Workplace communications and relationships are impacted by diversity. Three specific facets of diversity that have particular impact in the workplace are age, gender, and ethnicity.
There are six generations alive today. Each generation operates out of its own distinct values, heavily influenced by world events and both shared and personal experiences as they came of age.
The oldest of these is sometimes called the GI or "Greatest" Generation ( born between 1901-1926). They lived through the Great Depression. Some felt the impact of the first World War, others fought in the second World War. They voted, saved their money, and married for life. They started labor unions. Many grew up without electricity, on farms, and they listened to the radio. They had a strong sense of civic duty. After the war, they came home to build a nation.
The Silent/Mature Generation (1926-1945). The big band, swing music generation that came of age during and following WWII. If women worked outside the home, it was in a traditionally feminine job (teacher, nurse, or secretary). Many men took a job with a corporation and kept it for life. This was a generation of avid readers, especially the newspaper. Traditional, conservative, disciplined and self-sacrificing, yet fairly affluent in their retirement years.
Baby Boomers (1946-1964) were born after the soldiers came back from WWII. They are called "boomers" because of their large collective number--76 million. Rock 'n' rollers. Vietnam War. The first television and divorce generation. Most Boomers plan to remain active into their retirement years. They still represent about a third of the workforce, particularly the C-suite and upper management. They have a democratic and teams approach, are open, dedicated, experienced, confident, knowledgeable, optimistic, driven, and service-minded.
Generation X (1965-1980) was a much smaller generation (46 million), but still represents about a third of the workforce. They are genuine, direct, reliable, a bit jaded and sarcastic, independent, adaptable, self reliant, and creative. Many Xers grew up as latchkey children and have had to work hard for what they have. They are entrepreneurial and individualistic. They are sometimes materialistic and heavily in debt, and many of their marriages have suffered from imbalances of work and home life. They make 7 career changes on average.
Amy Lynch's website, The Generational Edge
The Millennial Generation (1981-2000), also called Gen Y is the largest generation since the Boomers at (76-80 million). Many have strong relationships with their parents, who have been accused of hovering and enabling them. This is a "connected" generation with access to information. They are team-oriented, socially and service minded, positive, tenacious, eager to learn, tech-savvy, have a can-do attitude, and are highly adaptable. Their tendency to multitask was initially viewed as a plus, but is now trending toward the negative as an inability to focus.
Millennials with strong skill sets and leadership ability will have incredible work opportunities as Boomers retire from the workforce. There aren’t enough Xers to fill the open spots.
Trailer for In Good Company, a movie that has several scenes of workplace generational awkwardness.
Those born after 2000 are being called The Z Generation, or the "iY Generation" by Tim Elmore, head of the Growing Leaders organization.
Gender also has an impact on relationships. Deborah Tannen is a linguistics professor and author of You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation who has studied gender communication styles. She says men operate out of deeply held values for status and power, which heavily influences how they exchange information and deal with others. And Tannen says women operate out of a deeply held value for relationships.
'Sorry' but these are things women should never write in an email (GoodMorningAmerica.com)
I'm Sorry, but Women Really Need to Stop Apologizing (Jessica Bennett, Time)
See this YouTube video of Deborah Tannen explaining how young boys manifest a value for status in their conversation on a playground, and how young girls manifest a desire to be equal.
Deborah Tannen offers some great articles on her website.
Number of women-owned businesses is on the rise (BizWomen, the Business Journals)
Secrets of wealthy women (Deborah Norville, Miko Branch, Sheila Johnson, Gail Simmons, Eileen Fisher, Maysoon Zayid, Maria Sharapova, Wendy Nguyen, Ayesha Curry, Susan Packard and Therese Tucker on Wall Street Journal videos)
As a woman, I've long appreciated certain differences in gender communication styles, and have only in recent years come to appreciate others. As far back as sixth grade, I remember a boy saying to me at school one day, "I don't have to listen to you, you're a girl," as if it made me "lesser than" and discounted my opinion.
Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In and founder of LeanIn.org, says we, as women, have a responsibility to come to the table. We need to stop apologizing for things for which we are not responsible, and most certainly for things that do not require an apology. We need to believe that we can take credit for personal strengths and contributions without the fear that we'll be viewed as arrogant or inappropriate.
Historically, it seemed as if some women who had reached higher levels of success were reluctant or unwilling to reach back or down and help others, but that phenomenon is changing. For all the current civil unrest in our cultural arenas, we appear to finally be poised to make great strides as a people in the areas of more equal gender and ethnic opportunities.
A final word on gender communication styles: appreciation is owed to men willing to mentor women and help them understand the working minds of men, If you study mentorship, you'll learn that over 70% of executives credit someone with having helped them master the needed strategies to excel in a male-dominated culture. The underrepresented women in that group overwhelmingly credit a man with having mentored them--typically a man sympathetic to inequities compelled to act out of a deep respect for an influential mother or wife in his own life.
Cultural values also have an impact on how people deliver and interpret information, which has an impact on relationships in the workplace. Geert Hofstede is a Netherlands social scientist who formulated the cultural dimension theory. He says there are 6 cultural dimensions:
Power Distance – In some cultures there is a wide distance of hierarchy. A person with low status would never approach someone of high status as an equal. In other cultures, there is a more even distribution of power (low distance), such as in democracies.
Individualism vs. Collectivism – Some cultures value individual rights, freedoms, and accomplishments. Others celebrate their place in a group or affiliation and act out of loyalty for the good of the larger group.
Uncertainty Avoidance – This reflects a society’s tolerance for ambiguity. Someone in a high uncertainty avoidance society would feel strong emotion and anxiety at the prospect of change and would seek to minimize it by following rigid standards. Someone in a low uncertainty avoidance society, on the other hand, would feel more comfortable in a low-rules society where change is taken in stride.
Time Orientation – Long-term orientation societies place high value on the future and what working for the future brings…pay-off for persistence and hard work, for example. Short-term orientation societies place more value on tradition and history…like being steady and fulfilling one’s commitments.
Masculinity vs. Femininity – Some cultures value assertiveness and the pursuit of power. Others place a higher value on relationships and quality of life.
Indulgence vs. Restraint - Some cultures are more accepting and "free" of social gratifications, and others have strict social norms restraining them.
Anthropologist Edward T. Hall suggested another cultural difference: High Context vs. Low Context. In a high context culture, the situation surrounding the message is more important than the words spoken. Actions speak louder than words, in other words. But if you’re not part of the culture, you may not understand the inferences around the words. In a low context culture, words should be chosen with care because they are taken at face value.
The southern U.S. is higher context; New York City is low. Japan is high context. The U.S. is low.
Tourists behaving badly: Is the conduct of tourists getting worse? (Cnn.com/travel)
The wounds of race inequities are still raw and bleeding in the United States. If you've never seen the movie Crash, it's a powerful testimony to the prejudices we all carry. We can claim to be colorblind and have no racial bias, but that is simply not true.
I have so appreciated the honesty of recent content creators like Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility. and Emmanuel Acho, spokesman in YouTube series Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, who are helping to facilitate important conversations around race relations.
At the heart of the matter is a common desire for love, security, peace, and the chance to live free from inequity.
Another resource you may find insightful is Clint Smith's TED Talk: How to raise a black son in America.
Clint has another excellent TED Talk: The danger of silence.
Janet Stovall has a terrific TED Talk: How to get serious about diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
An understanding of--and sensitivity to--all facets of diversity (race, religious, sexual, ethnic/cultural, gender, age, and socio-economic) can improve all relationships. If you want to be a better leader and communicator, be sensitive to issues of diversity in the workplace, and increase your understanding of every viewpoint.
Additional info on diversity: Mentorship: Age | Gender | Ethnicity.
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