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When it comes to DEI, Gen Z has it right. My generation was too afraid to speak up.

Hady Mendez
Courtesy of Hady Mendez; BI
  • Hady Mendez was the former head of equality at a major tech company.

  • Mendez lists many things Gen X got wrong, and Gen Z got right, as far as diversity in the workplace.

  • She says Gen X has always been afraid of pissing off the wrong person at work, but Gen Z isn't.

I'm a Generation Xer, but honestly, sometimes I wish I wasn't.

It's not that I didn't love growing up resourceful and independent and listening to Madonna and Meatloaf while wearing my Jordache jeans and Benetton sweaters. It's just that Gen Z has so much more going for it. They're a feisty bunch, and they're getting so many things right.

As the former head of equality at a major tech company, an Employee Resource Group (ERG) leader for over 20 years, and a people manager overseeing multiple generations of employees, I think Gen Z is accurate on many different levels, and I'm here for it.

Gen Z cares about a company's commitment to DEI —  to the point that they'll decide where to work based on that investment. In contrast, my generation has always been more driven by other factors such as titles, money, and perceived stability. As a result, many former colleagues and I opted for roles that promised career progression, significant pay raises, and the prestige of working with top-tier companies. In retrospect, I believe we were chasing after a false sense of security.

My generation has always been afraid of pissing off the wrong person

Fear has often silenced us when we should've been more outspoken about workplace inequities, unjust practices, biased behaviors, and toxic company cultures. Gen Z, on the other hand, has no fear about saying what needs to be said in the company of whoever might be listening. To them, getting it right is the priority.

As an example, I once experienced unwanted advances from a visiting senior leader that left me feeling extremely uncomfortable. However, after conferring with a colleague, I chose not to address it for fear of repercussions on my career. At the time, we agreed that escalating the situation might hurt my reputation and/or people's desire to work with me, so I opted to remain silent.

I believe I'd do things differently if the same situation happened now. As someone with more experience and understanding of shifting workplace dynamics, I can see how allowing this behavior to go unchecked would be a mistake.

Our priority has always been to fly below the radar

As a first-gen Latina and woman of color in corporate spaces, I tried to call as little attention as possible to the fact that I was from a different background. There didn't seem to be a lot of upsides to bringing it up in the early part of my career — and I certainly didn't feelt safe to do so. Drawing attention to that aspect of my identity felt risky, as it could negatively impact how I was treated and/or perceived by leaders and co-workers.

These days, when I identify as a first-gen Latina, I get to enjoy the benefits of building community and attracting allies to support my work and advancement.

I feel confident in openly acknowledging my Latina heritage, as today's workplace culture encourages authenticity. Both millennials and Gen Zers deserve recognition for reshaping our work environments because they've been the ones most fiercely advocating for individuals to embrace their complete selves at work.

Gen X has always focused on finding "common ground" versus having difficult conversations

We haven't demanded as much from our leaders because it was always easier — and safer — to focus on a shared task or goal. This is a missed opportunity. Gen X has let companies and executives get away with so much by not holding them more accountable.

Gen Z demands what they need and want. In my experience, I've seen them create and circulate companywide memos and petitions to engage senior leaders in meaningful discussions about subjects they feel strongly about.

They'll bring up values at work that some might consider having nothing to do with business objectives. When Roe vs. Wade was overturned, I saw so many calls for the company to show up for employees and women's reproductive rights. Seemingly this had nothing to do with our work at this tech company, but Gen Z and Millennials demanded the company not remain silent. "We must be openly and boldly defending women's rights," they insisted.

My generation has always avoided "things you just don't talk about at work"

When Roe was overturned, I found myself on a Women's ERG "emergency call," listening to other women cry and share their anger and fears about what was happening in our country. I'll never forget what that felt like because I don't believe that such a safe and nurturing space would've been possible when I first started working.

I've come to appreciate these changes in the workplace. Gen Z boldly leverages social media to record their #TechLayoffs, talk about #QuietQuitting, and encourage each other to #ActYourWage. My generation didn't have these platforms, nor have we always felt comfortable talking openly about such matters.

It's definitely a new day

Frankly, we were made to feel shame and embarrassment if we were let go, skipped over for promotion, or told we weren't working hard enough. I'm grateful to the newer generation for reframing these topics and encouraging more open conversation.

Some in my generation may long for the good ol' days when senior leaders called the shots and other "sensitive topics" were kept out of the office, but I'm not one of those people. I love the perspective Gen Z brings to the future of work and appreciate their thoughtful contributions.

Hady Mendez is a Latina speaker and ERG coach based in NYC who works with ERGs looking to take their efforts to the next level.

Read the original article on Business Insider