going away any time soon.

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