BY VANESSA DENHA GARMO
Martin Manna has talked about diversity issues for years as the president and CEO of Chaldean Chamber of Commerce and Chaldean Community Foundation, but this year at the Livonia Chamber of Commerce Connecting Cultures to Business Luncheon the focus was on the diversity of generations in the workplace. He was representing Gen X.
The other panelists included:
Peter Ventura, the CEO of Principal Associates and a Livonia planning commissioner
Kellen Winslow Sr., assistant to the president for community relations at Madonna University and a National Football League Hall-of-Famer
Van Nguyen, director of trustee development for the Beaumont Health Foundation and former executive director of the Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce
The theme for this year’s luncheon derived from research on the millennials. “There is a lot of intrigue of millennials yet, there are many interesting trends of the other generations in the workplace,” said Dan West, president and CEO of the Livonia Chamber. “We are working with people of many cultures and backgrounds and in those multigenerational workplaces. In order to succeed in business, we need to have good relationships with colleagues and customers. We need to invest time and learn about each other.”
Ron Fournier served as the moderator of the event held at Schoolcraft College. Fournier, the editor and publisher of Crain’s Detroit Business began to focus on the “millennial” generation when he was writing a book several years ago. He realized back then that he needed to pay more attention to to those in the millennial generation.
Working with students at Harvard University back in 2005, he noted that it was clear millennials — those born in the 1980s and into the early 2000s — would play a huge role in shaping the world.
“We really had to understand them if we want to understand where the future of politics was going, where the future of business was going,” he said. “We were surrounded by the future.”
As Fournier pointed out, millennials have their own set of attributes as all generations that are shaped by the times in which we live. “They (the millennials) want to give something back,” he said. “They want to be part of something bigger than themselves.”
The millennials are also purpose driven and are globally connected more so than the generations before them. “My neighborhood was 7 Mile and Gratiot,” said Fournier. “I grew up in the same neighborhood my parents grew up in. That was my world until I went off to college. It was a three-block radius where I grew up and where my parents grew up. My kids, your kids – the millennials are globally connected. They are global citizens.”
The Livonia Chamber event was designed to bring awareness about each generation, including that millennials are also the first generation that do not see politics as a way to effect change.
There are also many misconceptions about each generation and for the millennials, it would be “that we are lazy and entitled,” said Nguyen.
“This generation is the MTV generation,” said Manna from the Gen X group. “It is a generation known to be cynical, slacking and as having a dislike of their parents. None of that, however, resonates with me.”
For the baby boomers, Winslow noted that misconceptions include that, “they are selfish, and that we are only caring about ourselves.”
Ventura, a member of the “silent generation,” those born right before World War II, said the misconception is the name itself, “that we are silent. We really have a lot of thoughts and a lot to say. Our sensibility was raised in believing that you, ‘don’t hurt someone else’s feelings. Don’t say something you know will offend somebody.’ When we get into sensitive situations, we are careful in what we say and sometimes that includes saying nothing. We have to be in a very comfortable group like this one to really open up.”
Along with generational diversities, the panelists talked about cultural diversities.
The phrase “multiculturalism” is something Ventura experienced through his entire life.
He said it can be a misconception that those in his age and demographic don’t see the world as a multicultural place. “When I grew up here in Livonia a long time ago, all of my classmates and my friends, we used to say, were other nationalities. We didn’t say anything about race,” he said. “We all talked about nationalities, where we were from.”
Meanwhile, Winslow has experienced living among various cultures in his life, going from a high school where a majority of students were black to another school that was majority white to dealing with the cultural factions within athletics.
He said he agreed with how Ventura said he grew up in that he was told to always be respectful of others’ way of life, even if it was different.
“I was taught the same way: let people be people. Don’t judge people. Don’t do things to hurt other people. Be respectful,” he said. “Those are the things I grew up with, so I can understand exactly what he’s talking about.”
The panel was also charged with thoughts on changing perceptions.
When it came to Asian Americans, Nguyen said, the struggle of dealing with the “model minority” image can be daunting and commenting how she in fact is very outgoing.
“Here, we’re not quite seeing it as much,” she said. “But I’m sure in due time, the misconception of us being ‘model minorities’ and being quiet and proper will probably go down a little bit.”
Manna said Chaldean people are typically stereotyped as just owners of party stores, something that he and others are working on changing when it comes to perception.
Today, Chaldeans are business owners in various industries, including hotels, restaurants, and other retail; the perception is one that continues to change, Manna said.
“It’s often believed that, Chaldeans, they’re just party store owners and immigrants in general who don’t pay taxes,” he said. “People in general have a hard time understanding the pathway of how this community came to America.”
The Chaldean Chamber holds several diversity training seminars for anyone or any group wanting to learn about the community. Manna noted that many groups do the same in their own communities.
“We have always talked about diversity and inclusion within our own staff,” said Manna. “There is a lot of diversity training that exists. We have been doing that training. Many organizations require corporate competency training. I recommend people look into those training opportunities.”
The Livonia Chamber will post a video of the luncheon on their website at www.livonia.org.