Diversity and inclusion are driving principles for Gen Z, and that’s reflected in everything from the work environments they choose to the brands they support. Known as Zoomers, members of Gen Z — people born between 1997 and 2012 — have strong feelings about how brands approach diversity. To reach them, brands must show an authentic commitment to diversity. However, it’s equally important to understand why Gen Z values diversity and what that means to the brands trying to market to them.
More than any previous generation, Gen Z is focused on commitment to societal change. They want to be good global citizens and want the companies they work for — and the brands they support — to commit to that change as well. That encompasses issues like sustainability and climate change and extends to the way brands handle diversity and inclusion. It’s also important for brands to note that the issue of diversity is no longer limited to race and gender, but also includes identity and orientation.
Gen Z is poised to become the largest population segment on Earth; about one-third of the world’s population falls in this category and in the U.S., Zoomers make up more than a quarter of the population. In late 2020, the consumer research platform Quantilope conducted a study that looked at what consumers want from a brand. It found that Gen Z, more than any previous generation, believes that brands should address diversity and inclusion. While 76% of Zoomers consider this extremely important, just 46% of baby boomers and 63% of Gen Xers place the same amount of value on it. Millennials also value diversity and inclusion, with 72% saying it is extremely or very important.
Gen Z Values Diversity
Part of what drives the current activist mindset among the Gen Z market is the social unrest that has played out in live protests and on social media in recent years. Protests such as Black Lives Matter relied upon social media platforms like Twitter and TikTok not only to organize them but to provide continued coverage and further raise awareness. For Zoomers, who have grown up using social platforms, that medium is the most logical way to spread their message, but it also is where they consume their messaging. In fact, according to YPulse, a youth marketing research firm, 97% of these digital natives are on at least one social media platform.
This generation is also more racially and ethnically diverse than other generations, says Pew Research Center. Almost half of all Gen Zers belong to a minority group and it’s only natural that they want to see that diversity reflected in the brands they support. As brands increasingly use influencers, the influencers they work with must reflect that diversity and appeal to the Gen Z ethics.
Growing up in this always-on, hyperconnected world means this generation began learning about other cultures, news, and social issues earlier than previous generations. That has resulted in a population that is more open-minded, liberal, and more likely to advocate for the equal treatment of others. According to McKinsey, Gen Zers have a greater interest in human rights, race and ethnicity issues, LGBTQ+ equality, and feminism than any of their predecessors.
But what does embracing diversity look like for brands? One significant challenge facing companies is making sure they’re taking action before putting messaging out to the public —especially when it comes to diversity. According to the 2021 Brand Authenticity Index, a feeling of authenticity is critical for consumers to make purchasing decisions. But millennials and Gen Zers are particularly adamant about this: 85% say authenticity is important or very important when choosing brands. And, in an increasingly transparent world, discovering what goes on behind the scenes at a particular brand can be done in just a few clicks.
Brands that don’t embrace diversity risk facing abandonment from consumers, particularly Gen Z. In a 2019 survey on diversity in advertising, Adobe found that 34% of adults had either temporarily or permanently stopped using brands they felt did not support them. That percentage was even higher among minority groups.
Gen Z’s power as consumers will continue growing as their population matures, which means that retailers and brands should already be forging relationships with them. And to appeal to Gen Z, diversity must be mission critical. Brands that fare well with this consumer group support social justice and change and spotlight that diversity and inclusion in their influencer marketing campaigns.