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Diversity Through a Generational Lens

Diversity Through a Generational Lens

As I have reviewed Best Christian Workplaces Employee Engagement Survey results for dozens of clients, I’ve noticed that people respond to a question about diversity differently based on their age.

The statement they are responding to is: Diversity is clearly valued by people in my organization.

Respondents are not necessarily rating the diversity of the organization, but the value that the organization places on diversity.

Millennials and Generation Z employees are generally less positive about this statement than Boomer respondents. These are people within the same organization, responding to the value the organization places on diversity. So as they look around, people in different age groups see the same set of employees or people served, but may come to different conclusions based on their own lens through which they consider diversity and values related to diversity.

Lived Experience of Different Generations

As racial segregation has slowly declined in the U.S. over the past decades, younger generations are more likely to have been exposed to more diverse schools and neighborhoods than older generations. Even looking at my own family, my daughter’s high school experience was far more diverse than my own.

This means that Millennials and Generation Z workers are more likely to consider diversity as the normal experience of life than Boomers.

So when a Gen Z employee looks around their organization and doesn’t see many people of diverse racial or ethnic backgrounds, they may conclude that their organization doesn’t value diversity.

Looking at the same organization and workplace, a Boomer might look around and reach the conclusion that their organization has tried to grow in diversity, and it’s hard to achieve. So they might assume that diversity is valued, but not easily achievable.

As Christians, while we live within our generational lens, a more foundational consideration is the value that God places on diversity. From there, we can consider the practical benefits of diversity in the workplace and how to get beyond common barriers to diversity.

The Value of Diversity in a Workplace

Biblical Foundation—Diversity is God’s Idea

From Genesis to Revelation, the big story of God’s work is that diversity is an integral part of the whole trajectory of the Kingdom of God—creation, redemption, and eternity.

In Genesis, we see that humans—of all races, ethnicities, and male/female gender—are created in the image of God. This is the foundation of value and dignity for each person, and for all people. We are all created in the image of God.

Later in Genesis we hear God’s promise to Abraham, that all people on earth would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:3).

The Good News of Jesus’ redemption is that it is for all people. We see this in his interactions with people throughout his ministry, and he underscores his intention for the church in the Great Commission, Matthew 28:18-19, which is for all nations.

In the early church, there are numerous admonitions that the variety within the body of Christ is meant to show God’s love for all and how we can work together for the good of all. We see the importance of a variety of gifts underscored in 1 Corinthians 12, and other passages. Paul is succinct in his description in Galatians 3:28: There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

In John’s vision described in Revelation 7:9 we see that every tribe and nation is represented in worshipping God: There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.

The above biblical survey highlights just a few key points in the big story of God’s value for all people created in his image. In your own study of the Bible, keep your eyes open to how God values diversity.

God’s perspective is summed up eloquently by Dr. Arthur Satterwhite III (of Young Life) in a recent Christianity Today article:

“The differences that we look down upon in others are a reminder of how outrageously intentional, creative, beautiful, openhanded, and openhearted our God is. Sameness is not a virtue in God’s economy. On the contrary, sameness actually limits our ability to see and appreciate the full beauty of the diverse mosaic that is God’s creation.”

Practical Benefit of Diversity in the Workplace

A diverse workforce leads to a more innovative environment, creativity, and better implementation of product or program changes.

Human resources professionals have long observed that creativity and problem-solving flourish when a diverse group of employees come together to offer feedback from all viewpoints. This includes racial diversity and also generational, gender, and job strata diversity.

A process that includes many different viewpoints may lead to healthy conflict as a team works through a variety of scenarios and considerations. Disagreement and conflict are not bad, if the focus is on refining ideas and not devaluing people who hold different ideas. The outcome is a better project or process when many different viewpoints have been taken into consideration.

Getting Beyond Barriers to Diversity in a Workplace

If we truly value diversity, what keeps us from achieving a diverse workforce?

Consider how to get beyond the barriers:

  • Recruiting: Organizations that have traditionally recruited staff through certain colleges or networks may be overlooking qualified staff who have different educational backgrounds or relational networks. Intentionality in reaching beyond past recruitment strategies can help reach more diverse candidates.
  • Referrals: Many organizations have found that looking for referrals through their existing staff yields potential candidates. However, this can limit diversity if your existing staff and their network of relationships are homogenous.
  • Retaining: Some organizations have worked at diversity in their hiring practices, only to see newly hired employees leaving after a period of time. Dr. Arthur Satterwhite III highlights the importance of belonging for your workforce, in a recent Christian Leadership Alliance Outcomes magazine article:

Diversity efforts, even when combined with equity and inclusion initiatives, stop short of fully addressing the root question that marginal people groups within our communities are asking: Do I belong here?

How do I know that this is their question? We know their question by how they answer it – that is, with their feet as they walk out our doors.

While diversity efforts focus organizations on increasing the variety of people that sit around the table, and where efforts to ensure equity and inclusion seek to redistribute power to elevate diverse voices, DEI initiatives stop short of enabling marginal people to feel and know that they are full members – fully welcomed, valued (even loved) – of our workplaces. This understanding is what we are learning at Young Life, and it is driving our organizational focus on belonging.

Keep Growing

As I work with leaders to promote diverse, flourishing workplaces, I remind them that this is an ongoing growth process. It takes intentionality and time to work through barriers, build bridges, and get to a place of living out the benefits of diversity. The growth process includes both looking within to understand your own experience and looking to learn from those around you and outside experts.

As you look within, you can reflect on the formative experiences that have shaped your lens on diversity. This includes your generational lens and past experiences.

Learning from those around you includes colleagues from different generations, to understand their experiences with diversity. Broadening your perspective by hearing from others is an effective way to show that you support a workplace that values diversity. If you’d like to learn more, the Best Christian Workplaces Flourishing Culture Leadership Podcast has hosted a variety of experts on diversity and how to lead toward a diverse workplace where all the staff is flourishing. Listen to these experts as you commit to your own growth in this area:


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