Future of Diversity: Cultural Inclusion Is a Business Imperative

As a Millennial–those born approximately between 1981 and 2000–I belong to a generation of 75 million widely described as an optimistic, self-inventive, multitasking set that celebrates diversity. I agree we hold those attributes, especially our embrace of a truly inclusive society.

As a girl, I traveled extensively with my parents while my mother worked as a flight attendant. At 13, I went to Italy and France and became completely fascinated by each country’s culture, food, and language. Three years later, I convinced my parents I was mature enough to live in the United Kingdom for a month as part of a student ambassador program. I continued such trips during my college years. In 2002, as a Spelman College undergraduate, I traveled to Cuba to research its healthcare system. The following year, I studied abroad in South Africa, and then returned in 2007 to collect data for my graduate thesis on pediatric AIDS for Boston University.

These experiences taught me that people are more alike than different. We hold similar aspirations: to achieve the best quality of life possible for ourselves and families. I am grateful my travels enabled me to feel completely comfortable in different types of environments, personally and professionally. In fact, seeking global experiences is a growing trend. According to the 2009 Kelly Global Workforce Index, 81% of Millennials believe a strong global orientation is vital to career prospects, followed by 78% of GenXers (approximately ages 30-47).

As globalization continues to shrink boundaries, workforce diversity will be an imperative for long-term sustainability of businesses large and small. These entities will require workforces with unique perspectives to remain competitive.

By 2016, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and women are expected to comprise 70% of the U.S. workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And by 2043, white Americans are expected to make up less than 50% of the nation’s population. Diversity, historically considered an “initiative” in corporate America, will become a workforce and marketplace reality, according to FutureWork Institute, a consulting firm that evaluates workplace trends. The organization further maintains that the fastest-growing domestic markets for goods and services will be minority communities. Therefore, smart companies are bolstering internal and external diversity efforts to take advantage of continued growth in buying power. One such emerging group is African immigrants, representing an estimated $50 billion market, according to the U.S. African Consumer Segment report (“A Unique Consumer Market,” Diversity Watch, August 2009).

With the “browning” of America and an increasingly borderless business environment, diversity will steadily become a way of life not just from 9 to 5 but from 5 to 9 as well. As our differences become a welcome part of a more dynamic workplace, and world, we will not just talk about inclusion but live it.

Annya M. Lott is BE’s careers editor.