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DEI Panel Connects Mainframe’s Working Generations With One Another

There are currently five different generations making up today’s workforce, and each of them brings unique backgrounds and perspectives. Though beneficial in a vacuum, generational differences can divide us in both the workplace and beyond.

At the SHARE New Orleans conference in August 2023, Broadcom and the Making Our Strong Community Stronger initiative (MSCS) held a panel that sought to bridge the gaps between generations by having them engage with one another. MSCS is sponsored by Broadcom Mainframe Software, IBM, the Open Mainframe Project, Rocket Software, TechChannel and BMC Software.

The panel featured multiple generations of mainframe workers who came together to acknowledge the industry’s age gap, build a better understanding of one another, and discuss challenges, solutions and opportunities.

The discussion was moderated by Dr. Gloria Chance, Founder and CEO of The Mousai Group, and the panelists included:

  • Becky Parchman, R&D solutions architect, BMC Software
  • John Thompson, executive and consultant, MCEC
  • Len Santalucia, CTO cloud, analytics, mobile security, social media solutions, Vicom Infinity; chairperson, the Open Mainframe Project
  • Earl Dixon, principal client services management, Broadcom
  • Cynthia Overby, president and cofounder, Key Resources
  • Laticia Carrow, capacity management analyst, DDC ITS
  • Megan Rupert, event marketing, Broadcom
  • Stephanie Nwankwo, associate software support engineer, Broadcom Mainframe Resident

Getting Introspective

Dr. Chance began the panel’s discussion by acknowledging the common ground uniting generations and posing a question about where the panelists believe their differences lie.

“If you had one thing to request of a generation that you would like for them to stop doing or to see change, what generation would it be and what would you want them to stop doing?”

Most of the panelists expressed their discontent with other generations while Megan Rupert took the path less traveled. Representing millennials in the industry, Rupert described the change she would like to see within her own generation.

“I think we grew up in a world that’s really changing, and we think we’re the change, but we have to be mindful that we gained our knowledge from the baby boomers and the Gen Xers, and there’s a lot of biases we have that we kind of don’t acknowledge,” Rupert said. “The Gen Zs and the generations after us are really going to be of change because they’re going to be the ones that grew up with that at their core versus these conditioned things millennials are carrying that we’re trying to fight against.”

Panelists also spoke about their views of work-life balance and the pressures that they feel surrounding the topic.

“When I first came into this industry, you were expected to work 70-plus hours a week, and I mentor a lot of different generations, and I will tell them, ‘You have to have a work-life balance.’ And they all look at me and [are] like, ‘Well, what about you?’” Parchman said. “So, I’m learning to learn from them.”

Rupert explained that younger generations often struggle with work-life balance because they feel to outperform others in the workplace, and the older panelists reflected on their role in exerting these pressures.

“We have baby boomers, and I have to admit, we didn’t manage ourselves. We worked 60 to 80 hours a week when we were coming up, and I would suspect that we still judge people when they don’t,” Dr. Chance said. “That’s one of the challenges we have. If you’re going to have a workforce of the future, and yet, instead of working with them through these issues, we’re sitting back judging them. What does that say about the possibilities for the future?”

What About Gen Z?

Dr. Chance sparked conversation about Gen Z’s impact on the working world by stating that only 5% of Gen Z is currently in the workforce, and yet they’re already responsible for major changes in the workplace.

“They’re challenging all the generations at only 5%. They’re challenging all the other generations to shift old social contracts. There’s all this stuff now about the culture that they want, the types of things that they expect, how they want to be treated, the diversity element and all of this,” Dr. Chance said.

As a Gen Z worker herself, Stephanie Nwankwo expressed feeling a sense of pride for her generation as they push for these changes.

“Honestly, I’m very proud of my generation that we’re encouraging change in the workforce,” Nwankwo said. “I believe that with us coming in, we’re going to better it for everyone else behind us.”

Earl Dixon also responded with a positive sentiment toward the changes Gen Z is making.

“I think it is a great thing…We get a lot of the Gen Zs that come in, and seeing them take on the work and doing it differently than we did, it’s something you embrace and push them to do that and work hard, but [they should] learn the material and then make change,” Dixon said. “Come in, learn what you need to do, and then you can go out and make the change that you want to see socially and in your work.”

Mental Health and the Workplace

The discussion moved to mental health as it relates to work and generational experiences. Today, many employees from older generations see the stigma surrounding mental health as a thing of the past, while others still believe it’s an ongoing issue causing large numbers of employees to take leave or quit their jobs.

John Thompson spoke of his own experience in matching students from colleges and universities with job opportunities, hearing students frequently express fear of being seen as defective if they speak up about work-related stress. Thompson said he believes companies are becoming aware of the high levels of pressure employees feel in these faster paced environments, and they are creating programs to help solve the issue.

Panelists offered personal stories of dealing with their own mental health struggles as well as helping others through them in the workplace.

Mainframe and DEI

Then, Dr. Chance turned the discussion to the precarious state of DEI programs in the workforce right now, and panelists discussed how they believe DEI initiatives will impact the future.

Laticia Carrow chimed in with her take on diversity’s unique impact on the mainframe.

“This is how I see it. My dog does not care who gives it treats. That’s what DEI means. If I can come to your house and give your dog a treat and your dog does not care, think of your dog as mainframe. Mainframe will still allow for anybody to press enter or control,” Carrow said. “That’s diversity. And as long as you don’t care, then the mainframe don’t care.”

Dixon added that he believes companies can thrive in relation to DEI regardless of politics.

“With all the legislation that’s going on in various states, I think as private companies, as long as the private companies are sticking to their social contracts for their individuals, and they are having these DEI programs, then I think we’ll still thrive no matter what legislation passes because private companies can go outside of what the government in that particular state or jurisdiction is wanting,” Dixon said. “So, as long as the companies that had helped us build this mainframe are sticking to their DEI contracts, I think will survive and thrive.”

Growth and Learning

Dr. Chance highlights how opportunities for growth and learning are highly important to today’s workforce. Panelists discussed what skills they think are most important to focus on for the future.

Thompson drew attention to the value of advancing communication skills, stating that communication and interpersonal skills are often more important than technical skills.

Parchman emphasized that learning and growing isn’t just for newcomers in the IT industry; it’s essential throughout one’s entire career.

“Don’t forget your middle career. I’ve been mentoring for many, many years at BMC because we’ve expanded so much, and everyone assumes that I concentrate on the new in career, but our middle career people, they need to learn. They need to be able to grow because our industry changes so much,” Parchman said. “That’s a key thing to watch out for—making sure that they’re open and listening. And, even the baby boomers, we have to learn new stuff constantly, otherwise we cannot stay current in our industry.”