Risk Management for the Future of Work

Heather Grimshaw

Identifying and embracing differences among four generations in the workplace is essential for employer success, explains Raven Solomon, CEO of Raven Solomon Enterprises, and keynote speaker for the 2023 DMEC Annual Conference. Hear Raven discuss the business strategy to pursuing a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment that encourages a sense of belonging and ensures accessibility in this episode of the DMEC podcast.


DMEC: Welcome to Absence Management Perspectives: A DMEC Podcast. The Disability Management Employer Coalition, or DMEC, as we're known by most people, provides focused education, knowledge and networking opportunities for absence and disability management professionals. DMEC has become a leading voice in the industry and represents more than 18,000 professionals from organizations of all sizes across the United States and Canada. This podcast series will focus on industry perspectives and provide the opportunity to delve more deeply into issues that affect DMEC members and the community as a whole. We're thrilled to have you with us and hope you'll visit us at www.dmec.org to get a full picture of what we have to offer, from webinars and publications to conferences, certifications and much more. Let's get started and meet the people behind the processes.

Heather Grimshaw: Hi, we're glad you're with us. I'm Heather Grimshaw, communications manager for DMEC, and today we're talking about equity and generations with Raven Solomon, CEO of Raven Solomon Enterprises, a diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting firm. Raven is also the opening keynote speaker for the 2023 DMEC Annual Conference. So to dive right in, Raven, is most of the disconnect that you see between generations coming from older people who manage younger professionals, or do you see a disconnect on both sides?

Raven Solomon: That's a great question, Heather, and quite honestly, it is definitely a two-way street when it comes to the disconnect between generations in the workplace. Rather, you have a Baby Boomer managing a group of Gen Xers and Millennials, or you have a Gen Z, who's fresh out of college being responsible for managing or at least influencing Baby Boomers and Gen Xers of the like. And so it really is a two-way street. It runs all four primary generations that exist within the workforce. And the reality is we all are feeling the challenges that accompany those generational gaps. If you are managing a group of young professionals or emerging talent, as I like to call them, you're going to be met with some expectations that are fairly new to you, that are certainly going to be different than perhaps the expectations you had when you were two years into the workforce. And then if you're on the younger end of the generational spectrum, if you will, you're going to encounter folks who have just different values, have had to approach work in a different way in order to be successful. And so I always like to have this two-way conversation with both sides, if you will, of the generational spectrum because it is something that we all, and by it I mean the generational gap is something that we all will have to develop bridges of empathy in order to close. And so, as a Gen Z, you've got to understand what Baby Boomers experience coming into the workforce and what they had to do and value along the way to be successful. And if you're a Baby Boomer, then you've got to understand what it is that these Gen Zers are experiencing on an everyday basis and why mental health is absolutely essential to their value systems as it relates to work. And so it is absolutely a two-way street. And I get the opportunity to work with both sides of that street, which really does make my work so much fun.

Heather Grimshaw: Oh, I can imagine. And I love that visual of the two-way street. That's something that we've heard from DMEC members and attendees at previous conferences, really the surprise of dealing with folks who have a very different approach to mental health and discussions about mental health and really asking for what they need. So it really resonates.

Raven Solomon: Absolutely.

Heather Grimshaw: So during the 2023 DMEC Annual Conference, you'll be discussing the generational business case for DEIB and I was hoping that you would give us a teaser of the type of information you'll share.

Raven Solomon: I can absolutely do that. I have been doing diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, accessibility, justice the list continues to go on, right? I've been doing this work for quite some time and I hear folks — that practitioners, leaders, et cetera — talk about the business case quite often of diversity, equity and inclusion and the others. And essentially, we're talking about profitability, we're talking about team performance, we're often talking about decision making, we're talking about financial metrics being impacted by diversity, equity, and inclusion. And all of those facets of the business case are absolutely critical for us to understand. But I found that there is a particular side of this business case that we don't often talk about and I consider it to be almost risk management in relation to the future of work. So when I talk about this generational business case for diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging and accessibility work, what I'm talking about is the reality, the fact that Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation the U.S. has ever seen. They are also the most gender diverse generation the U.S. has ever seen. And the expectations that they have around diversity because of those facts are vastly different than prior generations in relation to work, in relation to the leaders that they engage with, but then also in relation to the businesses they decide to patronize. And so when we talk about the generational business case of this work, we're talking about the fact that in order to survive the future of work as it relates to talent, organizations are going to have to do meaningful diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and accessibility work. Because this next generation of talent, that is more and more diverse, it's just no longer a nice to have for them anymore. It's an absolute, essential, integral part of your business strategy. And so that's just a little snippet of what I mean when I talk about this generational business case. If you want to compete in the near future as it relates to talent, then you have to be doing this work and you have to be doing it well, and then also authentically, I might add. So we'll be talking a lot more about that at the DMEC conference.

Heather Grimshaw: I think the risk management reference will really resonate with absence and disability managers. And I agree, that's not something that I've heard, so I'm really looking forward to the conversation. So can you share one tactical step an employer can take to ensure they are taking a generational approach with their diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging and accessibility efforts?

Raven Solomon: Sure. One easy one that comes to mind is if you're an organization putting together or already having put together your diversity, equity, and inclusion councils or your employee resource groups, affinity groups, business resource groups, all of the like. I think one thing that organizations can do is to really ensure that those councils, those ERG leadership groups, are generationally diverse. And I know it sounds simple, but it really is essential, it's critical that you have those different generational perspectives coming to the table, trying to solve for equity and belonging and inclusion within your organization because the lens through which they see the world is going to be vastly different. And so not only do you need generational diversity on those councils and ERGs, but you also need other dimensions of diversity present within those councils as well. So you want to have racial diversity present, you want to have difference inability present, you want to have socioeconomic status difference present. You want to have all dimensions of diversity spanning that council because those dimensions of diversity are the things that shape how we view and experience the world. And so, when we come together and we try to solve big, complex problems like inequity within our organization, we benefit most from having as many lenses at that table as possible. And so I think that's a clear way, just one simple thing that every organization can do when it comes to their DEIB efforts, ensuring that generational inclusion is present within those decision making bodies.

Heather Grimshaw: That's a great point. And actually, you mentioned councils. I've heard of the ERGs, but I'm not familiar with councils. Would you share a little bit about the differences between those two entities?

Raven Solomon: Yeah. So you want to think about a council as almost a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Board to perhaps the Chief Diversity Officer or even to the c-suite. So these folks are a subset of leaders or individual contributors, if you will, who come together to essentially advise the organization around diversity, equity and inclusion practice, policy, strategy, et cetera. And so the difference is these folks span a bunch of different identifiers, a bunch of different communities, and they come together with the intention of helping move the strategy of DEIBA forward within an organization. While ERGs are typically groups based on a specific community identifier or identity, such as a racial identity, if you will. So if you think about a Latino ERG, or perhaps a black ERG, a women's ERG, et cetera. These employee resource groups exist to support one specific community within an organization. And so that's really, in a nutshell, the difference between a council and an ERG.

Heather Grimshaw: That's really helpful. Thank you for that. So one of the testimonials on your website mentions the need for organizations to shift their learning and development approaches and also that changes will be required with management styles. Would you provide one or two examples of how companies should shift their learning and development approaches and what kinds of management changes are recommended for success?

Raven Solomon: Yeah, when I think about that particular testimonial, I think we're referencing this generational shift, right? And how this generational shift, demographically speaking, is going to drive different expectations that then should drive changes in our approach in many different areas, one of which being learning and development, from my perspective, but another being leadership and the way that we approach leading teams and leading businesses. And so I'll start with the learning and development aspect of it. There are a number of things that we see different about Gen Z in relation to how they learn, how they desire to be trained, how they desire to grow professionally and personally. And so I'll just speak to a couple of them really quickly. One is micro learning. And so if you think about what perhaps an e course might have looked like five years ago, ten years ago, it's probably this elongated video of content, a talking head just kind of downloading information. You may take a quiz every, I don't know, 20 minutes or so, but at the end of the day, it's a pretty stationary perspective, if you will, on learning. Well, today the expectation is kind of shifting to be more micro driven. And so it's the bite sized pieces of content, followed by the application opportunity, followed by more bite size content, followed by more opportunity to apply what we're learning, et cetera. And so it's this idea that we're taking content from this huge chunk and taking it down into bite sized pieces and providing opportunity to apply learning along the way. And so if you think about the change in how we consume content across the board, socially, then you can imagine that this just makes sense from a learning and development standpoint. If you think about the change from long form video to something like TikTok or to something like Instagram Reels, where the maximum at one point was just 15, 20 seconds. And so the attention span is being impacted by that very trend, and therefore the change in how we learn and develop must shift as well. The other thing that I'll point to is this idea of constructing versus being instructed. And so you and I grew up at a time in school where we were just instructed. We had a teacher in the front of the room. That teacher taught a lesson. You and I were supposed to retain that information. We were quizzed or tested on it in a couple of weeks and then we move on to the next subject. Well, this next generation of talent is really looking for the opportunity to more so be involved in that learning experience by way of helping construct versus merely being instructed. And so the question then lies for learning and development professionals, how do I create a co learning opportunity or a co collaborative learning opportunity for those who are on the other side of this table within a classroom, if you will? And so I'll start those two things. And then the last thing about the management style, the leadership style, I'll actually point folks to an article that I wrote. You can find it on my website, www.Ravensolomon.com or you can find it on my LinkedIn page but it's titled “Six Things You Need to Know in order to Effectively Lead Gen Z,” and I'll run through those six things just really quickly:

1. One is we have to be prepared to be what we call hot, honest, open and transparent. There are a lot of reasons behind that. The article will speak to a few of those.

2. Number two is we've got to be prepared to provide a lot of feedback. We thought that we had to give millennials a lot of feedback. Well, Gen Z is going to be the same way, if not more.

3. The third thing is you and I are going to have to empower and model work life integration and there are tons of rationale around that one as well.

4. Number four, you and I have to expect a certain degree of accountability that for some of us might be uncomfortable. And so this generation is not afraid to hold us accountable, to hold our feet to the fire, if you will, as it relates to us doing what we said we were going to do and being who we say we are as organizations, as leaders. And fourth, the last thing is, well, actually two more things.

5. The fifth is about really developing as an inclusive leader. So we've talked about the demographic diversity of this particular generation. The idea that you and I don't know how to be inclusive of that diversity because we just didn't live it is not enough for this generation. We have to do our own personal work to be prepared to lead in a more diverse environment than perhaps we are used to.

6. The last thing and I always chuckle at this one is we've just got to expect to pay, right? They are a little bit more monetarily motivated than we saw in the millennial generation. And so our management styles around perhaps compensation packages, how we provide value, how we define value may be different. So I would point to those things. I know that was a very lengthy answer, but hopefully it was packed of value. And again, I would check out that article at www.ravensolomon.com.

Heather Grimshaw: It's really helpful. I appreciate you going through that list. And we will also include the URL to the article on Raven's website. I think it's very helpful to list those things out so you can mull them over. And I also really appreciate what you mentioned about constructing versus being instructed. And I think that that'll be really helpful for folks to learn more about. So I'm hoping that you will talk a little bit about why ensuring diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and accessibility in a company's approach is important, if not essential, for a company's success.

Raven Solomon: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's important because the consumer that we are marketing to, that we're looking to engage as a potential customer of ours, the talent that we're looking to hire to potentially come work for us and continue to add value to our organization. The fact of the matter is that consumer, that employee is far more in tune, is far more aware, is far more socially engaged than they ever have been before. And so the fact of the matter is, the diversity statements that used to work 20 years ago to kind of pacify us in saying that, oh, this company cares about the Iva work. They say so on their website. That's just not enough anymore. And so the traction has to be there. There's a term that Gen Z often uses, and Millennials do too. It's called receipts. So ultimately, they're looking for receipts. They're looking for proof that an organization is actually doing what they said they would do, and they're actually showing up in the way that they said they would. And so I think this is why it's absolutely essential for organizations to truly be doing diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and accessibility work. Not only that, it's the right thing to do, and it's the smart thing to do for that reason. But I also think the amount of studies upon studies, upon studies that exist out there that substantiate the business case for DEIB is plentiful. Profitability goes up, efficiency goes up, financial performance goes up, risk goes down, costs go down, inefficiency go down. And so I think if you're smart as a business leader, you engage in diversity, equity, and inclusion work for that reason as well. So to me, I think it's essential for two reasons. One is it's the right thing to do from a moral standpoint, but it's also just the smart thing to do from a business standpoint.

Heather Grimshaw: Both of those are so important. The full answer provides a lot of context, but also from that business vantage point, it's really important to articulate some of those things because sometimes people get lost in the theory and fail to appreciate or maybe recognize that business imperative.

Raven Solomon: Yeah, I think one of the reasons folks get lost is because diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and accessibility work is a long-term game, right? So many of us as business leaders, we are focused on the short to midterm because we have metrics to hit, we have needles to move, et cetera. And so sometimes folks can get lost or demotivated in the area of DBI aga, if you will, for that reason. But I encourage folks to consider just the long-term play here that we think it's optional because we have not seen yet the impact of not truly doing this work. And we really won't see that for another, I'd say, ten to 20 years.

Heather Grimshaw: And I think that leads me in really nicely to my last question for you today, which is after the Supreme Court decision about affirmative action in college and university admission decisions, there are some people who have voiced concerns that employers will rethink their DEIBA efforts. Would you share your thoughts on how this decision might affect corporate DEIBA efforts?

Raven Solomon: This one is a mouthful here. I have so many thoughts and so many concerns, quite frankly, concerning the Supreme Court's decision around affirmative action, or in this case, race conscious admissions at a collegiate level. I mean, it drives a bunch of angst, I think, and anxiety within the diversity equity inclusion community for a number of reasons, one of which is, I think it in some cases gives corporate leaders who are already skeptical of DEIB efforts, quote unquote, rationale, to kind of halt those efforts as an organization. And so I think for some it's, oh my goodness, there must be something concerning about this. There must be something wrong with this. We don't want to get in trouble too, so we better step back and proceed with caution. And so you see a lot of organizations, for lack of better words, backpedaling as it relates to DEIBJ work because of such a decision coming out of the Supreme Court. And so it gives us concern for that reason. But the second thing that I think drives me to be anxious and concerned and even upset is the fact that this decision can drastically impact the representation of racialized communities within organizations within the corporate space. Because if you think about it this decision will directly impact the pipeline of talent that is of underrepresented racialized communities and that impacts the lessening of available collegiate talent of color is then going to impact the representation within management would then impact the representation at the director level, which then will impact the representation at a senior level. Because these folks will matriculate up the managerial ladder, if you will. And so I think the impacts of this will be felt within the corporate space for years and decades to come. So it is of great concern and of great stress, I think, for a lot of us who care about diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging and accessibility work in the corporate space. Many feel that perhaps corporations are next.

Heather Grimshaw: I do think that even though the Supreme Court decision did not include that Title Seven of the Civil Rights Act, I should clarify that directly affects workplaces. There is seemingly growing concern that the workplace is next. And so I think your context there and frankly, a lot of the things that you've said during our conversation today really provide helpful context for our listeners. So I can't thank you enough for your time today and did just want to reiterate that we will share the link to the article that Raven mentioned in the Notes section of this podcast as well as some additional resources and A-Q-A with Raven that we will have on our website. So Raven, thank you again. I'm really looking forward to your presentation at the annual conference.

Raven Solomon: Thank you, Heather. It's been a pleasure. Thanks for the invitation.