WithIt event turns focus on generation, cultural diversity

GREENVILLE, S.C. — Today’s workplaces continue to evolve, and companies — challenged in finding, hiring and keeping employees — are hungry for information to help navigate the waters of corporate culture while turning profits.

Never before has the work environment looked so different, now with four active generations in the workforce. The multi-generational diversity has companies juggling a mix of expectations from employees that want and need very different things to remain fulfilled and productive.

“We’re looking at trees in a forest, and what we know is that every tree is different, yet they have similarities,” said Jessica Stollings-Holder, the keynote speaker at the WithIT annual conference held here earlier this month. “We need to explore generations as a lens and not a label.”

Stollings-Holder, an expert in the generational studies and workplace dynamics, kicked off the conference: Next Generation Leadership–Building Bridges & Ladders. The conference focused on the four generations currently in the workforce — Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z — arming attendees with knowledge of the dynamics in multigenerational workspaces to better work together and strengthen culture.

“Starting with a broad base, no matter our generation, we all have things in common,” Stollings-Holder said, adding that often it’s easy to forget that. “Commonalities are great ways to build our foundation. What is interesting is to see how different generations experience the same things yet have a different perspective. One style is not right or wrong, but representative of the differences that we grew up with.”

Stollings-Holder gave detailed information on characteristics that employees from each of the four generations bring into the workplace, as well as places where managers and employers can make connection points to build relationships.

Baby Boomers, for example, are often hard-working, ambitious, optimistic and competitive; while members of Gen X are skeptical, flexible, independent and ask why. Millennials are collaborators, multi-taskers and civic-minded; while Gen Z tends to be hard-working, socially conscious, fiscally conservative and practical.

All bring different perspectives to their jobs, and that rich diversity can deliver dividends to companies that embrace the differences, Stollings-Holder said.

“Generational conflict is always going to be a thing,” she said. “There will be new and fresh ideas that younger generations bring to the workplace that will rub prior generations the wrong way. Then, they’ll figure it out. We all need to be aware that using generations as labels can be damaging and harmful in the workplace, and we need to be thoughtful about that.

“In today’s environment, we should partner with members of each generation and learn from one another,” Stollings-Holder added. “Be mindful of those that have gone before and seek out those that are rising up and empower them. Bring our very best together to improve our workplace and world from generation to generation.”

Including all

In addition to Stollings-Holder’s breakdown on multigenerational workplaces, the conference provided its 150 attendees with ways to incorporate inclusive practices throughout companies and tactics for coaching across generations.

Jada Monica Drew

Jada Monica Drew, chief executive of leadership and diversity agency Social Designs, led an interactive presentation that put attendees in groups of six to discover how diverse individuals backgrounds are and how those backgrounds can impact viewpoints in the workplace and in life.

Using Social Designs’ Culture Wheel Card Game, attendees used cards that offered several conversation starters, or culture components — such as tradition, conflict, health and food — that members of the group shared with one another what those various things meant. The idea is to build team and culture through understanding and sharing.

Today’s diverse, inclusive workplaces give companies the ability to harness voices and talents from a variety of viewpoints.

“Each person is a walking, talking culture wheel,” Drew said, adding that people have diverse backgrounds that impact their lives and perspectives. “When we think about the culture wheel, we all have so many similarities, and we need to build on those so that we can create more inclusive spaces.”

Inclusion, Drew said, often makes people think about the differences among people, but the similarities are the key to success in incorporating diversity and inclusive work environments.

“Inclusion means creating a space for everyone,” she said, adding that creating a brave space where team members can share ideas and experiences. “We need everyone at the table so that we can have long-term change that’s sustainable.”

Shelia Butler, business coach and director of operations for Jola International, closed out the conference’s theme on multigenerational work teams with strategies on coaching different across generations. She offered practical strategies on tackling cross-generational mentoring and coaching to better nurture talent and foster a strong sense of being within organizations and companies.

In addition to the speakers, WithIt hosted a number of break-out sessions offering attendees the ability to personalize their experience with topics relevant to their designed professional development including seeing differences differently, hiring in a multi-generational landscape and negotiation tactics.  Roundtable discussions provided time of additional conversation on the above topics and others.

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