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Diversity and Inclusion Across Generations



By the Inclusion NextWork team in partnership with Mary-Frances Winters, Patricia Bory, and Nial Rele, based on our panel discussion held on March 11, 2018


Over time, we have seen the field of D&I transition from compliance-centered to making the business case for diversity, to a more mission-driven effort for diversity and inclusion. We are now more effectively marrying the business case with social justice underpinnings. This is critical, since while much has changed, we are dealing with some of the same challenges as we did 30 years ago. Racial justice and anti-sexual harassment advocacy are still needed; movements such as the Black Lives Matter and Me Too/Times Up are clear indications of their enduring relevance.

The current American political climate poses threats to many of the gains made in the D&I space. There is a renewed sense of urgency to step up collective efforts to protect our rights and continue to push for further progress. Intergenerational collaboration is critical to move us forward in these developments, including the mutual sharing of expertise, cultivating an appreciation for learning from each other, and empowering those who come after us.

Co-create Inclusion

We have also seen a shift over time in the concept of inclusion. To some, inclusion means building a bigger table, that allows for greater participation across identity groups while maintaining the existing status quo. We are now recognizing that being invited to participate in what someone else has created is more akin to assimilation than true inclusion. You can have a seat at the table, but if you aren’t invited to co-create a new status quo, inclusion is never truly achieved.

Younger generations tend to feel a deeper desire to challenge and dismantle the status quo, and build something new that embraces our complex humanity. This includes a more multi-faceted interpretation of what diversity and difference means, and what inclusion is really all about. We are adding intersectionality, authenticity, vulnerability, empathy and belonging to our vocabulary, pointing to a deeper appreciation of the human experience in our communities and workplaces.

Know Your Story, Share your Story

Co-creation requires an understanding of where everyone comes from, both literally and figuratively in terms of their background and perspectives. We have to explore and embrace our own stories and recognize the inherent value our perspectives bring. We also need to listen generously when others share their stories and engage in authentic and empathetic dialogue across difference. There is a purpose to each one of our individual and collective stories.

As we engage in conversation, we have to be mindful to create space for people not knowing. This may ask for a lot of patience and appreciation of the fact that all of us have different experiences. People don’t know what they don’t know, and each one of us has to make an effort to share ourselves, understand others, and build relationships across difference.

The Value of Mentoring

Mentorship is one of the most powerful ways to build and leverage relationships. However, we need to go beyond our traditional interpretation of mentoring as a more seasoned person sharing their wisdom with someone their junior. You may have heard about the term “reverse mentoring” but consider reciprocal mentorship instead. Reciprocity indicates a mutually beneficial relationship in which each party has something of value to offer.

Reciprocal mentorship can challenge older generations’ tendency to take for granted that everyone has the same “toolkit” of experiences they have or that their way is the right and only path forward. Learning from older generations can also help younger generations to position their new ideas in historical contexts, receive feedback, and not get set in our own ways too early. Often called the “sandwich generation”, Generation X, is often overlooked as both mentors and mentees, but their unique position as a bridge builder between two large generations can make them especially suitable to participate in formal or information reciprocal mentoring relationships.

These are some of the ways we can work together to foster a strong and connected intersectional pipeline of D&I advocates and leaders, so that we can continue to drive collective impact, now and in the future. 

What ideas and suggestions do you have for working intergenerationally on issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility? Share your thoughts below!



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