I am in awe of today’s youth for pushing us to move the world in new directions.
In Flint, Mich., Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year old girl troubled by the water crisis, invented a lead-detecting device. In New York City, Desmond Napoles founded the first youth-oriented drag club. In Kansas, six teenagers began running for governor and, as The Washington Post put it, “suddenly this doesn’t seem so preposterous.”
In Parkland, Fla., brave, progressive and articulate teenagers did what so many of us have not been able to do: They forced our country to confront gun violence and its atrocities. This prompted two major retailers to stop selling semi-automatic firearms, pressured the governor of Florida to raise the legal age of gun ownership and inspired a long-overdue conversation.
I take pride in the young generation’s strength, dedication and morality. I’d like to think that their courage comes from our collective belief that anyone can change the world (but that’s wishful thinking). This movement is a result of watching adults — business leaders, lawmakers and other members of society — do nothing to fix problems for which there may very well be simple solutions.
Let’s Follow Gen Z’s Lead
The members of generation Z are not only demanding change, but also stepping up and creating it for themselves. They know they can make the world a better place, and they won’t settle for our sorry excuses about “the way it’s always been” or how “these things take time.” And because of their example, when we look inside our own organizations, we should be inspired to improve.
The way I see it, we have four years to transform companies into organizations that are deserving of these young people. Why four years? Because in four years, the change-makers of gen Z will enter the workforce. For any company that wants to attract the best future talent, it’s imperative that we start creating companies and cultures that they, that we all, can be proud to be a part of.
What can we do to tackle this daunting problem? Here are three ways to get started.
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1. Empower Ourselves to Empower Others
There was a time when it was leadership’s job to drive the culture of an organization. But recent events have proved that it’s not necessary to wait for those in positions of power to take action.
Every member of the workforce should feel invested in bettering their company, and they all should find ways to make their voices heard. This can be in the form of a simple social gathering — like organizing a holiday potluck or introducing co-workers to new cultures and customs. Companies should actively encourage employees to engage in such activities, and they should give them the time and resources they need.
Employers should also be supportive of employees who engage in social activism. Employees should feel free to discuss their involvement in organizations like Black Lives Matter or Women’s March. To encourage dialogue, companies could give employees platforms where they can come together and discuss social issues. The company could set up a blog, or even organize a forum in which participants must abide by certain parameters and standards of civil discourse. It can sometimes be difficult to engage in conversations about sensitive topics in a workplace environment, but by creating opportunities to teach others about our lives, we can in turn learn about theirs.
2. DIY Inclusion
Let’s be honest: A lot of industries are notorious for their lack of diversity. While there are many ways to chip away at this issue, a true solution will involve addressing it at its root cause. Companies need to do a better job of recruiting, retaining and recognizing talent, particularly when it comes to minorities and women. Talent is equally distributed; opportunities are not. For example, my employer recently started using blind résumé-sourcing to help eliminate unconscious bias during the hiring process. Companies should also consider setting up “career returns” programs to help people who have taken long-term breaks from their jobs get re-integrated into the workforce.
For people who work at companies that aren’t making strides toward diversity and inclusion, I encourage you to speak up. Diversity will be a priority only when people demand it.
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3. Look Inward
Many of the conversations our society is having today about prejudice and privilege are uncomfortable. Personally, I have found it difficult to learn that some of our team members feel that their careers have been impacted by everything from unconscious bias to outright discrimination. We thought those stories were worth sharing on a companywide level, so we launched an experiential unconscious bias workshop, which uses audio recordings of real employee testimonials to introduce actual examples of bias and prejudice in the workplace. This powerful tool has helped many people realize how their actions — no matter how slight or unintentional — affect others. I implore you to try something similar at your company.
To change our society, we need to first change ourselves — and that requires honesty, hard work and accountability. Today’s teenagers have proved that they’re up to the challenge. The question is: Are we?