Back in the late 1990s, I did a lot of speaking about the generational aspects of the work force. I talked about the impending retirements of the Greatest Generation and the older Boomers and the new generation who was getting ready to hit the work force. Then, interest in the topic faded. Well, what’s old is new again. With the “millenials” entering the workforce en mass, and even stepping into supervisory positions, this topic is generating a lot of new interest.
A second point I used to make in those demographic presentations was the increase in the minority population in the United States. Simply stated, the US was, and is, becoming less white. Somewhere around 2040, estimates said, we would be a minority nation. That is, current minority groups would be the majority. But, back in the 90s, 2040 was half a century away and a lot could happen in the interim. So people weren’t interested in how this might impact their business. Are they now? They should be!
The other day, I read an AP report that said almost half of the children born in the US each year belong to an ethnic minority. The report went on to say, “This year could be the tipping point when the number of babies born to minorities exceeds the number of babies born to whites.” America will become a “minority majority” by the middle of the century. If you are numbers person, here is what the Census Bureau reports:
# Children Born
Ethnicity of Mother
I am not a numbers person. I am a people person, and leadership is about people and relationships, so I do consider these to be important stats.
What’s the point of all this? Well, it’s simple. You need to prepare to lead a more diverse workforce that will likely think and act differently than you do, due to different backgrounds. How will you build relationships with people with whom you have less and less in common? While you may have to work harder at it, the keys to success are the same as they have always been. As a leader, your keys are trust and respect. If you prove yourself to be trustworthy, and show your people you trust them and respect them (and their culture), you have a chance to be effective. To do any differently almost certainly dooms you to mediocrity from the start.
I understand that nostalgia can creep in at times like this--longing for the “good ol’ days” when things were different, when American Capitalism ruled the free world. The problem with nostalgia is that you can get caught up in it and deny the current reality. Billy Joel wisely sang that “the good ol’ days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”
Today we are a global economy where goods are produced more cheaply overseas, and we have strong competitors for the goods we produce here. To succeed, you must learn to lead an evolving workforce. The colors of the quilt of America are changing. By mid-21st century, we will be a minority majority nation. Like any change, this creates opportunity. Will you and your firm seize that opportunity, or be crushed by it?
" ...it was one of the most dynamic and interesting talks I have ever witnessed on general leadership and effective management. I thought it was very interesting to see how you approached the topic from the bottom up -- from the grunt's perspective. This made the topic very easy for me to relate to and gave me ideas on how to develop the leaders I am responsible for."
Noel S. Salac, P.E.
Nebraska Dept. of Roads