September 4, 2020

The new workforce expects employers to take a stand for racial justice

Words are not enough: Gen Z and Millennials are taking action in support of Black Lives Matter, and they want their colleges and employers to join them.

Photo by Joshua Koblin on Unsplash

As protestors young and old take to the streets, raising signs and their voices in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, businesses are weighing how and when to step in. Forward-looking organizations and the leaders within them have an opportunity provided by the current moment to create real change—both within the company and within the broader community.

That’s the message from a bevvy of recent research that examines the views of a significant portion of the workforce—Millennials and Gen Z. These young people are looking to the organizations they’re a part of to make a difference and reflect their values. They are prepared to take a stand. They expect the same from their colleges and employers.

A recent YPulse survey of 16- to 34-year-olds found that more than half, or 55 percent, have participated in a Black Lives Matter protest in some form—whether it was signing a petition and sharing key information online or creating signs and marching in person. The survey found that Gen Z and Millennials don’t want to be alone in the fight, either: 69 percent of respondents said that brands should take a stand, too, and participate in the Black Lives Matter movement.

The same expectation is true for the institutions that educate and employ these young people.

A recent Business Insider survey of college students, ages 18-32, revealed how college students think their universities should engage in the Black Lives Matter movement. According to the poll, conducted by the online learning platform StuDocu, more than half (57 percent) of students reported a lack of extracurricular groups that are dedicated to anti-racism work at their school. Fifty-nine percent of respondents said if their school remained silent about issues of racial inequality, it would impact their perception of the school. Even more students, 72 percent, expect their schools to address these issues.

Once these students graduate, they’ll expect their future employer to also speak up. Workplace social network app Fishbowl surveyed more than 16,000 employees from across the country in June 2020 and found that just over 69 percent expect their employer to publicly speak out about the Black Lives Matter movement—and that number was even higher for people working in human resources, tech, and marketing. Respondents included employees at large and notable companies including IBM, JP Morgan, Facebook, McKinsey, Deloitte, Bank of America, Amazon, Nike, and Google.

While that survey focused on working professionals broadly, it’s no secret that younger workers prioritize diversity in the workplace.

In a recent Monster survey, 83 percent of Gen Z candidates indicated that an organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is important when they’re choosing an employer.

A 2018 survey from Deloitte found that two thirds of Millennial and Gen Z employees believe that business leaders are not committed to building an inclusive culture at their organizations, and instead are simply paying lip service to key issues of diversity and inclusion. For the young employees who do see their senior management teams as diverse, 69 percent also believe their working environments are motivating.

Diversity doesn’t just please young employees and customers, it actually makes your organization more innovative. Research from Harvard Business Review found a significant positive correlation between a firm’s increased diversity measures and higher innovation revenues.

Organizations wanting to support the Black Lives Matter movement can take several steps beyond just making a statement, including offering time off for employees to participate in demonstrations and reviewing the firm’s official policies surrounding racism. And for organizations looking to boost their diversity and inclusion bonafides, focusing on data and taking the pulse of your workforce can help you get started.

Caitlin Fairchild

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