Gaga Over Inclusion: Lady Gaga’s Generational Message

by Andrés T. Tapia —


Lady Gaga is today’s symbol of the modern inclusion movement.

Whether you are into her music and outfits or not, without question she’s tapped into something profound with her message of the beauty and power of the outcast. From the offbeat, unpopular girl that she was to to the supernova she has exploded into being, Stefani Germanotta from New York’s Upper West Side has now over 10 million followers on Twitter — more than any other person on the planet, including more than that other inclusion icon, President Barack Obama.

What makes her message so captivating is that from the very beginning this has been her own story of revenge against the very popular high school girls who punished her for not being cool. Consequently, she has turned the same peculiarity that led to her ostracism into the very base of her artistic power.

With her newly released Born This Way album, Lady Gaga completes the second stage of her artistic and personal metamorphosis. In the early stage of this metamorphosis on her third album, The Fame Monster and the artistic staging that followed, her message was about facing her greatest fears – each of the eight songs is about different primal fear – and doing so by making them larger than life which she did with elaborate stage sets. As she said in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, the only way to conquer one’s fear is to face it. But how telling that during this stage, Lady Gaga’s persona could only face these fears behind outrageous masks, glasses, hairdos, and costumes including one made of meat. For awhile all her interviews were done with her face hidden in some way or another from the interviewer. Her ways were bold on the outside, shy inside.

Which, of course, coupled with her kick ass dance music and alliterative, playful, and at times, disturbing lyrics made her highly entertaining and controversial while remaining mysterious and hidden.

But with Born This Way, Lady Gaga has gone through another metamorphosis. This time she’s emerged from behind the disguises, and in the spirit of the anthemic title track, is fully showing her true self. “I am a simple girl from New York, who loves her parents, loves her fans, and loves herself.” This time her message is simple: don’t work hard at being someone you are not. Rather be free by being yourself and fully accepting who that is:

Don’t be a drag, just be a queen
Whether you’re broke or evergreen
You’re black, white, beige, chola descent
You’re Lebanese, you’re orient
Whether life’s disabilities
Left you outcast, bullied, or teased
Rejoice and love yourself today
’cause baby you were born this way

No matter gay, straight, or bi,
lesbian, transgendered life,
I’m on the right track baby,
I was born to survive.
No matter black, white or beige
Chola or orient made,
I’m on the right track baby,
I was born to be brave.

In her HBO special based on her recent performance at Madison Square Garden I was struck by how stripped down she was. She only briefly covered her eyes with shades or a mask, opting for an open-faced look throughout the night. Most of her performance was done in outfits that revealed rather than hid her body. Nothing to hide.

In this stripped down spirit, her most arresting number was a scaled down piece with just her at the piano. And to underscore the message, the ending credits are done in black and white as she and her gospel backup singers do an acapella version of Born This Way in the dressing room.

In the middle of the concert Lady Gaga tells the story of how her theater and music teachers did not think she could ever make it show business. She did not have the necessary looks, including not being blond and being too ethnic. As a “student of fame,” as Lady Gaga refers to herself, she shows up at Madison Square Garden defiantly as a super blond with mustard colored dyed hair.

In comparing videos of her first metamorphosis to her second, it’s striking how free she is. While some may say her lyrics now are too preachy and literal and others may miss her more esoteric references, she moves without apology to fulfill her mission: to liberate her “little monsters” and encourage them to believe “you can be whoever it is you want to be.”

As a preacher of this modern era, she lets them know no one can tell them what they can and can’t do. She then role models for them how. “I didn’t use to be brave at all. But you … have made me brave. So now I will be brave for you.” And then raising her voice in defiance, “I want  you to forfeit all your insecurities. I want you to reject anyone who has made you feel you don’t belong. Or that tell you that you don’t fit in or are not good enough or pretty enough or thin enough or sing good enough or dance good enough. Just remember you are a g**damn superstar and you were born this way.”

Lady Gaga takes her fans seriously. And watching her fans respond is stunning in the liberation she inspires for them.  Theirs are not screams swooning for the cute boys of bands past, rather these are screams for the affirmation of self. And so the little monsters find full individualistic expression through their original clothing, face paintings, and forms of dancing. They affirm their gayness, their clumsiness, their awkwardness, their shyness.

Which brings us all back to inclusion. In the end, the Inclusion movement is, at its simplest, about the freedom to be us. No pretense. No putdowns. Just full acceptance.

And, in this, we liberate the power of our creative talented selves.

Connecting Diversity to Space Design: Take Five with Gensler’s Tom Mulhern

by Andrés T. Tapia —

Tom Mulhern (left) works with a client, Mr. Davidson (right) of the CHA.

Tom Mulhern (left) works with a client, Robert Davidson (right) of the Lathrop Homes Local Area Council.

Tom Mulhern works at the intersection of people, space, and technology. As Strategic Planner for Gensler, he consults with clients and design teams to identify and create contexts for great design. As he has consulted with several companies about the accessibility and sustainability of their workplaces, unexpected synergies have come into play. The challenges and opportunities that the workplace presents Tom, as a space designer, raise issues of diversity and inclusion. After we had the pleasure of working together, Tom agreed to discuss his insights about workplaces in this Take Five interview.

Take 1: Educate us about your world – the transformation of the workplace. How would you characterize the differences between what it was a generation ago and what it is becoming today?

Today for most organizations that employ knowledge workers – in the US and worldwide – the workplace, as a distinct, physical location, has become optional. What was once the only way to organize complex work and workers is now something organizations and leaders can choose (or not) depending on what they want to achieve. The technology to do this has arrived, in the form of “The Cloud” and the always-connected mobile device. And the workers themselves, at school and at home, have spent the past 15 years rehearsing the multi-tasking, time-shifting, results-seeking required to make a flexible workplace work. Add to this the “new normal” of a cost- and resource-constrained global economy, and we find that almost every Gensler client is seeking to implement virtual and flexible office strategies. 

But optional is not the same as obsolete. Just think of how often we still use paper and pen, postal mail or your landline phone. So, if a dedicated, permanent physical workspace is no longer a necessity, why might organizations choose it – at least for some processes, at least some of the time?

Some reasons to be present physically include,

  • Mentor and learn from others
  • Really get to know colleagues and be known by them
  • Connect to and be inspired by organizational mission, vision and values
  • Make serendipitous connections to people and ideas (“water cooler”)
  • Convey seriousness, scale and professionalism to customers
  • Get access to scarce resources – production equipment, labs, etc.

There are also compelling reasons to work from wherever,

  • Integrate work more effectively into life (good for individual, recruiting tool for organization)
  • Support the global work day (up in the morning with Europe, late to bed with Asia)
  • Preserve organizational security – distribute operations to reduce risk from disaster or terror
  • Save costs and carbon associated with real estate (organization)
  • Save time, expense and carbon of commuting (individual)
  • Learn to use the communication technologies required for successful innovation (individual and organization)

So the idea is not to minimize real estate, but rather to maximize presence. When people are physically present, are they doing the things in the first list? Is the physical environment optimized for the goals? If your organization is still defaulting to the physical workplace, are you aware of the potential embedded in the second list?

Take 2: Changing demographics and lifestyles have driven many of these workplace differences. Can you elaborate on the connection between changing demographic groups/ lifestyle needs and space design changes?

The drivers are more psychographic than demographic. They are largely keyed to life stages and lifestyles, not particular generational tendencies. For instance, the generation most prepared to work this way – the fabled Millennials – is not necessarily the one best served by flexible work arrangements. Millennials entering the workforce need connection to organizations, mentors, and inspiration. They are most prepared to thrive in a social, embodied physical workplace. By contrast, flexible work arrangements are more appropriate to mid-career workers with family or civic commitments, and to later-career workers who are seeking to reduce, but not eliminate, the role their professional identity plays in their lives. The two biggest conceptual victims of the Optional Office may be the “Mommy Track” and “Retirement.” Both of these notions are grounded in a time when physical presence was an all-or-nothing proposition.

Take 3: I’ve shared with you and members of your firm how much U.S. corporate firms are influenced by a white, Anglo-Saxon, individualistic aesthetic, and how it runs counter to a Latin, Catholic, communal aesthetic. As you think of the future of corporate space, and we think of Latinos becoming ¼ of U.S. population, how will this affect how we think about design?

I would expect to see a massive “Southern” influence in design over the next 20 years. Latin America, India, and Africa will continue to gain in cultural influence on the rest of the world, bringing color, comfort, and community to the workplace and to all aspects of our lives. All of this will be muted some by the overwhelming capital that has been put in place behind very conventional, international (read European) style design in countless buildings being thrown up across China and Latin America itself. But to move beyond aesthetics, I believe the most powerful influence from non-European cultures will be functional. Communal, flowing arrangements of space, such as the Plaza, the Pueblo and the Mercado, will be very important patterns for the organization of Flex organizations. The European arrangement of task – from monk’s carrels to cubicles – will be less and less well suited to the interconnections and complexity that are required to innovate and thrive in our world.

Take 4: Gensler has done significant work looking at the correlation between workplace design and employee productivity and engagement. Can you elaborate on what those connections are?

The first, and maybe most obvious connection, is that when an organization pays attention to the physical, emotional, and social design of the workplace, the organization is saying to its people, “You are valued people doing important work that is worth investing in.” This is sort of the old Western Electric effect, where any investment translates to good will. The second connection, for which there is growing evidence, but which does not work in a linear or mechanical way, is that work environments can be tuned to increase desired behaviors – say casual collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas – and to decrease non-desired behaviors – say hoarding of resources and knowledge. We have hard data that demonstrates conclusively the connection between a workplace’s physical design and its performance in terms of productivity, engagement, and retention. Top Performing companies have workplaces that score 20-40% higher on Gensler’s multi-variable measure, the Workplace Performance Index (WPI). The hard part is that this data is not universal. You have to make the right investments in space to get the returns. And the right investments vary according to the business goals you seek.

Take 5: The terms “diversity” and “inclusion” have not necessarily been part of your discourse through most of your career, but lately they have become an important part of your work. What does diversity and inclusion mean for you now professionally and personally?

Beyond ADA (Americans with Disability Act) requirements, diversity and inclusion have not been a significant topic in commercial architecture and design. This is changing. And the main reason it is changing is the Innovation Imperative. In a global economy, survival depends on innovative capacity. Organizations have to innovate and adapt extremely rapidly. And without internal sources of diversity – of background, worldview, or discipline – organizations can’t perform the most straightforward innovation trick: to think differently. The challenge for architecture and design is to create environments that go far beyond permitting diversity to actually activating diversity. Those environments will be ones in which no one ethnic group, gender or other group will have an in-built advantage. I am not sure what form these will take, but I’ve started referring to them as “out of the comfort zones.”

Take Five with Diversity and Inclusion Innovator Cisco’s Marilyn Nagel


Marilyn Nagel is the Senior Director of Inclusion & Diversity (I&D) at Cisco, where she leads the global I&D team on projects that require large-scale change management, talent planning, and learning. As Cisco’s Chief Diversity Officer, her responsibilities include facilitating the global I&D council, which sets the I&D agenda and strategy for the company, and measures progress toward I&D goals. Prior to joining Cisco, she worked in academia, leadership development, and organizational development for nearly 30 years, in both the private non-profit sector and for Fortune 500 companies. Marilyn’s personal connections to diversity and inclusion include growing up Jewish in a community that was not always welcoming,  supporting her lesbian daughter as she has encountered prejudice, and having a disability that impacts her hands.

Recipient of one of Diversity Best Practice’s Diversity Officer Leadership Awards, Marilyn is a frequent speaker on the topics of developing women leaders and building a culture of inclusion. Marilyn and I have been on panels and Councils together, have heard each other present, have brokered meetings between different leaders within our two businesses, and have exchanged many ideas. She is a savvy business professional and brings to her diversity leadership role honed business and talent development skills and a passion for diversity whose rivers run deep.  Recently she took 5 with me between real and virtual meetings that span the globe to talk about Cisco’s cutting edge work in diversity and inclusion.

Take 1: You are an effective practitioner of established diversity best practices — but in addition, you  explore and develop innovative practices. What are some examples in which you have made the most of Cisco’s technology to advance diversity and inclusion there?

MN: I view our use of technology as a core channel to deliver programs, communicate, and forward our focus areas. Our employee development strategy for inclusion and diversity heavily leverages our collaboration technologies in so many ways, but let me provide one specific example.

In November 2008 we piloted the Inclusive Advocacy Program (IAP) to open doors, create new networks and enable the organization at a very senior level to help develop a diverse talent pipeline across the enterprise. Thirty-two high-potential employees in 16 countries were identified and paired with an “advocate” in a different function and two levels above. Because all of the meetings were virtual, a variety of Cisco collaboration technologies, from creating a program-specific website to using TelePresence, was used to help the pairs build lasting relationships. The resulting relationships exceeded expectations. When the program began, it was given a timeline of 18 months to produce any measurable result. In less than a year, one of the high-potential employees received a promotion and two got new geographic postings. The program continues in 2010 with a new set of participants.

Take 2: You recently led a global diversity session that involved hundreds of Cisco employees who interacted with each other and the CEO. Can you tell us more about what that experience was like and what came out of it?

Each year Cisco holds the global Inclusion and Diversity symposium, bringing together employees to discuss top of mind I&D related topics. From year to year, the focus and format of the symposium evolves to fit the needs of the business climate.

In 2009 the virtual event was broadcast over Cisco TV to a worldwide audience taking place over the course of 10 sessions with more than two dozen speakers, presenters, and panelists.  Sessions were offered for topics such as optimizing relationships with generation Y, working in a virtual environment, and a fireside chat with our Chairman and CEO, John Chambers.

The chat with John is always a favorite session among employees because of the open nature of the conversation. More than half of the time is spent taking questions directly from the employees. John welcomes their candor and always closes with the question of, “What can Cisco do differently?”

This year the symposium includes the Cisco TV chat with John as well as a series of live events. With the challenging economy this past year, we want to bring employees together to celebrate our success while investing in personal development and building community locally. For example, in September our Richardson, Texas campus will be hosting an all-hands celebration with author Keith Ferrazi as our featured guest speaker. Keith will be teaching our sales and engineering teams about igniting their career growth through the diversity of the professional network.  And similar events are planned around the globe.

Take 3: Cisco is at the cutting edge of exploring the ramifications of how people, space and technology intersect. How is technology changing how corporations need to think about physical space and how people work, whether they are at the office or somewhere else?

We use technology to keep people connected and to bridge geographical differences, and it lies at the core of how all Cisco employees conduct their day-to-day jobs. Because Cisco has more than 68,000 employees globally, we have to ensure we can optimize our travel spend, and utilize our collaborative technologies such as WebEx, and emerging ones such as Cisco TelePresence.

Our collaborative culture means that employees from different teams, organizations and geographies often need to work together. Many employees prefer to take conference calls at home in order to accommodate time zone challenges and family obligations. In addition, employees are able to use Cisco technologies such as our softphone software, the Cisco IP Communicator, on their laptops to make and receive calls from wherever they may be. Employees are empowered to have control over how and where they work.

We have also taken into consideration the different ways Millennial employees like to work, in collaborative work spaces. As we re-outfit our campus buildings, and build new locations, we are focusing on collaborative work spaces with large white boards that can be shared across locations, TelePresence group rooms, and other accommodations that promote interaction and a variety of work styles in informal and formal ways.

Take 4: Much has been said and written about work/life flexibility. What have you learned about how technology enables greater work/life flexibility, as well as its limitations?

Today’s employees have diverse workstyles, lifestyles, and personal needs. They want more options for where, how, and when they want to work.

To accommodate these employee preferences and gain the benefits of a satisfied workforce, Cisco created the Flexible Work Practices (FWP) program. It offers multiple work options such as flex time, off/on ramp, part time, remote work and telecommuting that allow all Cisco global employees to work more productively and extend their careers with Cisco.

FWP balances wide-ranging employee needs with the needs of a Fortune 500 company. Additionally, it gives employees the benefits of using Cisco IP phones, WebEx, TelePresence, and other productivity-enhancing Cisco technologies. Flexible Work Practices are important to Cisco’s culture, because we want to retain our employees long term and continue to make Cisco a best place to work. Through the use of our own technology, we can enable productivity and contribute to work/life integration.

Take 5: Given its location in Silicon Valley, Cisco employs many GenXers and Millennials. What has been the greatest learning experience for you personally working with Gen Xers, and Millennials?

For the first time there are four generations in the workplace. Each has a fairly unique leadership, governance, communication and overall work style. Generation X is the largest generation at Cisco, representing more than half of our employee population. Our Millennial employee base is also growing rapidly, nearly doubling from 2007 to 2010.

We formed the Early in Career ERG [employee resource group] to help our Millennial employees transition into the workforce. But we have found the benefits of the new ERG to be bi-directional. Early in Career members, with their passion for social media and cutting edge technology, have influenced new approaches to working and collaboration.

As with the Generation X employees, I love working with the Millennial employees and find they share many of the value systems of the Boomers (where I fit). And of course, I greatly appreciate their natural crosscultural fluency.

Nine Linchpin Strategies for Advancing Diversity in 2010

by Andrés T. Tapia

First, a few words on strategy and then to my specific recommendations.

Powerful strategy should always sound simple when it’s articulated.

That’s because strategy is about identifying the one or two things that are going to be pursued and, by inference, the 100 other things that could but will not be. In war it could be  “overwhelming force” or “secret infiltration.” In politics it could be, “say no to everything no matter what” or “find a way to find common ground no matter what.” In soccer, “shut down Ronaldo” or “shut down everyone else but him.”

What is hard is being able to pinpoint that linchpin issue — the one thing around which everything else gravitates. It’s that one thing that, if either enabled or thwarted, will determine the enterprise’s best chance of comprehensive success. This is difficult to accomplish, not just because it requires knowledge of the big picture, but also because it requires discernment to identify interrelationships between myriad issues.  It’s also difficult because saying “yes” to a handful of key actions or philosophies sidelines all the other good ideas — each of which has proponents, cheerleaders, experts, tools, techniques, and processes. Vested interests make it difficult for the many players to embrace a strategic direction that may not include something they hold most dear.

Diversity & inclusion strategy is no different, even though it may seem hypocritical to declare what approaches to achieving inclusion are in and which ones are out.

But strategize — and therefore prioritize — we must, if we are to move the work forward.

So in this spirit, here’s my stab at what I believe are the linchpin strategies for 9 different current diversity issues. Keep in mind the qualifier “top priority.” This does not mean that there are not other things to do, but in strategy work the goal is to put our finger on the key issue around which the many others revolve. If we pursue it successfully, we will not just change whatever it was we were going after, but also lay the groundwork for resolving many other related issues.

  1. For the LGBT community, the top priority should be to seek full equality through the courts and legislation–not at the referendum ballot box. The ballot box strategy requires convincing majorities to change (or at the very least follow through on) their beliefs in the face of controversy. That is a tall order! And it is also a very polarizing one, as we saw with 2008’s Prop 8 in California. By contrast, focusing on the courts requires influencing a handful of decision makers on how to interpret the law of the land. And when it comes to civil rights — a belief deeply codified in the US legal system — the law provides a lever with multiple precedents that is ultimately difficult to refute. Not that there won’t be intense debate and struggle. But consider how women’s and Blacks’ rights were won; what would have happened if those issues had been put to a popular vote?
  2. For Latinos, particularly on the issue of immigration reform, the top priority should be to seek full equality through the ballot box–not through the courts. Here, in contrast to the LGBT community, Latinos have the numbers to effectively influence the popular vote. The problem is that many Latinos are not registered to vote or do not show up on election day. Strategically, then, getting Latinos to vote is a great place to focus energy. From a civil rights/legislative perspective it’s difficult to influence with power when making a legal argument on behalf of undocumented people. Better to make the representative democracy argument on behalf of millions of immigrants who have built their lives, homes, and families in the US and contributed significantly to society.
  3. For African-Americans, the top priority should be enforcing compliance with already existing laws. The laws are already there to fight discrimination. The problem has been lax enforcement. Clearly Blacks are still far from being represented adequately at all levels of leadership and management, but with an African American president in the most powerful leadership position in the world, it’s now more difficult to engage mainstream society on the subjective issue of Black talent being overlooked. Instead, we need to go down the compliance route that looks at the gap between available labor force and representation within the organization. This will pave the way for recognizing African American talent on its own merits.
  4. For Asian Americans, the top priority should be to press for equity in promotions to management. While Asian Americans have their own share of being on the receiving end of civil rights violations, those in the corporate world suffer especially from a stereotype that they are good for technical individual contributor roles rather than for leveraged, people management roles. Asian Americans need to bulk up on how to make a compelling case to their organizations that the management skills they already possess are being overlooked.
  5. For white women, the top priority should be to stop waiting for men in power to make changes. As a group, women already have the power to make necessary changes. In the 2008 primary elections, Hillary Clinton referred to 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, reflecting the number of votes she had received. While the glass ceiling is still in place, these cracks have weakened it significantly. It’s now time for women in management and senior leadership to press against it assertively and bring down barriers that men have left in place.
  6. For Native Americans, the top priority should be to demand more avenues for linking up with existing economic and educational development opportunities–and to ask for more of them. Native Americans are one of the most marginalized groups in the US; the reservation system literally casts them outside of mainstream avenues of inclusion. While they have unique historical dynamics to work through with the federal government, Native Americans would be able to increase their clout if they could find common cause with other marginalized groups — particularly in the area of education, which has proven to be the greatest predictor of economic advancement.
  7. For Boomers, the top priority should be to learn from Generations X and Y. They know how to thrive in an upside-down world. Thus, instead of spending too much time figuring out how to shape them into a Boomer worldview (pay your dues, do things in order, don’t show your work until it’s completely polished), Boomers should tap their energy to help lead with alternative approaches to today’s most complex and vexing problems.
  8. For Generations X and Y, the top priority should be to learn from Boomers’ life experience. Boomers may be technologically challenged, but they have the battle scars of life — work and personal — for which there is no Twitter shortcut. Wisdom and insights come with those scars. Generations X and Y need that!
  9. For the disabled, the top priority should be enforcing compliance with the law and normalizing disability. The goal should be to get people to realize that we all are or will be part of this community. Right now disability is too feared by those without disabilities for society to be able to approach it as part of life, rather than as other.

Inherent in declaring strategy is the debate about whether the declared path is the best. Strategy without ongoing testing and challenge is useless. What would you debate here?

A Fresh Voice in an Ancient Land: Take Five with Yvette Jarvis, First Black Public Official in Greece

To meet Yvette Jarvis is a happening. I first met this multifaceted, talented, committed, and passionate person at the European Union World Diversity Leadership Summit in Vienna, Austria this past March. The hours we spent talking, debating, and strategizing only scratched the surface of how much she has to offer. Brooklyn-born Yvette came to Greece in 1982, the first Black to play in the Greek Women’s Basketball League, as well as the first salaried female athlete in the league. She simultaneously launched a professional career that spanned more than a decade in modeling and television. In 1989 she embarked on a flourishing career as a vocal artist, which she continues to this day (hear her vocals in her video biography).

As a human rights activist, Yvette participated in many Greek NGOs and helped establish many other organizations that emphasize the rights of immigrants, women, and people with special needs. As a result of her political involvement, in October 2002, Yvette became the first Black to be elected to the City Council of Athens, Greece. During her four-year tenure on the Athens City Council, she focused primarily on women’s rights and domestic violence, immigrants’ rights, assistance for people with special needs, and important initiatives in youth and sports. Her important achievements include being instrumental in implementing a directive to increase the municipal hiring of people with disabilities by 5%, organizing a Greek language school for immigrants, establishing a domestic violence hotline, and spearheading the Football Against Racism Campaign.  Currently Yvette serves as Special Advisor on Immigration Issues to the Mayor of Athens.

With so much to say, this really was a Take 200. But here, for your enjoyment and learning, we give you a taste as we Take 5 with Yvette Jarvis.

Take 1: You are the first Black person to be elected to public office in Greece. How has your presence on the Athens City Council changed the dynamics of politics and governance there?

YJ: Yes, I am the first Black to be elected to public office in Greece. Unfortunately, eight years later I remain the ONLY one! Having said that, I can affirm that my presence has opened the eyes of many to the fact that Greece is no longer only inhabited by ethnic Greeks. Finally, immigrants and people of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds have had a voice in public office, and a very loud one at that!

From my first council session to my last, issues concerning immigrants have been a focal point. Incidents of blatant racism–neighborhood councils that denied granting store or residency permits to immigrants, public facilities restricting access to immigrants, and many other situations–became issues for vote in the council because I raised them as problems. As a result of my initiatives, immigrants now benefit from athletic, cultural and language learning programs. After years of lobbying, the government has finally passed a law solidifying citizenship rights of second generation immigrants born or educated in the country; so for the first time, immigrants may play a vital role in this year’s municipal elections. I cannot take full credit for these changes, but I have influenced the decision makers at the party level and in the government by heading up committees on immigration and by participating in municipal government. Hopefully with the new immigration laws, the balance of power will swing in favor of immigrant participation in local elections, thus assuring that issues especially relevant to them remain in the forefront.

Take 2: Like the rest of Europe, Greece has become much more ethnically diverse in recent years due to immigration. How is this affecting what it means to be “Greek”?

There has been an ongoing discussion for the past few months about precisely that: “What does it mean to be Greek?” The newly elected PASOK party and our new prime minister George Papandreou ran on a platform that supported giving second generation immigrants citizenship rights at birth. When the campaign rhetoric took legal form, it became apparent that what was seemingly a tolerant society was not so tolerant of difference. Fear of diluting Greek bloodlines, expressed in chants of “you are born a Greek, not made a Greek,” were heard at demonstrations, and many expressed the belief that children who were born and raised in Greece of immigrant parents should have rights, but not citizenship! Of course this is not the opinion of all Greeks, but those who opposed the new law were the most vocal.

Greece has a tremendously long uphill battle to fight for diversity issues. As of yet the term “diversity” is not in Greece’s political vocabulary. Once the new law takes effect, it will become increasingly apparent that Greeks will have to deal with non-ethnic Greeks integrating into society as they apply for civil service jobs as police officers, fire fighters and teachers. The fact is, however, that there are more and more nontraditional looking Greeks, in part because of mixed marriages, and the challenge will be how we begin to understand that.

Take 3: Although you are native to the U.S., you have lived outside of the country for a long time. From your perspective, what seems significant about how diversity issues have been unfolding in the States?

I find it very significant that most companies are now actively involved in diversity issues and that diversity has become the topic of the day in the U.S. A niche has been created and a new job market: diversity specialists and conferences are increasing in number as more and more organizations respond to an increasingly diverse  global market.  It’s an exciting time, actually–especially for someone like me who lives outside of the U.S. With Obama as president, I think we may have the most diverse cabinet in the history of the United States. Women, African-Americans and other minorities have catapulted to the upper echelons of the highest offices in the country. Very exciting indeed.

Take 4: In Greece and/or Europe as a whole, how are women advancing in terms of leadership, and how are women being held back?

I think there is no doubt that women are advancing in politics. Around Europe for the first time ever, many women have been elevated to the posts of president or prime minister. But even so, women still remain underrepresented  within governing bodies. In business the picture is even more bleak. The percentages of female CEO’s is disproportionately low in Europe, and many women cannot claim equal pay for equal work. The glass ceiling may certainly have a million cracks today, but it has not shattered by any means!

Take 5: In the U.S., much has been written about the generation of Millennials who are just beginning to enter the workforce. In your experience, how are Greek Millennials similar to or different from their counterparts in the U.S. or other parts of the world?

I think youth around the world possess some basic shared desires–to get the job of their choice in their field of study, to make money, to be independent, and to make their mark on society. Where Greek Millennials may most differ from U.S. Millennials is in how possible it is for them to realize those hopes and dreams.

For the past few years unemployment among Greek youth has been steadily rising, and it has become increasingly difficult for Millennials to find jobs in their field of study. The riots in Athens in 2008 were a clear message to the establishment that hope for the future was dismal for Greek youth. In 2007 we began hearing the phrase “Generation 700.”  Generation 700 refers to the employment conditions of college graduates who, although possessing multiple degrees, are condemned to a salary ceiling of 700 euro monthly. These jobs were also often contractual and not permanent, creating a very unstable outlook for their future. As a result, more and more 20- to 30-year-olds are still living with their parents and have no plans for marriage or family in the near future.

The recent financial crisis has made the situation worse. The austerity measures which Greece has taken in order to satisfy the EU and the IMF will take a tremendous toll on the average worker and the retiree. The average wage in Greece is one of the lowest of the EU member states. Workers already burdened with a soaring inflation rate and increasing costs for utilities are finding themselves having to cut back on even the bare essentials. Generation 700 has now become Generation 500! Pundits exclaim that Greece may see its first wave of 21st century immigration out of the country, and consequently experience an enormous brain drain that will worsen the deficit of an already overburdened social security system. I remain optimistic, however, that the cycle of depression will come to an end, leaving behind a more resilient and resourceful society. After all we are Greeks and through the thousands of years of the existence of this great nation it has stayed the test of time!

To follow Yvette Jarvis on twitter, click here. For some more of her thoughts on the current Greek financial crisis, click here.

Digital Generational Divide: Affects Everything in Workplace

The Millennials’ reputation for knowing technology is well-earned. According to an Accenture report , Millennials see little distinction between personal and work-related uses of technology. On the job and off the job they simply tap whatever technical resources they need to get things done. Not surprisingly, they prefer employers who offer state-of-the-art technology, while also expecting to be able to use their own, personal devices at work. Most importantly, they want the freedom to choose which tools they use.

Generation X, Boomers, and Traditionalists, while familiar with technology, are less likely to use it. According to a Pew Research Center report on the Millennials, 83% of Millennials sleep with their cell phone next to their bed, compared with 68% of GenXers, 50% of Boomers and 20% of Traditionalists. Similarly, 75% of Millennials have a profile on a social networking site, compared to 50% of Gen Xers, 30% of Boomers and 6% of Traditionalists.

Millennials enter the workforce networked, wired, and confident of the technical tools at their disposal. Is it any wonder older workers, who might just have “dipped a toe in” by creating a Facebook profile, find this bewildering?

What is your organization doing to help Millennials and older workers understand this generational difference? How could acknowledging different stances toward technology help your organization better serve its clients?

Recession Affects All Generations Economically; While Impact Varies, It Heightens Intergenerational Tension

by Susan Welch, Hewitt Research

Negotiating generational differences in the workplace can be tough. Today’s economic recession makes relationships between generational groups even more complicated.

Many Boomers feel like they have had the rug snatched out from under them. Their home equity values have plummeted, and their retirement savings have dwindled. Now, many remain in the workforce not because they can, but because they must. A significant number who have left the workforce are seeking their way back. “Middle Boomers,” those between the ages of 52 and 58, face the biggest difficulties. According to a Walletpop article, many of these Boomers are delaying retirement from age 65 to age 70—and 85% of those planning to delay retirement have been hurt financially in the recession. The biggest pain for Boomers is not necessarily the rate of unemployment, but the length of time unemployed. Members of this generation take on average 22 weeks to find a new job, compared to only 15 weeks for those aged 20 to 24, according to USA Today.

Although they spend less time in the unemployment line, many more Millennials are also finding themselves there these days. According to U.S. News and World Report, unemployment hovers at 10% for the general population, but averages a whopping 20% for those between 16 and 19 years old. Unpaid internships are on the rise. College graduates are waiting tables. The same report cites evidence that a low starting salary can follow someone throughout the early portion of his or her career. During the 1981-82 recession, graduates who found employment earned an average of 25% less than those who began work during good economic times. The earnings gap often persisted up to 15 years later.

Millennials enter the workforce with more economic pressures than preceding generations, particularly because of the debt they’ve incurred. According to an article in USA Today, two-thirds of young adults in their 20s carry some debt; this same age group tends to be late to pay off loans, too. While credit cards are part of the problem, the fastest growing group of debtors are those owing $20,000 or more in student loan payments.

With the relative lack of media coverage about them, one might assume Generation X is weathering the recession just fine. In fact, however, Gen Xers are suffering for the second time. Many of them first entered the job market during the era, when jobs were plentiful—but then suddenly vanished. Now, just as they’ve settled into homes and established their families, they are hit hard by the current recession. According to  MSNBC, this generation is the first to go largely without pensions and other job securities long enjoyed by Boomers.

Given economic insecurities, employees of all ages are tense, frustrated, on edge. When they begin to think the younger generation is hot on their heels, older workers become tense. When they and their friends fail to find summer jobs because post-retirees have taken them, younger workers become tense. When they can’t visualize career growth because they know the people above them are delaying retirement, middle-aged workers become tense. Employers can address these economy-based concerns by approaching hard decisions with compassion. When workers must be let go, employers need to show as much compassion for remaining workers as is practical—remembering that top talent can and will leave if dissatisfaction is allowed to fester. Finding flexible solutions, such as across-the-board pay reductions in lieu of layoffs, demonstrates that employers care and are willing to share economic pain.

Generational Conflict in the Workplace, the Issues Run Deep

by Susan Welch, Hewitt Research

Mixing workers from different generations can be like mixing volatile chemicals in a lab.  Combine hierarchically minded Baby Boomers intent on building one stellar career with techno-saavy Millennials who believe in having two or three “careers” running in tandem, and you never know when you might witness an explosion.

Turbulence across generations is not new, nor is it particularly new to the workplace. But Pew Research suggests that as Traditionalists (born roughly 1900 to 1945) and Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964) achieve ever-greater health and longevity, the workforce generation clash grows. While Boomers and even some Traditionalists seek the seniority and rewards they believe they’ve earned for their long and loyal service, Generation X (born 1965 to 1980) struggles to find its own place in the pecking order. Finally, Millennials (born 1980 to 2000) enter the fray, bringing leaps in technology with them.

Millennials and Generation Xers are more racially and culturally blended than preceding age groups.  Pew Research reports that only 60% of  Millennials and Gen Xers are non-Hispanic whites, compared to 73% of Baby Boomers and 80% of Traditionalists. These more ethnically diverse younger generations appear more comfortable with the global, multinational nature of the world in which we live–proficient with the technology that supports global enterprise, and less fazed by seeing burkas in the workplace, sampling fusion cuisines, or joining an overseas conference call in the middle of the night.

With their contemporary outlook, Millennials and Gen Xers seem poised to take positions of power in the workplace. Yet Traditionalists and especially Boomers hold high appeal for employers. Boomers are far more likely to cite a “strong work ethic” as a defining characteristic of their generation; by contrast, “work ethic” does not even make Millennials’ top five list of self-defining traits (“technology use” tops their list, followed by an interest in “music/culture”). “Respectful,” too, is high on the list of Boomer traits that do not register among Millennials.

Generational inclusion is a huge challenge for employers who want to leverage differences productively. The Boomer and Millennial generations are roughly similar in size, and the iconic traits of both seem larger than life–to each other, and to the Gen Xers who are not sure when, or even if, they will have their chance to shine. For Boomers, it can be additionally painful to report to a younger person—and even more painful to acknowledge that the young boss knows more about technology than they do. Millennials, meanwhile, struggle with the concept of “paying their dues” and can be disinclined to seek the counsel of their elders.

In the midst of these potentially volative differences, guidance is needed. What is your organization’s leadership doing to help workers of different ages benefit from each other’s differences?

When It Comes to 21st Century Families, Individualistic American Worldview Bending Toward Communal: Multi-Generational Homes Make a Comeback

by Susan Welch, Hewitt Research

multigenerational_EuropeanAmThe “traditional” nuclear family may seem like an American ideal. Indeed, starting just after World War II and continuing to its peak in the 1980s, the nuclear family was the norm. But an early 1940s trend that faded, yet started a slow resurgence in the late 1990s, is gaining steam: multi-generational families.

Increasingly, two generations of adult family members are sharing a roof. Some of you may say this reflects an increase in elderly parents moving in with their adult children, where they are poised to help raise grandchildren and even contribute financially to the household. Some of you will attribute the trend to an increase in young, unwed mothers whose parents are willing and able to help raise their grandchildren as part of their household. Others will point to “Boomerang” Millennials, who return to their parents’ home to take up residence, often due to economic struggles particularly during this Great Recession. And still others of you will note that rising rates of immigration—particularly among Latinos and Asians, who highly value families and respect their elders—are responsible for this trend.

All of you are correct.

multi-generational-family_AfAmThe trend toward multi-generational households is multi-faceted, and shows several social trends converging. A difficult economy, increased immigration, greater longevity, delayed marriage, and even work-life struggles (working moms seeking reliable care may prefer a parent to a day care center) are all factors in the rise of many-generation families.

According to this Pew Research Center report, Boomerang adults are most responsible for the rapid increase in multi-generational households. In 1980, 11 percent of young adults (between the ages of 24 to 35) returned home to live with their parents. By 2008, 20 percent of young adults returned home. Interestingly, this age group is the only one in which men make up the greater share. Among the elderly, the reverse is true: Women are a larger portion of those in multi-generational homes. Overall among the elderly, the same percentage as young adults (20 percent) enjoy a multi-generational home, up from 17 percent in the 1980s.

Multi-generational_LatinoCulture and ethnicity contribute to the trend. According to Pew, “Hispanics (22%), blacks (23%), and Asians (25%) are all significantly more likely than whites (13%) to live in a multi-generational household.” This is a natural behavioral interpretation of the communal worldview of these racial/ethnic groups. Even so, multi-generational households increased across all populationsbetween 2006 and 2008. Why may this be for European Americans? As we indicate in our Hewitt crosscultural training, worldviews are significantly influenced by what is required for a community to survive and thrive. And changing conditions for European Americans plus the influence of a greater number of communal diverse groups in American society, are leading to new interpretations of family that bend somewhat away from an exceptionally strong individualistic bent to a more communal one.

The lifestyle implications of multi-generational households are abundant, ranging from increased grandchild/grandparent interaction to increased strife among in-laws. But these lifestyle changes also make themselves felt in the workforce, where they are less likely to be acknowledged or addressed. For example:

  •  Women—and men—who are sandwiched between caring for their children and their older, in-residence parent, often struggle with work-life balance.
  • According to this PBS article, they also may need health care emphasizing stress relief.
  •  Older, but still working-age, women—and men–who are rearing their grandchildren may need increased health care for themselves, and also may struggle to secure health care for those grandkids (particularly when the parent is unemployed).
  • These same grandparents may require legal support to ensure guardianship of their grandchildren if needed.

Multigenerational_AsianThe benefits of multi-generational households can greatly outweigh its challenges. Employers savvy about this trend can look for creative ways to support members of multi-generational households, thus helping preserve a strong and growing kind of family unit.

New Thinking on Gender and Gen Y in the Workplace — Take Five with Dr. Elisabeth Kelan


Elisabeth Kelan, PhD is Assistant Professor of Management at King’s College in London, where she teaches Corporate Social Responsibility and Managing Diversity and Inclusion. A leading scholar on gender and generational identity in the workplace, she is the author of the groundbreaking Performing Gender at Work (2009). Dr. Kelan’s deep research on these topics lead her to differentiated insights that go beyond best practices. She spoke persuasively about Europe’s glass ceiling in March at the 2010 World Diversity Leadership Summit EU held at the Austrian Ministry of Finance in Vienna. We met there, and we took five at the legendary Palmenhaus café where I asked her some pressing questions about women and Millennials in the workplace.

Take One: You write and speak about the 50/30/10 Rule which describes the seemingly unchanging representation of women in organizations: 50% at the entry level, 30% in middle management, and 10% in executive leadership.  Why has it remained unchanged after one, two, and in some places, even three generations of women in the workforce, and particularly in companies that have been explicitly committed to gender diversity for many years? What keeps companies from getting to 50/50/50?

EK: The 50:30:10 rule emerged from a research study that we did with a wide variety of corporations in Europe. It seems to hold true for many organizations in the world. I think that this is an expression of the fact that most organizations committed to gender diversity have only focused on getting more women into organizations by developing flexible working practices and networks for women, rather than developing women as leaders. Our research has shown that to become a leader, three experiences are essential: undergoing executive training, leading critical business projects and working abroad. Yet few organizations offer women these critical experiences.

Take Two:  Women face multiple dilemmas when it comes to how their managerial and leadership performance is evaluated in the corporation. What are these dilemmas and some of the best antidotes to address them?

My research has shown that most organizations have a dormant stereotype of an ‘ideal worker’ who is able bodied, white and male. Everybody who does not fit into that template is, implicitly, not seen as the ideal worker who can fill important roles in management and leadership. To overcome dormant stereotypes that unconsciously shape behavior, it is important to expose them. This allows us to develop practices to broaden our biases and develop more inclusive ideal workers.

Take Three: When it comes to gender issues in the workplace, the focus has been almost exclusively on women: what additional support they need and how they can connect with other women in the organization. But what about men?  What is their responsibility for improving the gender dynamic in the workplace?

Most organizations follow a fix-the-women approach. It is all about fitting women into models that were designed with men in mind rather than questioning the masculine nature of corporate culture. Although related to the problem of  numerical domination by men, this masculine nature of corporate culture is a distinct issue.

It is vital to include men in the conversation about gender roles. After all, they affect men as well as women. Men are still expected to be the breadwinners and to conform to gender stereotypes at work which restrict their identities and behavior. It is often assumed that men have a lot to lose from gender equality, i.e. the loss of power and status. However I think the opposite is true. Men have a lot of freedom to gain.

Take Four:  Millennials have often been depicted by older generations in superficial, sensational, and judgmental ways.  What do organizations need to understand about Millennials’  needs, wants, and aspirations in order to attract and retain them?

When I started the research on Millennials or Generation Y, I was shocked by much of the literature. Some of it offered negative stereotypes of entitled, selfish young adults that seemed to be based on biased research or the commentators’ experiences with their own children.  I strongly felt that a much more nuanced portrayal of Generation Y was needed.

In our research on Millennials we narrowed down our focus: we talk about young professionals who are the future leaders of elite organizations. We avoided using a survey but instead listened to what these young professionals had to say. We found that they were not selfish or arrogant. Rather, they are the first generation that has fully incorporated the concept of living with risk. For them risk is a fact of their working life. They know that stable jobs are a thing of the past and to succeed they need to remain employable. Therefore they work to learn and to develop new skills. They want feedback because they know that only this feedback will ensure that they can deliver a top performance. Organizations need to understand this urge to learn in the context of more risky employment.

Take Five: In offering up practical ways to apply your research on gender and Millennials, you have made several recommendations. But there is one recommendation – focusing on leadership development – that shows up on both lists. Why do you believe that this is the most neglected, yet most necessary, support that companies can give to women and young professionals?

Leadership development and the way we deliver it is centrally important. I mentioned before that organizations don’t do the right things to develop women as leaders. If you want to have more female leaders, it is important to make sure that they get the opportunity to collect the right skills. However the problem is much more deep-seated than this. We also need to ensure that men are comfortable in managing women and to be managed by women. I therefore argue that it is important that general leadership training includes a focus on gender diversity to allow leaders to manage effectively in a diverse workplace.

For Gen Y diversity is no longer an issue, and they see the gender problem as solved. Young women in particular are highly skeptical towards women’s groups and often feel that these women’s groups are not for them.  it remains vitally important, however, that in their leadership training Millennials come to understand the intentionality and skill needed to get the best performance from a diverse workforce. Inclusive management does not just happen, and leadership training needs to take it more seriously, even with Generation Y.

Millennials: The View from When They Are 50 (Surprise Ending)

From the YouTube video archives I just came across the “U @ 50 Challenge” launched in August 2007 by the AARP (American Association of  Retired Persons). It gave young adults the chance to submit short videos on the subject of what they expect their lives to be like at age 50. The goal of the U@50 Challenge was to encourage intergenerational dialogue and give AARP menbers insight into their views.

I was struck by the submission entitled “Lost Generation” by Jonathan Reed, a student at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Half way through the 2 minute video there is an unexpected twist. Check it out and come back.


As I argue in  The Inclusion Paradox,in the chapter on Millennials entitled, “The Millennials: Why This Generation Will Challenge the Workforce Like No Other,” the emerging generation of Millennials serve up their X’er and Boomer bosses with new challenges, including how to reward young talent that seems to care more about work/life flexibility and the environment than high salaries and prestigious titles.  Their worldview has many Boomer managers judging them negatively as not being committed to quality work, not having a strong work ethic, and not being willing to pay their dues. When judgments like this fly it is usually an indication that a clash of worldviews is at play. Like in the video, not all is as it seems. And in that we all lose.

How may your company be misinterpreting the Millennials in your midst? How can you help reposition how they are viewed? Are you or your company ready to rethink tried, but no longer true, strategies for attraction, engagement, and retention?

Ten Ways the World Has Been Turned Upside Down: Part 1

by Andrés T. Tapia —

Though the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman argues that the world is flat, I say the world is not flat–it’s upside down.  Daily, even hourly, we feel the aftershocks at work.  Changes of historic proportions are transforming the economic, political and social landscapes in which we do business. Here are five of the Top Ten transformations:
#1 In many parts of the US, to be a minority is to be a majority. Texas, California, New Mexico, Hawaii and the District of Columbia are all now what census experts call  “minority-majority,” a term used to describe an area whose  composition is less than 50% Caucasian. In addition, the percentage of non-Hispanic white residents has fallen below 60% in Maryland, Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, New York and Mississippi.

#2 To be an economic superpower is to be a declining power. The US is still the world’s only economic superpower–but it is a superpower in decline. In World War for Wealth: The Global Grab for Power and Prosperity, Gabor Steingart discusses how the rise of developing countries, especially in Asia, has led to a decline of the US national economy that many blue- and white-collar workers experience as absolute. They possess less money, they are shown less respect in society and their chances for climbing up the social ladder have deteriorated dramatically.

#3 To be a developing country is to be an ascending country. According to the CIA’s World Factbook, the fastest growing economies in the world are located in developing countries–mainly  in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

#4 To be young is to be experienced. As I discuss in The Inclusion Paradox, for Millennials the upside-down world is right-side-up because it’s what they grew up with. Experience and knowledge are no longer correlated with age; they show up to work  iPoded, cell-phoned, globally traveled, socially networked and ready to multi-task–often more technically equipped for today’s workplace than people twice their age.

#5 The US has an African American president. The election of Barack Obama was a defining moment that captured both metaphorically and literally the zeitgeist of the times. That’s why my book, subtitled The Obama Era and the Transformation of Global Diversity, uses Obama’s statements and election as a canvas for exploring our current cultural change.

Later this week I’ll be offering five more ways businesses are finding that the world is upside down. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter, where this countdown first appeared in abbreviated form.

Will Corporations Tap Millennials’ Unique Strengths?

Unless business schools start diversifying their approaches to education, they may fail to tap Generation Y’s strengths–which would mean huge losses for the corporations they’re being trained to lead. So argues Matt Symonds “Business Schools Beware: Gen Y is at the Door.” in the January 21, 2010 issue of  BusinessWeek. How is this age group different? According to Symonds,

“They differ in one crucial respect. They don’t just use the new technology that has revolutionized business over the past decade—they eat, sleep and breathe it. That means the lessons they will want to learn and the way they will expect those lessons to be delivered could be radically different.”

Technology, he goes on to argue, has bred a generation whose style of thinking and working is intensively interactive. This difference could be put to great advantage in corporations dealing with the realities of globalization:

“Managing and directing international teams means the traditional “face-to-face” model of leadership is no longer possible and, for younger employees in particular, not even relevant. In this context, leaders need to be collaborative, consensual, and inclusive.”

The stakes of whether business schools will rise to the challenge of responding to new differences in the workforce could be high. Symonds believes that the new emphasis on real-time interactivity could “eradicate much of the herd mentality and stifled thinking that have led us into so many economic crises, from the South Sea Bubble to subprime mortgages. The question is: Who is going to have the vision and the courage to implement it?” The article goes on to offer fascinating glimpses of what some of the most forward-thinking business schools in the United States and Europe are doing.

Finally, corporations must confront the exact same question. As I wrote in The Inclusion Paradox, the Millennial Generation is going to challenge the workplace like no other.  Businesses are no more ready for them than business schools are.

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