What Makes Gen Z Tick? An Interview with Edward Wageni, Global Head of the HeForShe Initiative

June 22, 20214:07 pm2076 views

Born between 1996 and 2010, many of Gen-Zers have finished school or college and are officially ready to enter the workforce. Along with Millennials, they will make up the largest generations in the labour market in the near future. With the arrival of younger generation, organisations are witnessing a whole new set of expectations when it comes to work-life balance and personal well-being.

What can leaders expect from Zoomers (how Gen Z are often referred to), and what are the challenges in managing them? Edward Wageni, the Global Head of the HeForShe Initiative, is here with HR in Asia today to share his thoughts on what makes Gen Z tick so leaders can better engage, train, and motivate their youngest hires. Read on…

Question: Edward, Gen Z will have a massive impact on the workplace. What can we expect from them?

Answer: As Generation Z step into the world of work, leaders should expect and be prepared to do business in a different way and, in this case, Gen Z way. What may have worked with other generations will need to be unlearned. Leaders will need to learn what Gen Z values and what drives them. Leaders need to be prepared to accommodate and embrace the fresh perspectives that they will bring into the workforce.

Looking back over the last 15 months, with COVID imposing new ways of working, particularly with reliance on technology and remote working, this plays directly into their preferred way of working, having grown up with technology. In this aspect we can expect that they expect businesses and leaders to fully adapt to this way of working, post COVID. Leaders also need to expect a generation that is driven by values, but not just that. They need to expect their focus on progress and to be able to demonstrate that they can provide an environment that provides opportunities.

Question: A large chunk of Zoomers are just entering the workforce. What should leaders prepare to welcome these young talents in their organisations? 

Answer: Leaders will need to prepare to demonstrate that their business place a high priority on values that are important to Gen Z. Admittedly, not every employer can provide a work environment that provides for all values. However, those that prepare and demonstrate a business that has a clear vision and mission that Gen Z can connect with and contribute to, will be big winners.

But that’s not all. Leaders will also need to demonstrate how values that are important to GenZ are embedded into the culture of the business. Most companies espouse values around global issues, such as Climate Change, Racial Justice, Gender Equality and such. Beyond rhetoric, leaders will also need to walk the talk on values they promote.

Question: And when it comes to connecting with them, what are the challenges likely to be?

Answer: To a large extent, current workplaces are set up to serve previous generations, or in other words, pre-COVID. Thus, in terms of engaging in business, leaders will need to adapt to new ways of working, devoid of for example, working on-site and learning physically. Leaders and business have to be able to connect with them in terms of means of working.

In terms of mindsets Gen Z have grown up in a fast world, with accessible technology and information available to address issues, and where results are expected sooner. They are also quite vocal about issues that they care about. A key challenge will be acknowledging how things have been done in the past, to get us where are today, whilst accommodating and embracing Gen Z way of doing things and in ways that they can add value to a company.

Question: Contrasting work values between Gen Z and older generations could lead to potential workplace conflict. What is the best way to manage such generational differences?

Answer: I have to some extent alluded to the contrast in work values in the answer above. In my own experience, having worked in different parts of the world and experienced the gains that have been made, in terms of advancing civil and political rights, or more specifically for example gender equality or labour rights, these have been won through great effort. To me, as an older generation these gains are the ceiling, but to a Gen Z, what we have in place now is their baseline and they may not full appreciate the sacrifices that may have been made to achieve them. This difference in perspective on current status is a potential source of conflict, where older generations may feel that hard won gains are taken for granted and not appreciated enough.

To navigate this there is need to create space for learning from each other. Older generations have the responsibility of creating an enabling environment where Gen Z can learn from them, on how they navigated through challenges and what has worked in the past, and mutually agree how they can work together to build on the gains.

Question: Latest study by LEWIS revealed that Gen Z prioritise values and social causes above all else. In your opinion, how will this affect retention strategy?

Answer: The study is very revealing in terms of what Gen Z prioritise, from health care, climate change, safety and gender equality. In view of this, for businesses to retain Gen Z, they will need to demonstrate, with the biggest onus on leadership that they walk the talk in values. In this regard retention strategy will need to focus on a number of aspects. One is, position the brand of the business to ensure that it is attractive to new hires. The other is identifying and focusing on the needs on new hires from recruitment and ensuring smooth on-boarding. Finally, ensuring there is accountability by leadership on how they are promoting values.

Question: According to the study, gender equality is the 4th most cared about issue among Gen Z globally. How do you see this sentiment? What does it mean for companies?

Answer: At a glance this may seem as a concern for companies that have gender equality as central focus. It is easy to misinterpret this as not a high enough priority by Gen Z, but it is far from that. Taking a global perspective, gender equality is a cross cutting issues and is very important in terms of health, climate change and safety. Gender equality in health means men and women, and people of all gender have equal opportunities of attaining equal health outcomes. Climate change has greater impact on those that have least capacity to cope. These tend to be women, but some cases men too. From a safety perspective, women and girls suffer forms of violence. Men, who are not seen to conform also suffer from violence. In this regard gender equality is central to safety of men and women.

Looking at gender from an intersectional lens means that companies need to prioritise gender equality in all its forms to be well positioned to connect with Gen Z.

Question: With diversity and inclusion programs found to be important for Gen Z, when should leaders start to show commitments on this issue?

Answer: If leaders have not started working on their commitment to DEI, they may find themselves playing a catchup game. First and foremost, they need to understand what DEI means in their contexts, to be relevant to Gen Z. According to the study, Gen Z are not only fascinated by DEI, but also who is leading. In this regard, the time is now.

Question: Last question, can you share some practical tips on how to engage and attract Gen Z talents?

Answer: It is important to acknowledge that this is a generation that was born during times of social and economic uncertainty, thus their perception of risk and how that plays into their future needs to be taken into account when making a job proposition.

Having grown up with technology, by providing them with technology to do their jobs will be a sure way of attracting them. In addition to this trusting and allowing them the space to be creative is a big plus, as well as well as offering flexible working arrangements and focusing on deliverables. All these will go a long way in attracting Gen Z talent.

About Edward

Edward Wageni is the Global Head of the HeForShe Initiative, a global solidarity movement which seeks to engage men and boys as advocates for gender equality. Mr. Wageni is a gender equality expert with experience in strategic leadership, operational management and coordination. He has worked with civil society and led partnerships with government, UN agencies and private sector in promoting gender equality.

Currently based in New York, Edward holds a MSc. Development Practice from Oxford Brookes University, UK, and has worked in many countries including Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America as well as the UK.

Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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