Future DiversityQuick – what’s the average job lifespan of a Millennial?  5 years?  3 years?  2 years?

If you answered “None of the above,” not only would you be correct, you’d be a creative, outside the box thinker who fits perfectly into our #FutureWorld.  (The answer, by the way, is a Recession-influenced 1.8 years).

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of being invited to the NALP 2013 Diversity & Inclusion Summit in Chicago.  The majority of attendees were representatives from large law firms across the country.  We had great speakers and excellent discussions and I’ll talk about the rest of the conference in a later blog post.  For now, however, I’d like to focus on the first speaker, the one who told us about the 1.8 years – Tanya Odom of the FutureWorkInstitute.  Ms. Odom discussed the future workplace.  As Millennials enter and Boomers leave, what will happen to the workplace as we know it?

We start, she says, with what Millennials care about.  Millennials care about work-life “fit” (regardless of whether they have children, unlike Gen X’ers).  That means the Millennial workplace is anywhere – Croatian beaches, Australian coffee shops, a Barnes & Noble in St. Louis.  And since the future workplace is outside the workplace, it requires new competencies.  Less face-time means more creative leaders; job hopping means quick trust-building with temporary co-workers; international colleagues means increased multicultural awareness.  But can such a future workplace really work?  Ms. Odom showed a YouTube clip about an anywhere workplace.  Thousands around the world recorded themselves singing different parts of a song, then uploaded each of their video clips to YouTube.  Turn your speakers up – you’re about to hear something extraordinary.

But what about the meetings, the Boomers ask.  According to Ms. Odom, #FutureMeeting could be a Sims-type reality.  Meetings take place in a virtual environment where each person is represented by an avatar.  The avatars meet and discuss and innovate, just as they would if the meetings were in person.  And while she didn’t talk about this in her presentation, think of the gaming possibilities (always of interest to Millennials).  Quarterly reviews are replaced by badges, promotions are based on badges collected, and those with the most badges virtually compete to become team leaders.

And lest you think law firms are exempt from #FutureWorkplace, look at what we already have: an Indian company reviews documents for a Korean client represented by an American law firm where the lead lawyer, working out of London, lets the client access files through a personalized virtual portal as they discuss the matter over Telepresence.  #Future, indeed.

But as thought-provoking as the talk was, you may have the same question I and my colleagues did – what does all this have to do with diversity and inclusion?  Here’s what I think.

  1. The Millennial workforce has more diversity – race, sexual orientation, gender, culture, you name it – than any in American history.
  2. That multicultural, globalized and diverse workforce requires, even demands, an inclusive workplace.
  3. Those Millennial workers have a multiplicity of identities, including “Millennial.”  If we’re asking why another young female Hispanic associate left the firm, and we focus only on her ethnicity and gender, we may not realize that the reason she left may have little to do with ethnicity or gender, and really because she started 1.8 years ago and is looking to move on.  That’s an issue diversity initiatives need to address.

But what do you think?  Is “Millennial” status a key part of our diversity discussions?  Or is it just an interesting side note?  Feel free to discuss your thoughts in the comments below.

In the meantime, get ready for the #FutureWorkplace.  Let’s face it together.  Because that next generation, those three year-olds who know more about your phone than you do?  They’re up next.  And who knows what changes they will bring.

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