For companies looking to strengthen their talent pipeline, a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy is a “must have,” no longer a “nice to have.” Members of Generation Z, the most diverse generation yet, have high expectations for their current and future workplaces, and employers must take note in order to attract and retain their future generation of employees.
In case there’s any remaining doubt amongst employers that Gen Zers, those born after 1996, are placing a major emphasis on workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion, we went straight to the source to verify. Of the 1,400+ Gen Z respondents of our most recent survey, a staggering 99% reported that workplace DEI is important, with 87% responding that it is very important.
So, from Gen Z’s perspective, how well are American workplaces doing with creating the type of environment these young employees are looking for? The population is pretty evenly split on this point, with only 38% of Gen Zers stating that they do consider American workplaces to be diverse, equitable, and inclusive. Thirty-three percent responded negatively, 27% preferred not to state a response, and 2% were unsure. However, the level of confidence in workplaces’ DEI efforts drops for Gen Zers who identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. For that particular community, only 22% believe that American workplaces are diverse, equitable, and inclusive environments. Additionally, while 42% of White Gen Z survey respondents believe that the American workplace is diverse, equitable, and inclusive, that number drops to 34% for respondents who identify as Latino or Hispanic and 31% for those who identify as Black or African American.
Experiences with workplace discrimination have increased
Members of Generation Z are making it clear that more meaningful implementation of DEI strategies in the workplace needs to happen, and it needs to happen now. Despite increased media and societal focus on issues of civil rights over the past year, Gen Z’s experiences at their jobs don’t seem to be improving. In fact, they’re getting worse.
In 2020, we asked thousands of Gen Zers about their personal experiences with workplace discrimination, and 44% of those who have had a job reported feeling discriminated against in the workplace due to their race, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation. In June-July 2021, the percentage of respondents who have felt discriminated against went up to 48%.
What’s more, fear of discrimination is actively impacting Gen Z’s decisions for where they want to work. Thirty-seven percent of Gen Zers who have applied for jobs in the past have decided not to apply to a place of work out of fear of not being accepted because of their race, sexual orientation, or gender identity (this number went up from 32% in 2020).
Companies can take action
The good news is that members of Generation Z have already shared what it is that they want companies to focus on in order to advance DEI in the workplace. For starters, the creation of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) will go a long way with young workers. Gen Z expects their future employers to have ERGs or DEI strategic working groups they can actively participate in—86% or respondents reported planning on participating in a diversity, equity, and inclusion ERG, committee, or contributing to the organization’s strategy—but not enough workplaces have them, or don’t do enough to make these resources available to Gen Z employees. When we asked employed Gen Zers if their current place of work has ERGs or committees that address diversity, equity, and inclusion, 40% reported that they do, 34% reported that they do not, and 25% were unsure.
As companies implement or expand upon ERGs, the groups or committees that Gen Zers are most interested in are those related to DEI, those related to people of color, and those related to women.
Even though the majority of Gen Z are not in the workforce full-time, companies can’t afford to wait on implementing meaningful strategies for DEI. Gen Zers are paying attention to how companies, brands, and industries are handling DEI-related issues, and what they see now will undoubtedly impact their career decisions in the future. Our group of Gen Z survey respondents reported that, in their opinion, the Arts/Entertainment/Recreation industry has been the most successful in addressing issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. On the other hand, the sector that they feel has been the least successful is Government. This should be an opportunity for all industries to take stock of their current practices and look for areas of improvement. Taking action now can mean retaining valuable current employees and attracting a top-tier diverse talent pool in the future.
Remember that diversity encompasses more than just racial and ethnic identities
Diversity, equity, and inclusion is a broad category, as diversity can refer to many aspects of an individual’s identity. While it is critical for employers to showcase how they’re advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion, specifically in regards to race and ethnicity (62% of Gen Z would be more likely to apply to a place of work with a recruiter who shared their ethnic or racial identity), they’re on the lookout for other aspects of diversity as well.
For example, 80% of Gen Zers would be more likely to apply to a place of work that had readily available materials and resources for employees who identify as neurodivergent (someone with ADHD, Autism, Dyspraxia, and/or Dyslexia, etc.). Additionally, 1 in 5 Gen Zers have decided not to apply to a place of work because they lacked materials and resources for employees who identify as neurodivergent.
It’s important to note that candidates who identify as neurodivergent may have different ideas for how employers should foster diverse and inclusive workplaces than candidates who don’t identify as neurodivergent. For example, only 6% of Gen Z believe a remote work environment is most beneficial for organizations implementing a DEI strategy. Yet, among Gen Z respondents who identify as neurodivergent, 51% believe remote workplace environments will positively impact organizations’ approach to DEI strategies.
Gen Z has confidence in their future employers
While it’s clear that there are many opportunities for improvement with the American workforce’s approach to DEI strategies, companies should be inspired by the fact that the majority of Gen Zers have confidence in their future employers. We asked Gen Z survey respondents how prepared they feel their current or future employers are to discuss topics around DEI, and only 20% feel negatively. Fifty-five percent believe their future employers are somewhat prepared, and 25% believe their future employers are very prepared to tackle DEI issues.
As recent Gen Z graduates continue to take the workforce by storm, employers have an exciting opportunity to reevaluate internal strategies to better align with their future employees’ expectations. Listening to current and potential Gen Z candidates about how to advance DEI in the workplace is a great way to start.