Representation Matters to Gen Zers Looking for Work

As Gen Z looks for opportunities in the workforce, they tend to prioritize companies with a diverse set of leaders.

Generation Z has been vocal about the need for organizations to do better regarding diversity and inclusion. As the most diverse generation in U.S. history, they’re often the ones who are on the front lines of the fight for social justice, and it is evident that the workplace is no exception.

To take a closer look into the expectations of this generation of talent, we asked five members of Gen-Z to join a November ‘Gen-Z Speaks’ panel to discuss one of the most critical priorities their generation has when selecting their next workplace – a genuine commitment to diversity and inclusion. Our panelists included students from diverse backgrounds and schools across the United States. Their areas of study include public policy and global studies, marketing, communications, economics, and information management & technology. Read on for the main takeaways from the event. 

Gen Z wants to see themselves represented in all ranks of the company

As Gen Z looks for opportunities in the workforce, they tend to prioritize companies with a diverse set of leaders who promote, support, and celebrate a similar culture and team.

When asked, “What does an authentic investment in D&I mean to you?” several panelists brought up the idea that commitment to D&I should be evident at all levels of the company – from the entry-level employees to the executive leadership.

Derek Lopez of the University of California Berkeley, for example, said that it’s crucial that companies today are actively supporting talent who are not typically represented in the workforce.

“It’s important that [companies] actually recognize that underrepresented individuals and marginalized communities don’t … have the same privilege as many of us,” he said. 

Esther Mensah of the University of Virginia added that “as a black woman, the corporate world just seems very intimidating, and as you look higher and higher within a company, you start to see fewer and fewer people that look like you.”

“There’s an obvious disconnect,” she said, “and I want to know what they’re doing to mitigate that disconnect.”

And Esther is not alone in this perspective. In fact our recent  report on Diversity in the Workplace shows that 85% of Black women and 87% of Hispanic women said they would reconsider applying to a company if they were unsatisfied with its D&I efforts.

Sarra Noomen of Baruch City University of New York felt similarly, saying that it’s beneficial “having representation that we can really see, and having companies reach out with stories of impact that show companies are fighting for representation in the workplace.”

Clearly, Gen Z wants to see companies taking action to prioritize diversity and inclusion, and to work for companies that genuinely commit to making their workplace more inclusive for everyone.

Transparency and representation within the company and interview board are critical when recruiting Gen Z talent

Similar to representation in the workforce, our Gen Z panelists also talked about how they want to see diversity within the interview board. In addition, they’d like more transparency around the interview process, and D&I efforts within the company.

“When I’m looking for a new job, I feel that the interview panel is giving me a really true insight into what the culture is like at a company,” Sarra said. 

Christopher Morley of the University of Michigan shared that perspective, adding that when interviewing with companies, he looks for an interviewer panel made up of a “diverse group of people with a bunch of different backgrounds.”

But of course it has to be genuine. Ud Joseph of Syracuse University noted that showcasing diversity in a workplace when in fact a company still has much more work to do to truly diversify its team can be extremely harmful. 

“When something is promoted and has photos of minorities, but when you step into the space there are barely any in the workplace or high positions — it’s very misleading,” Ud said. “I’d rather there be no minorities [pictured] in any promotion if they’re not in the workplace.”

Gen Z prefers companies that support an authentic, supportive environment and work-life balance

When asked what would make them want to stay at a company long-term, the Gen Z panelists focused on the importance of being part of a strong, authentic culture that values work-life balance and employee appreciation.

“Work-life balance is probably the number one thing on my list here,” Sarra said. “I feel like people tend to leave a company after a very long time because they feel overworked or they feel unsupported.”

Panelists like Christopher also talked about the importance of work-life balance on employee mental health, adding that he has “known many coworkers who have suffered from mental health, and they didn’t really feel like they had an outlet to be able to express themselves.”

Opportunity for growth was also a common narrative. Derek mentioned he looks for a company with a clear path for career growth, “making sure that those opportunities are already present at my current workplace.”

Gen Z favors a remote or hybrid workplace to support those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to work

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many companies to reevaluate their workplace policies, and our Gen Z panelists agreed that they would like to see more companies continue to embrace a remote or hybrid model as we return to the new normal. This allows a more diverse pool of applicants, and provides employees with more flexibility.

Esther began the conversation by stating that “flexible and remote work gives people the opportunity to work from home, but also balance a lot of the different responsibilities that they have in life, because life isn’t just work, and that’s what companies have to come to realize as well.”

When companies offer a hybrid or remote option, they’re “making it so much easier to gain talent by letting people work from where they’re most comfortable and where it’s easiest for them,” according to Derek. He continued to say that companies should “continue to allow remote and hybrid workplaces to exist because it truly does open those opportunities.”

On the other hand, flexible work arrangements also allows employees, especially younger workers, to broaden their horizons.

“I’ve worked with people across the country, across the world, and it’s been a really cool experience being able to get those interactions I would have never gotten without the Internet and Zoom,” Chris added. 

The work landscape is changing, and so are the preferences of those joining the workforce. Companies need to stay ahead of the curve and understand what motivates Gen Z — which includes offering an authentic culture with a strong work-life balance, supporting diversity and inclusion, and opportunities for growth and development. To learn more about Gen Z from the source, you can view the full recording of the panel here.


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