Should Gen Y be considered a workplace minority?

July 16, 2007, 8:10 PM UTC

Just a quick Monday observation for you. (The Monday part being that it may not be nearly as significant as that Monday daze makes it seem, but I’ll trust you to let me know either way.) Twice last week, in separate conversations with very different people, the issue of Gen Yers as a minority group came up. First, at a corporate symposium on diversity where I spoke on a panel, one of the young employees interviewed made the point that people under 30 ought to be considered a minority. And then later, in the course of some interviewing I was doing for a story, a corporate consultant with a long history in academia said the growing generation gap in the workplace was simply about “workplace diversity.”

Now I suppose the underlying point in our Gen Y discussions is that we youngsters have unique needs that we’d like our employers to address. And though in my own thinking, I didn’t quite make it from there to an affinity group, it’s true that this — at least in part — greatly resembles the rationale for establishing the groups we think of for traditional “minorities” (i.e., women, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, LGBT folks, and so on). Of course, everyone will age, and you can’t grow out of being black or gay; but the point is that Gen Yers seeks a way to build relationships with others who are more likely to share their perspective and understand their struggles.

So is it time to add young people to the official list? Some companies certainly have groups that focus on young- and/or new-employee issues, but that isn’t quite the same as an affinity group, which often exists as much to create community and provide support as to fix “problems.” And since many young employees I’ve interviewed or just know cite a lack of community and support as a key issue for them in the workplace, it could be that creating something like this — which goes beyond what an orientation program or mentor connection can do to foster bonds — might help companies retain strong young staffers.

It sounds a little college-y, even to me, but then a lot of this emerging Gen Y-friendly workplace does. And if simulating some aspects of that nurturing environment is what it takes to attract, retain, and develop this new crop of employees, then maybe it isn’t the worst thing in the world. What do you guys think? Are your companies already doing this, or do you wish they would? And will it help, or just encourage more whining (not to mention criticism about pandering to Gen Y)?

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