Over the past few weeks, two tech stories have popped up that helped reinforce my stance that organizations are taking a deeper look into their company culture. The first story was the release, and ensuing acclaim, of Jason Fried and David Heinemeier’s book, It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work. The two co-founders of the project management application, Basecamp, dive into the myth that work needs to be excessively hard and stressful in order for it to be productive. The other story that caught my attention was around InVision’s fully remote 700 person team and how they built a culture around remote work.
Admittedly, neither of these two stories have a direct correlation to how companies are thinking about diversity and inclusion. However, I do think that a shift in how companies are thinking about their workforce is the driving factor in the two aforementioned stories and could be the driving factor in what helps turn the tide in diversity and inclusion issues. InVision and Basecamp are both great companies that are run by great leaders, and while I think that they truly believe in these non-traditional work practices, I also think that the changing dynamics of the workforce plays a huge role in their company culture.
A Diverse Set of Values
Gen Z is defined as anybody born after 1995. While I was hopeful that my fellow millennials would be the ones to take the reigns on diversity and inclusion issues, they simply weren’t part of our priority values when choosing an employer. Of course, this is a gross simplification of the issue, and there are some great advocates working hard from all generations on D&I issues. But one thing to note is that millennials were graduating college and looking for jobs after the 2008 financial crisis, forcing us to be less picky about where we worked.
Gen Z, on the other hand, has become a lot more picky about the types of companies they want to work for. This pickiness could be attributed to supply and demand, but Gen Z is definitely a lot more outspoken when expressing the types of values they expect from their employer. In a recent Ernst & Young study surveying 3200 Gen Zers, respondents said they most value employers that provide equal opportunity for pay and promotion, along with opportunities to learn and advance professionally.
While it’s not fair to make a generalization that Gen Z cares more about diversity and inclusion than past generations, its clear that Gen Z is more likely to be exposed to diverse groups of people. According to a 2017 Nielsen Total Audience Report, 37% of Gen Zers identify as Hispanics or non-Hispanic Blacks, a large jump from previous generations. During my freshman year at Temple University in 2005, I still remember meeting students that have never interacted with a black person prior to college. With the current trajectory that we’re on, those interactions are less and less likely to happen.
As the U.S. continues to become more multicultural, I’m lead to believe that Gen Zers will have a better perspective of how to deal with race in the workplace because they are more likely to be exposed to different races & cultures at a younger age. Companies that lack racial diversity and inclusion will stick out and, hopefully, that will lead to not just racial minorities speaking out but also their racial majority allies.
What Does This Mean for the Companies?
As a part of the workforce, a millennial and someone who mentors Gen Zers looking to get into tech, I’ve observed a change in what young job seekers want in potential employers. As horrible as it sounds, back in 2005, all of the controversy around Uber’s questionable culture practices probably wouldn’t have lead to much uproar. Today, young job seekers are less focused on “success at all costs” and more focused on finding companies that are successful while caring about the mental and social health of their employees. I’ve heard more about job seekers looking for companies that are making a “meaningful difference in society” than any other time in my life.
For the unpopular opinion portion of this article, I think that the big tech companies of the world (e.g. Facebook, Google, Amazon etc…) are at risk of losing their appeal if they don’t adjust to valuing these new job seeker needs. In fact, I recently spoke to a recent grad who rejected a position at one of those companies to go all in on a social impact startup. While that story is very rare, and a huge career risk, it does highlight a change in behavior of Gen Zers. I’m hopeful that change is for the better.
Herry Pierre-Louis is a Product Manager at native ad platform, Sharethrough. He is experienced in the ad tech ecosystem with previous product stints at Xaxis and Spongecell. He is passionate about mentorship for under-represented youth and making the high tech workforce more diverse.