Previously published by The News-Press
"My swimsuit. My body. My face. All wrong, all out of place, compared to others. Such despair."
"Adept thumbs and Instagram capabilities are not foundational skills to success."
"Women tend to be more competent, successful leaders; men tend to get more of the credit."
Millennials: this is your year
Published in The News-Press on 1/25/15
“You knew me. Every word you said was about me.”
“I’ve been lost, wondering where I fit. You gave me hope.”
“I, too, was the first in my family to graduate from college, because my parents sacrificed for me. It’s a heavy responsibility.”
These were some of the touching comments from young women Thursday after I spoke at the second Hoops and Heels networking event sponsored by the FGCU Alumni Association & Athletics.
I was honored to be invited by Kimberly Wallace, Director of Alumni Relations, to address students, alumni and supporters before the women’s basketball game at Alico Arena. (It was great fun to watch their easy victory, and a pleasure to watch my mom enjoy herself.)
In preparation, as always, I grappled with remarks that would resonate with this particular audience. How did I feel when I was in college and just starting out, so many years ago? What was important to me? What would have helped me?
Here’s an adaption of what I shared.
As a young adult, the journey of life is bright with promise, but easily overshadowed by distracting paths that can draw you into nowhere.
You’re finding your way, worried about how you look, what you wear, who you hang around with. We as a nation still have stereotypes based on gender, height, the shape of the eyes, the girth of the waist.
As a high schooler in Chicago, I remember going to a pool party at a ritzy high rise along Lake Shore Drive. As the other girls changed and headed out giggling in a gaggle, I stayed behind, crying.
My swimsuit. My body. My face. All wrong, all out of place, compared to the others.
Such despair, defining myself by the physical ideal.
Soon, I discovered that those prettier, skinnier, more stylish girls were nearly as insecure as I. They also didn’t see themselves positively. They also were burdened with heady expectations of success. They envied my apparent confidence as I envied theirs. What a revelation.
Last fall, when I first shared this anecdote at a Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce Women in Business Apex event, my colleagues—remarkably successful women—all jumped in with their similar experiences. “I still feel out of place today,” one said.
Take heart. We’re all in the same place. And, we all are special in our own way. Each of us is unique in the universe.
Millennials, this is your year.
Those who are ages 19 to 34 will dominate the workforce for the first time in 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.
Your generation is big, some 76 million strong (vs. 73.2 million boomers) and unique. You’re known to be:
Creative, intrigued with exciting work, comfortable with change, independent, accustomed to being on call all day, and…
Narcisstic, with minimal loyalty when it comes to work: nearly 60% expect to leave their job within three years, reports “The 2015 Millennial Majority Workforce” study commissioned by Elance-oDesk and Millennial Branding. What a change from past generations where many expected to work 30 years in one place and retire with a healthy pension.
Millennials grew up with digital in their DNA. They tend to be more comfortable texting than talking, and know more emoticons than country capitals.
This, I believe, has contributed to a widespread dearth of critical “foundational” skills in the new workforce. Dress and decorum, workplace etiquette, interpersonal skills like communication and collaboration, critical thinking. These all surfaced repeatedly as shortfalls nationally and in local research by Workforce Now and the Horizon Council Business Issues Task Force. Adept thumbs and Instagram capabilities are not foundational skills to success.
Millennial women face an additional layer of challenge. In 2015, as President Obama referenced this week, there still is a gender gap in the workforce. The Census Bureau says that in 2013, women made 78.3 cents on the dollar compared to men, 22% less.
The good news is that the gap is less for Millennials. In considering overall median pay, the difference between men and women millennial workers is 2.2%, compared to 2.7% for boomers and 3.6% for Generation X, according to a study by PayScale and Millennial Branding.
Among factors that are closing the gap: easy access to research equitable wages, more openness to moving around and changing jobs, and more women taking on what used to be male roles.
Even so, we’re far from equity when it comes to gender leadership.
While more research indicates that women tend to be more competent, successful leaders, men tend to get more of the credit.
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of “Lean In,” wrote recently in the New York Times about a Yale University study in which male executives who spoke more often than their peers were rewarded with 10 percent higher ratings of competence. But when female executives spoke more, they received 14 percent lower ratings—from both men and women.
So, the journey continues.
Here are five pieces of advice especially for the Millennial journey:
Study the game; learn the rules. In every interpersonal situation, there is a game. You don’t have to play, but make sure you know what’s going on.
Know yourself: Be proud of your strengths, but be clear about them, too. Turn to both advocates and critics to be your candid mirror.
Seek and gain wisdom from everyone and everywhere. You have much to learn. Really.
Recognize the power and drawbacks of your digital universe: Find time to unplug, to think, to have actual conversations.
Be where you are: Instead of chomping at the bits to get to the horizon, live in this moment. Lean in and get engaged, volunteer, give back, help others along the journey as others helped pave the way for you.