April is Celebrate Diversity Month, which was initiated in 2004 to recognize and honor the diversity surrounding us all. "Diversity" means more than just acknowledging and/or tolerating differences. It goes a step further to include understanding and appreciating the interdependence of humanity and cultures; practicing mutual respect for qualities, experiences and perspectives that are different from our own; and understanding that diversity embodies not only ways of being, but also ways of knowing.
One area of diversity that directly impacts the workplace is generational diversity. We assume various attitudes and values based on when we were born and the major socio-historical events that occurred during that time period. Defining generational groupings is not an attempt to separate us into clear boxes or categories, but to provide a larger context of how people born at different times in history assume those attributes that apply to our roles and relationships in the workplace.
Let’s take a deeper look at the four generations that are mainly represented in our current credit union workforce.
Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964)
The longest-living generation in history, Baby Boomers are extremely hardworking and motivated by position, perks and prestige in the workplace. They are independent, goal-oriented and competitive. They are self-assured and display objective and rational decision-making skills. They also often possess ideals that coincide with the American Dream, which states that anyone can achieve their goals with hard work. Baby Boomers place emphasis on structural fairness and equal opportunity in the workplace, and they are much less hierarchical than previous generations. Some events that have impacted Baby Boomers are the Civil Rights Movement, the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., the Vietnam War, the Cold War, Woodstock and television becoming the dominant media.
Generation X or “Gen X” (born 1965 to 1979/1980)
Gen Xers experienced a larger absence of nuclear families and were not given as much parental attention as Baby Boomers. This is the first generation where we see much higher rates of divorce, single parent households and both parents working full time outside of the home. Therefore, they learned to fend for themselves and create non-traditional families by bonding with friends and colleagues. Gen Xers are self-sufficient, results-oriented and hardworking. They value diversity and embrace technology and social media. Gen Xers thrive in casual, friendly, fun work environments and do not like to be micro-managed. Some events that have impacted Gen Xers include the Women’s Liberation Movement, the first personal computers, AIDS, massive downsizing in corporate America leading to recession, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Operation Desert Storm and the Rodney King beating and riots in Los Angeles.
Generation Y or “Millennials” (born 1980/1981 to 1994/1996)
Millennials were planned for by their parents who have been highly engaged in building their self-esteem through various activities, education and counseling techniques. They are the first truly global citizens that use technology to build and maintain relationships around the world and they are more open-minded and tolerant of various aspects of diversity than any previous generation. In the workplace, Millennials are tech-savvy, results-oriented, innovative, ambitious and enjoy collaboration. They seek rewards and praise in the work environment and they prioritize a healthy work-life balance. Some events that have impacted Millennials are the Oklahoma City bombing, the rise of school violence, the digital age of the internet, instant messaging and wireless technology, the Monica Lewinsky/Bill Clinton scandal, the 9/11 terrorist attack and the United States War on Terror.
Generation Z or “Gen Z” (born 1996/1997 to 2012)
In the United States, Gen Zers are the most racially and ethnically diverse generation, and are also on track to be the most well educated. They have never lived in a world where the internet did not exist and global events have actively shaped their view of the world. Common attributes of Gen Zers are that they care most about work-life balance and personal wellbeing. In the workplace, they are skeptical, thoughtful, hardworking and mission-driven, which means they desire to work for a company with values. Gen Zers are independent and opinionated and don’t view their jobs as the top definer of their lives. Some events that have impacted Gen Zers include terrorism and war, social networking, smart phones, the Great Recession, gun violence, the election of President Barack Obama, shared family responsibilities and climate change. Also, many Gen Zers have come of age during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When you read through these generational descriptions, do any of the attributes resonate with your personal experience? Are there assumptions made about your generation you’d like to dispel? Do you make assumptions of people in other generations that you could re-examine through a more understanding lens?
As we reflect upon these questions, there are a few actions we can take to effectively work cross-generationally to build relationships and achieve common goals and objectives at our credit unions. First, we can be intentional about approaching our interactions with an open mindset, assuming the best of each other and practicing an openness to truly learn from each other and foster collaboration. Getting to know each other on a more personal level will also help build relationships and trust with our colleagues. I encourage you to have the courage to be a little vulnerable, which opens us up to build a stronger community with others. Also, keep in mind that learning and mentoring is a two-way street and we can approach our interactions at work with an attitude of curiosity and willingness to learn something new from those in other generations.
Erin Doan is the diversity, equity and inclusion director for Vizo Financial. She is responsible for developing and implementing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and community involvement strategies and programs that foster an environment of inclusivity and collaboration amongst staff, business partners and natural person credit unions. Erin has held various roles with the Corpoate since 2002 and is a Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE).