The Changing Face of Our Work World, or Is It?

Image: The Changing Face of Our Work World, or Is It?

Have Corporate Environments Really Changed?

This week as I delivered sessions to leaders at a bank in the US we had some interesting discussions regarding the changing face of our work world.  A participant pointed out that there has been a dramatic change over the past few decades as it relates to diversity in the workplace.  He noted that the work world that Traditionalists entered into is almost non-existent, and that Gen Ys are now exposed to a very different reality… but is it really that different?  How much have our corporate environments really changed?

Traditionalist Work Environments

In our work, we partner with a wide range of organizations, from manufacturing, retail, and finance, to insurance, oil and gas, government and not-for-profit.  Many of these organizational structures still remain heavily traditionalists in their approach to leadership, authority and work schedules.

Organizations that align to a traditionalist mindset are characterized as:

  • Hierarchical
  • Directive leadership style
  • Formal – dress and language
  • Structured
  • Rule based
  • Process driven
  • Siloed
  • Rigid work style

Does this describe your organization? Despite lots of innovative HR practices and a shift in corporate culture, many of our clients still struggle with how to make their work environments more engaging, collaborative and inclusive.

When Traditionalists entered the work world, it was dominated by men with only about one in three women participating in the labor force in 1950 and it excluded people of colour.  As of February 2005, there were almost 67 million women employed in the labor force and the increase of women participating in the workforce covers many racial groups, with women of color enjoying the fastest growth rate.

Overall, people of colour have increased their participation rates. In the US, Hispanics are predicted to be the second largest group in 2025, accounting for 17 percent of the total labor force. Furthermore, as of 2000, Hispanics have a larger share of the market than African Americans, 13 percent versus 12.7 percent (Source:

However, despite advances in making our work environments more diverse, senior level positions rarely reflect the diversity of the organization.  While Women represent close to 48% of the Canadian labour force, 40% of FP500 companies had no women directors in 2012 and 2013 and only 0.32 per cent (26,000 of more than 8 million working women) held senior management positions according to the Conference Board of Canada.  Slowly women are leveraging their experience and education to assume greater power positions with 50.7% of women holding professional business and financial posts in 2011, up from 38.3% in 1987, and 36.8% of managerial positions, up from 30.1% in 1987, as well as 6.2% of top earner positions in public companies, up from 5.6% in 2008. (Source:

While the “Mad Men” era may be over, there is still much room for improvement for women and people of colour to fully maximize the opportunities in private and public sector organizations

Gen Y Work Force Expectations

At the other end of the spectrum, Gen Ys expect a work world that will be barrier-free.  It will represent the diversity in North America and will be based purely on competency and skill. Gender, sexual orientation, age and race will have no impact on one’s ability to get and keep meaningful work and progress in an organization. Gen Ys are the most diversity tolerant generation and they will challenge our organizations to be more open, more inclusive and be aware of our embedded organizational biases.

Upgrade Your HR Practices

If you believe that your organization could improve its representation and enhancement of younger employees, female employees, employees from different ethnic groups or other unrepresented groups, evaluate your HR practices critically to determine how you can approach the following activities:

  • Recruiting – are you using accountable search techniques to ensure a diverse range of candidates?
  • Succession planning – does your pipeline include a range of qualified employees that are diverse?
  • Mentoring and coaching – do younger employees, women or people of colour have an opportunity to participate in relevant coaching and mentoring to improve their changes of advancement?
  • Job rotations – can diverse employee groups participate in job rotations to be exposed to a wider range of employment opportunities?
  • Measurement – are you tracking and measuring your representation of diverse group within your management and senior management positions?
  • Inclusive corporate culture – how do you support a culture of inclusion in your organization?  What actions can leaders take to be more inclusive?
  • Recognition – Do leaders recognize and celebrate the successes of diverse employee groups enough? How are success stories communicated across your organization to highlight role models?


Giselle Kovary

As president and co-founder of n-gen People Performance Inc., Giselle is dedicated to building strategies and programs that target, motivate and engage a multigenerational workforce. She is a sought after resource to industry leaders, having worked with 18 of the top Fortune 500 companies. Over 60,000 people globally have experienced an n-gen workshop or presentation. She has devoted more than fifteen years to researching the impact that generational differences have on organizational performance. Giselle has co-authored two books: Loyalty Unplugged: How to Get, Keep & Grow All Four Generations and Upgrade Now: 9 Advanced Leadership Skills. She has a Master’s degree in communication studies from the University of Windsor.

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