Published on: November 4, 2008by Michael Sansolo
As we draw to the end of a politically charged season, let’s try to do something very hard. For a second, let’s put aside partisan feelings and recognize the one essential truth of this campaign:
Whatever the outcome of today’s election, history will be made. Either the United States is about to have its first non-white president or its first non-male vice president. Whether we have President Obama or Vice President Palin, something big has happened. Change is guaranteed.
Now for another second put aside your partisan feelings about which of these outcomes you prefer and think about the enormity of the very real change this means to your business.
In short, the world we live in has changed, but in many ways the world of our children and grandchildren has just arrived. For a host of reasons, from immigration patterns to birth rate realities, the United States is continuing its long pattern of demographic change. By 2042 the Census Bureau projects the United States will no longer have a majority population group.
The workforce of the future, the shopper of the future and the leadership of the future are guaranteed to look much different than the past. For the food industry, the changes are profound, which is why we have to look at this election beyond partisanship and try to assess the meaning.
A recent article at Salon.com examined the demographic shift of the 2008 campaign. Three leading population experts were asked a key question about the candidacy of Barack Obama. Simply put, could a bi-racial candidate have risen to this level in any previous year?
(Though the question wasn’t asked, it could be raised about female candidates too. Hilary Clinton clearly drew more votes than any female candidate in history. And while Sarah Palin may be treading ground already walked by Geraldine Ferraro, it’s apparent that her role in the campaign was far greater than her predecessor.)
The demographers’ response was clear. The difference in 2008 is the difference in the population. Generation Y, the most racially and ethnically diverse in American history, is now becoming an enormous part of the working and voting population. And their diversity makes the presence of a bi-racial candidate (or president) a less surprising and more acceptable issue.
In other words, candidate Obama likely had no chance of success as recently as 2004. In 2008, he might end this very day as President-elect.
Inside your business you have to consider the reality this represents. How your company will recruit, train and promote a more diverse workforce is an essential question for the future. How your company will merchandise and serve a more diverse shopper base is equally important. New holidays, new tastes and new customs will all matter more tomorrow than it does today.
I personally had a vivid reminder of this while moderating a panel of students at Oregon’s Portland State University recently. I have had the pleasure of doing this many times in the past and have long ago grown accustomed to seeing young women vastly outnumbering young men in these programs. So it was hardly surprising that three of the four students on this panel were women.
But this panel was different. These four bright young students, all wonderful candidates for jobs and advancement in their careers, were a demographic mix that demands the industry’s notice. Three were African-American and the fourth of Hispanic roots.
The future is here and it looks very different than past. Except for this: companies that adapt and grow quickest will win big.
See, not everything is changing.
Good news! Because “Content Guy” Kevin Coupe is in Argentina with a crazy schedule, Michael Sansolo will be contributing an extra “Sansolo Speaks” this week to take the pressure off Kevin. So keep an eye out…
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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