By Evan Hackel

Are You Making Faulty Assumptions about Millennials?
5 September 2017 | 9:57 am

Last month my colleague Barry Lenson attended a panel discussion about millennials. A business professor and two millennial-age entrepreneurs were on the panel. There were about 25 people in the audience.

“The conversation was pretty academic until the topic of sexism came up,” Barry tells me. “At that point, three women in the audience began a heated discussion of how entrenched sexism is in their companies. One woman said that men’s ideas about marketing, product development, technology and more, were always valued more than women’s. Another said that she was having a hard time supervising other millennial-age men, who did not take her seriously. There were more stories. The eye-opener for me was that these women were working for and with millennials. I thought that millennials were more enlightened.”

Questioning Our Assumptions

Did Barry really think that old-school sexism had disappeared in companies where millennials work and lead? Apparently he did. I could accuse him of being naïve. But aren’t we all probably being naïve in some of the assumptions we make about millennials?

It is a topic that I plan to explore more, by asking questions like these . . .

Are millennials really more tech-savvy than members of other generations? When you sit in a meeting with a group of people from several generations, do you reflexively turn to millennials when issues of technology arise? Do you pay less attention to the views of other people in the room? If so, you could be overlooking the viewpoints tech-savvy baby boomers and elders who might know just as much, or more, than the millennials in the room.

Do all millennials have less company loyalty than members of other age groups? Many people assume they aren’t as loyal as member of other cohorts are. But I have noticed that many factors (education, economic circumstances and cultural or national background, to name a few) exert a big influence on individuals’ job loyalty. The year when someone was born is only one factor of many – and arguably not the greatest. Plus, I have noticed that millennials are often highly loyal when they understand what it takes to be valued and promoted in a company. If you provide each of them with an individual, understandable career plan, they will value your organization more.

Do millennial business owners practice more enlightened leadership than others? Like Barry, I think that a lot of people tend to assume that younger company owners have set aside negative leadership practices like sexism, prejudice against members of certain groups, favoritism, and even dishonesty. But as recent news stories have shown, that assumption is misleading. Millennials, just like members of other generations, can be good leaders – or bad.

Are millennials always good colleagues to other millennials? People who are older than they are – like me – tend to look at them and think, “They must all be getting along pretty well, they’re all about the same age.” How illogical is that? I have seen and heard about plenty of instances of millennials who steal other people’s ideas, play hard at office politics, and worse. Some people just behave that way at work. And then there is the fact that some millennials, just like everyone else, are prejudiced against members of certain ethnic and religious and racial groups, against members of the LBGTQ communities, against women, against men . . . you name it. Prejudice did not vanish the day the first millennial was born.

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