Your Future Workforce, Social Reality and Gender

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Dr. Gustavo
April 12, 2023

It can’t happen here!

It won’t happen here!

It will never happen!

Those are three atypical responses I received this week in the middle of a presentation many readers of this blog have likely seen, “Ready or Not, Here They Come: Maximizing Performance in a Multigenerational Workforce.”

These responses came in the middle of a new section about Generation Z entering the workforce. The point of contention: gender identity.

What We Know About Gen Z

Because the leading edge of Generation Z is just entering into the workforce, we are just starting to get data on this generation as a group. Some of what we know:

1.     Gen Z will be the most diverse generation in history.

2.     Gen Z sees diversity as a positive thing for society.

3.     Diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at work should include efforts to include diverse gender identities.

Point #3 caused the response I described above. Why? The vast majority of us born before 1982 grew up with the social reality that gender is binary (male or female) and assigned at birth. For most of us, this social reality was adopted without any internal conflict or dissonance. In short, our personal realities aligned with our social realities. 

At the same time, though, some number of people – the actual number may never be known –grew up with this same social reality and felt obligated to conform to a binary gender identity (male or female), even though their personal reality was not aligned with their social reality, creating internal dissonance. 

Today, people who do not experience their gender as specifically male or female might identify as nonbinary or agender. Those who experience a gender that is opposite from the gender they were assigned at birth might self-identify as transgender.

Social Realities Have Shifted Before

The above paragraph may be difficult for some people to read. And if you grew up in a very traditional culture, where “men are men and women are women,” it may be difficult for you to fully comprehend the changes that Gen Z and their supporters are driving in our society. I would ask you to, please, take a deep breath, read the prior paragraph again and consider the following.

Today’s shifting social reality around gender identity parallels the changing social reality around homosexuality 40 years ago. If you’re around my age, you probably know someone (or perhaps even are someone) who was married many years, had children and then came out as gay and got a divorce once their kids were grown. To be clear, it’s not that such people became gay in midlife. They were always gay, but did not feel they could express that personal reality within the social reality they inhabited. 

Views about sexual orientation have shifted over the past 40 years to allow greater alignment between personal realities and social reality. Being gay today, while still difficult, carries much less social stigma than it once did. Our social reality today regarding sexual orientation is much more embracing of different personal realities. Now we are seeing the beginning of a similar shift around gender identities.

3 Questions to Ask Yourself

Gen Z is transforming our social reality to not only tolerate but embrace different gender identities as diverse expressions. And they expect their employers to do the same.

Members of Gen Z, your future workforce, want their work world to look like their personal world. Part of the diversity they want to see is the embrace of diverse gender identities. 

If these facts, supported by data, make you uncomfortable, here are three questions to consider:

1.     What are you afraid of losing (personally, for your family or your business) in a social reality that embraces diverse gender identities?  How does gender diversity adversely affect you?

2.     Is it possible that your personal reality around gender is not the only personal reality that exists?

3.     If a nonbinary job candidate had the skills and abilities you need (but have been unable to find in other candidates), and you wanted to hire them, what do you have in place that would persuade them to accept your offer, and why would they stay?

We are in the middle of a war for talent unlike anything we have ever seen. If you, as an employer, are not willing or able to embrace gender diversity, your future workforce will find an employer who will.

I’d love to hear your questions and comments. If you would like to discuss this topic further, just drop me a note

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