IT Organizations Need to Bridge the ‘Culturational’ Gap

Don Tennant
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I hate to sound like the aging baby boomer that I am, but things sure seem to have gotten complicated since the millennial generation started entering the work force. Of course, I recognize that we boomers are a puzzle for the millennials, too. Be that as it may, I also recognize that the millennial generation is much better equipped to bring about positive change than we ever were. The reason: It’s a heck of a lot more multicultural than the generations that preceded it. And that’s a realization that a lot more IT organizations would do well to embrace.

What needs to be understood is that a discussion of bridging the generation gap is kind of pointless without considering the multicultural nature of the millennial generation, and the fact that there are cultural gaps that have to be bridged at the same time. It can be a complicated dynamic. Fortunately for all of us, Tru Pettigrew is devoting his career to making it comprehensible by helping to bridge the multicultural, multigenerational—he calls it “culturational”—gap that’s the new reality.

Pettigrew, a former corporate guy who lead multicultural marketing programs to reach the diversity of the youth market, is the founder of Tru Access, an agency that aims to prepare millennials for leadership roles and to help bridge those pesky gaps. I spoke with Pettigrew on Monday, and he explained the multicultural impact on the generation-gap discussion:

“Multicultural” is the diverse culture that the millennial generation represents. I always found it interesting during my time in corporate—and, to some degree, still today—that they would segment their marketing dollars and budgets, and silo the African-American market, the Asian market, the Hispanic market, and the general market. The millennial generation embraces diversity, not only from a mindset that gives them more of a multicultural perspective on how they see things than generations past, but this generation is just much more diverse than generations past. The mainstream is multicultural when it comes to the millennial audience, because it’s such a diverse generation. …Organizations need to understand how to bridge that cultural gap so you can maintain a balance of “culturational chemistry.” We see it a lot with sports teams that are successful, because there are so many cultures that have to come together, and they share the same generation, but they have to come together with the senior leadership, or the experienced veterans on the team. You have to understand that you need to take time to not only bridge the generation gap, but you also have to take time to bridge the cultural gaps that may exist in an organization. Those are the organizations that are going to succeed at a more rapid rate.

Pettigrew cited the importance of encouraging millennials to enter the STEM professions, which puts IT organizations at the forefront of working to bridge those gaps.

From an employment standpoint, those are the career paths that are going to drive not only our economy, but the global economy, forward. So for those who are in that field, millennial or otherwise, understand the importance of encouraging others who have the gift, passion, or talent to thrive in that industry, to pursue careers in the STEM fields. That is truly the future of what’s going to help individuals and society push forward.

It also needs to be understood  that we should no longer have these [technology] platforms and silos. I still talk to brands who have a digital strategy, a mobile strategy, a social media strategy. And they back those strategies into one another from the overall grand strategy. That can no longer be the case. “DSM” is what we call it—digital, social and mobile all integrated into one seamless platform. It needs to be looked at as one seamlessly-integrated approach, and it can’t be secondary to the overall brand strategy. It has to be a primary consideration in developing the overall brand strategy. DSM has to have a seat at the table from the very beginning, not something you think about on the back end.


Pettigrew is an advocate of servant leadership, and it was in that context that I mentioned that rightly or wrongly, millennials tend to be seen by the previous generations as having a sense of entitlement, which implies a focus on self. I asked him whether millennials tend to be any more or less open to or appreciative of the concept of servant leadership than previous generations. He said Tru Access was born out of a need to help bridge that gap:

Stereotypes don’t come out of nowhere—there’s usually something there to cause them to emerge. I think what’s happened is there’s a gap or wedge in the relationship between the millennial generation and Generation X and baby boomers that has led them to feel that way. It’s kind of a chicken-and-egg thing, where millennials don’t feel included, embraced, or respected. But the reality is they are very service-minded from a cause standpoint. They truly want to impact change in the world. They see the situation we’re in, and to some degree they blame the older generations—“Thanks, guys, for the mess you left us with.” So there’s a sense of service from a standpoint of, “I want to impact change, and make things better, and improve this world.” They have causes they believe in and are passionate about, so it’s a very philanthropic generation, from what I’m seeing and hearing. There’s a sense that there’s resistance from the older generations, of not respecting and embracing the way millennials see things, and the way they want to go about doing things.

All of that said, Pettigrew acknowledged that millennials aren’t blameless, by any means:

Millennials can mistake information for knowledge, because they have access to so much more information than previous generations have had. I’ve seen that turn off some in the older generations—they’ll have a conversation with a millennial who will be quick to say, “Yeah, I know, I know.”  But even if you do know, pick the time to listen, because repetition is how we learn anyway. That creates a bit of a wedge between the generations, which has in turn created that perception of a sense of entitlement, instant gratification, “You don’t want to take the time to learn, pay your dues, you think you know everything.” They do want to impact change and they do want to help. But I think it’s a strained relationship, and both sides need to say, “I can do things differently. Let’s start things over and let’s make this work. Because we’re actually on the same team.”



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