One of the reasons I was so excited to come to Kent was the opportunity to be back in a mix of people from all over the world. I spent 12 years in Washington DC where people of all races, backgounds, religions, and nationalities came to live, work and play. After leaving DC I found myself missing the eclectic mix of interesting people that I had come to rely on to keep me engaged and aware of our multi-cultural world. Thanks to the attraction of Kent State, and the professors and students that it brings from all over the globe, we have our own microcosm of the world right here in our own home town.
In my first 10 months I’ve been lucky to have worked with a passionate Egyptian professor, an adminstrator from Nigeria, a Dean from Great Britain, a professor emeritus from India, a Russian student, professors from the far East…the list goes on and on. Not only are these people and their cultures really interesting, they represent an important part of our economic future.
In an era where the globe is shrinking daily, international competitiveness is more important than ever. That competitiveness begins with international understanding and appreciation which is more than just reading and studying our foreign friends, it comes from the relationships we build with people. We are building those relationships right here in Kent everyday. And thanks to foreign led companies putting down roots here in Kent like Alpha Micron, those relationships are already yielding results.
The other piece of diversity that is probably less talked about but perhaps even more pronounced here in Kent is generational diversity. Again, with the University bringing in a new crop of students every year, we have a larger than average percentage of 18 -24 year olds that mix with young families and aging retirees all of whom call Kent home.
Demographers point out that in the complex weave of identities, gender differences may be the least understood and most important factors in how we see our world. There are four distinct generations that populate the workforce.
The oldest is made up of those born before the end of World War II, dubbed the “silent generation” that followed Tom Brokaw’s now famous “greatest generation.” With 11.5 million of these seniors still working, they are a potent force of Veterans.
Next in succession are the Baby Boomers, born during the economic expansion that came with the end of World War II. At 61.5 million strong boomers are so numerous they seem convinced that the world was made for them. Turning 60 the oldest boomers are approaching conventional retirement age.
After the Baby Boomers come 41.5 million Generation X’ers born between 1965 and 1977. They asked to be judged by the quality of their work not the hours they put in. They look for satisfying jobs and are not worried about losing them.
Following the Gen X’ers are the 31.5 million Generation Y’ers born between 1978 and 1989. These are independent, flexible people that like to keep all their options open.
With such different experiences in their formative years each generation brings a very unique perspective that is easily misread and misunderstood by their counterparts. For example, the Veterans group like structure, give maximum effort, plan to stay with a company for a long time, and respect organizational hierarchy. The Baby Boomers generally accept authority, also give maximum effort, are results driven and also plan to stay with the organization for the long term.
In contrast, the Gen X’ers seek work/life balance, are very tech savvy, embrace diversity and prefer informality and much like the Gen Y’ers are highly flexible and like change. All this is just to say that we are all products of our cultural experiences and it is important to recognize that as times change so do the life lessons that are passed on to each generation. The key is figuring out how to not only respect our different perspectives but how to use those different perspectives to build a community that has room for all of us, with all of us working together on behalf of the next generation of Kent children.
One of Kent’s greatest assets is its multi-cultural and generational diversity. That asset becomes a strength when we leverage our differences into an inclusive community culture.