Our latest blog explores the Snowflake Generation and how the concept impacts the way in which businesses engage with both their employee and customer base.

What do Halloween, Brexit and clapping have in common? Save from the references to ghouls, ghosts and nightmarish scenarios, they are all guilty of causing offence to the ‘Snowflake Generation’, aka the Millennials. But is the concept of the Snowflake Generation all media-hype or is there substance behind it? Is this representative of a movement to promote tolerance and acceptance that has gone horribly wrong? As experts in the field of diversity and inclusion, great{with}diversity identify trends and shifts in social perceptions to help organisations to manage key diversity issues and incorporate them into strategic planning. And so we ask the question; exactly what is the ‘Snowflake Generation’, and, to what extent does such terminology over-generalise on the characteristics and values of particular employee demographics?

What is the ‘Snowflake Generation’?

The term Snowflake Generation entered the Collins English Dictionary in 2018, defined as “The generation of people who became adults in the 2010s, viewed as being less resilient and more prone to taking offence than previous generations.” According to this definition, the Snowflake Generation exhibit an entitlement to special treatment and demand to be shielded from anything which is unpleasant or unsavoury whilst assuming that their own emotional suffering takes precedence over that of others.

The ‘Snowflake’ reference is said to originate from Chuck Palahniuk’s cult novel, Fight Club, which became a highly successful film in 1999 starring Brad Pitt. In the film, Pitt’s character says to those around him, “You are not special. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everything else.” Claire Fox later coined the phrase ‘Generation Snowflake’ in her book, I Find That Offensive, in which she details a heated exchange between students at Yale University and the Head of the College Faculty, Nicholas Chistakis, over whether Halloween costumes were culturally insensitive.

Recognising the Importance of Individuality

Sweeping generalisations and stereotypes are, of course, only loosely based on fact and truth, and, in practice, often laden with exaggeration. To say that one person is over-sensitive or even precious because they were born in a particular year or time period is grossly unfair and ignores the individuality of that person, their beliefs and their values.

The term ‘Snowflake Generation’ grew traction in post-Brexit UK following reported hysteria among young people at the outcome of the referendum, mirrored in the US following the unprecedented election of President Trump which elicited a similar reaction. Emotional turmoil is a defining feature of the Snowflake Generation, who allegedly lack the capacity to cope with unplanned events or views that challenge their own. The recent generation of university students has been described as hyper-sensitive to provocative or unpleasant themes, requiring ‘trigger warnings’ to alert them of distressing or upsetting course content. Student representatives at the University of Manchester last year voted to ban clapping at student events, talks and debates as it was disrespectful, even traumatic, requesting that people use silent jazz hands to demonstrate their support and agreement rather than traditional clapping or cheering. Even the use of the term Snowflake Generation has in itself caused offence within the student community: research by the insurance firm Aviva, found that 72% of 16-24 year olds think the term is unfairly applied, while 74% think it could have a negative effect on young people’s mental health.

But what we can acknowledge is a movement towards an overt tolerance and hyper-political correctness in our society, and one which has had completely the opposite effect from that intended: it seems that in trying to promote universal acceptance and avoid offending anyone, we find offence in everything and tolerate nothing. Have we in fact, spent so much time promoting political correctness that anything, even the act of clapping, might be deemed offensive?

As the old saying goes, variety is the spice of life and in a desperate attempt to avoid causing offence, are we morphing into an indistinguishable mass of blandness? Our ability to communicate effectively and express feelings is what separates us from the animal kingdom and active debate and discord are how our civilisation began. Where would be today if no-one had dared (or been allowed) to think about things differently or to express another view? Would we all still believe the world was flat?

What diversity and inclusion isn’t is pretending that we are all the same for fear of offending anyone. What it isn’t is fear or anxiety of change, or an inability to cope when things don’t go our way. True diversity and, crucially, inclusion celebrate variety and difference, pull together all our unique skills, traits and experience for the collective good. True diversity and inclusion acknowledge and relate to different opinions and see the value in different perspectives.

The Value of Diversity

Here at great{with}diversity, we know that businesses with better diversity and inclusion practices achieve greater commercial success. Drawing on the combined skill set and expertise of each individual and valuing different perspectives and viewpoints gives organisations the competitive edge because the customer base is not made up of a homogenous mass but rather unique individuals. Yes, they can be segmented for marketing purposes, but even this scientific analysis of purchasing decisions and brand appeal still allows for variation and individuality.

great{with}diversity’s audit provides deep dive analytics into diversity and inclusion in practice in the context of your organisation, offering vital insight into engagement levels within your employee community and identifying areas of risk. Using hard fact and detailed analysis, we make the case for diversity and inclusion in your organisation, offering fast results with company specific recommendations and actionable solutions that are both pragmatic and sustainable. The audit is conducted via a secure online system which is user-friendly and fast to administer. If you want fast results that improve diversity and inclusion in your organisation to create a culture of acceptance that values variety, then we are the company for you. To learn more visit www.greatwithdiversity.com