It’s happened. The millennials have overtaken the baby boomers as America’s largest generation. Actually, according to the Pew Research Center it happened last year. People who were aged 18-34 in 2015 numbered at 75.4 million, surpassing Baby Boomers (those aged 51-69) who numbered at 74.9 million. That count was just a measure of the population in the United States. According to a CNBC article from last September, Asia is now home to almost 60 percent of the global millennial population.
The same article describes them as ‘socially conscious, more willing to spend and highly digitally connected.’ It would be natural to assume that tapping into this market not only on a consumer level, but also to attract talent can only be beneficial for any business’ longevity. So, who are these people? what do they care about? How do we connect with them? The Economist’s second Pride and Prejudice event in Hong Kong gave insight into their ‘socially conscious’ mindset in its first panel, posing the question: ‘how are millennials changing the way businesses think about LGBT issues?’
Hong Kong Legislative Councilor and millennial Nathan Law explained that growing up in the city in an age where homosexuality was decriminalized and has become visible has meant he is at ease with people who have different sexual orientation. He shared that people he works with have come out to him but this doesn’t affect the working environment he seeks to build. “I embrace people from different backgrounds as long as they have the ability to perform in my office”, he said. Economic growth, particularly in Asia has meant further access to technology and education which for him, has led to more liberal thinking. Though he recognizes a generational shift in thought towards diversity and inclusivity in general, when it comes to being reflected in Hong Kong law, he says “things are still not yet done and that’s a big goal for us, especially for the younger generation of the Legislative Council.”
Clarice Kan, Compliance Counsel for Google Asia-Pacific agrees that access to technology has helped the LGBT cause but added that the influence of liberal minded peers and social leaders is also helping. She admits she might be one of the lucky few but shared that she has had only good experiences in the workforce. In Kan’s opinion, Google’s equality policies are strong but the challenge of achieving inclusivity and diversity for everyone is that it’s an ongoing dialogue in a workplace that’s constantly evolving.
Rica Paras, Senior Manager of Technology at Accenture and Transgender Inclusion Advocate also highlighted how the internet helped immensely on her personal journey to understanding her sexual identity. She believes millennials are changing the status quo in the workplace and shared that one of the main reasons she chose to work at Accenture was because they had an inclusion policy and an LGBT ally mentoring program which caught her attention. “I think it resonates with a lot of young people we have. They are looking for a company that has an inclusion policy.” They are not just changing the way companies look at LGBT issues, in her experience young people bring with them a different culture entirely and are changing the way companies are operating internally.
As she sees it millennials are looking for a workplace experience that revolves more around their needs and career progression, giving the example of training in smaller groups and opting out of the traditional classroom setting. “We want to provide an environment where these people thrive and be themselves and together achieve business goals.” Paras admitted that in her native Philippines, domestic companies on the whole are perhaps not as inclusive as their international counterparts. That is why she strongly believes that multinational businesses need to set an example in inclusion policies and to even perhaps eventually influence governments.
As the moderator opened up the floor to questions at the end of the session, the question arose: what does sexual orientation have to do with work at all? As Kan pointed out, mothers don’t necessarily feel the need to discuss that part of themselves at work, so why is there a focus on the need to disclose any sexual orientation at all? For Paras it’s a vital part of making a comfortable and productive workplace for everyone. “It’s important to talk about this. To be able to handle LGBT people in a way that you understand them, and not assume that everybody has the single mind-view that who you like defines everything that you do.” Kan adds that for her it’s about being confident in bringing your ‘whole self’ to work. “At the end of the day it’s about normalizing things for the LGBT community.” For her the goal is for LGBT orientation to become a non-issue.
Kan also gave a good piece of advice to anyone wanting to connect with millennials: Don’t stereotype. “While there may be assumptions associated with stereotypes of certain groups of people, maybe millennials or LGBT or just diversity and inclusion in general, it’s important to understand people not just as a group but as individuals to understand what’s important to them in the workplace or at home.”
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