What diversity means to Gen Z

November 12, 2021

By: Julianna Chen

Gen Z is the most ethnically and racially diverse generation, ever. In fact, nearly half of us are ethnic or racial minorities—48% of post-millennials surveyed in a 2018 Pew Research Center report were nonwhite. 

Beyond these statistics, our beliefs are similarly notable. We are, for instance, the most progressive generation to date, touting a widespread disapproval of Trump and a belief in climate change’s negative impacts. It’s possible that growing up surrounded by more diverse faces has made us more open-minded and receptive to change; unsurprisingly, 62% of us believe that increasing racial and ethnic diversity is generally good for society. 

Maybe you’ve read some of these statistics already in a news article about how Gen Z values diversity, how critical it is that diversity initiatives are executed correctly so as to capture this specific demographic. I’ve read those pieces, too—but there are a few things they tend to get wrong about what diversity really means to Gen Z. 

We can be wary of corporate diversity and inclusion initiatives. Diversity as a concept seems to have been corporatized beyond recognition—the word “diverse” itself seems to have lost meaning after being churned through so many job applications and recruiting websites (good ol’ “How do you see yourself contributing to a diverse environment?” interview question, anybody?). So, mandated diversity events have a lot of potential to feel inauthentic and forced. To me, diversity initiatives only feel like a good thing if they highlight the stories of marginalized groups without treating them like trauma porn, educate without making the education the work of the marginalized, and serve ends besides just, well, making the company look more inclusive.

We’re a diverse generation, yes, but we want to be treated like everyone else. While researching for this article, I found tips for hiring Gen Zers: “Look at the number of diversity candidates applying to positions. Assess how many diversity candidates make it to the first and second round.” That “diversity candidate” is a pretty gross concept, IMO—language like this can feel tokenizing, and it’s odd to think about companies hiring “diverse individuals” solely to give the illusion of being inclusive rather than because those individuals do good work. Personally, I’d be crushed if I found out I’d been looked at as a “diversity candidate” because it would mean my identity had been emphasized more than my work. My identity does mean a lot to me, but I’d still feel tokenized knowing someone read that I was Asian or queer and immediately filed me away into a “diversity hire” folder, as if they only wanted to hire me for those reasons. It’s 2021—companies should be trying to diversify their offices—but they should never be doing so in a way that separates, say, marginalized people into a whole different category. We want to be just regular candidates! 

Diversity can have a lot of different definitions—it doesn’t look like one person in particular. There shouldn’t be an archetypal Ideal Diverse Person. In discussing diversity, make sure to go beyond visible markers of difference such as gender, age, or race. You should also be considering how neurodiversity, physical ability, class, and education can contribute to diverse experiences. Conversations about workplace diversity often forget that “diversity” isn’t just a shorthand synonym for “different from the straight white middle-aged man”—it’s just generally meant to emphasize different life experiences and perspectives, which can arise from many different factors. The goal? Such diversity of thought should foster a more creative, innovative environment. And that, at least, sounds like something we all want.