I am not your token millennial – our place in your workforce
I am not your token millennial
At an event I attended recently, I had a sudden realisation: I am a millennial, and we are a novelty in some companies. Throughout the day it was wonderful to see younger women, my age, speaking on panels and in workshops about their experiences in the work place, side by side with baby boomers and women with decades of experience. Corporate leaders proudly presented their best millennials and addressed them as such. Again. And again. By the end of the day [Tweet "it felt like everyone loved showing off their ‘token millennial’."]
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m so pleased companies are taking on millennials and giving us a voice. But I'm not a token millennial. Within 3 years millennials will dominate the workforce, so companies can hardly avoid them forever, but [Tweet "millennials bad reputation makes some companies nervous."] We’re seen as lazy, tech obsessed and participation trophy seekers. We demand flexible working hours and some say aren’t natural leaders. We are constantly at loggerheads with our older colleagues and bosses. We’re seen as a liability.
In contrast to all this, the women I heard were hard working, ladder climbing, valued members of their companies. Clearly these companies have managed to look past the bad press and see that millennials are a great asset to their company, and wanted to make sure everyone else knew it too. Which unfortunately came off with the 'token millennial' vibe.
Why token isn't enough
My issue is two pronged. One, by pushing so hard to show that your company is ‘willing’ to take on and promote millennials, you are sub consciously reinforcing these stereotypes. [Tweet "It should not be applauded that a company is brave enough to take on younger workers."] If we swapped out token millennial for any other demographic it would sound weird:
‘Here’s Sharon, our token baby boomer’.
Millennials are wonderful for most companies; we’re tech savvy, we’re more eco conscious, we bring fresh eyes and ideas. It’s not a burden to hire us. Instead first present us by our role or by highlighting what we bring to your company in our own right, then if it’s appropriate drop in how being a millennial has facilitated this, instead of the other way around.
I do not speak for all
The second prong is this: we are not a hive mind. Bringing a millennial in to cast fresh eyes on your company is brilliant, if they really are bringing fresh eyes. I know many people my age who don’t challenge problematic industry standards, who would rather be a yes-person in their company to progress and even actively pull down other millennials to push themselves forwards.
Presenting your millennial as a token that your company is embracing young peoples views is not enough, you need to be listening and allowing the young people in your company to challenge and improve your company in a supportive and progressive way. We’re already on the back foot; we’re young, possibly inexperienced and fighting against unfair stereotypes, so by creating a safe environment where we can have input and affect real change will not only benefit us but your company so much more than just having a token millennial who says ‘yes’.
Also some millennials are now in or approaching their mid 30's, so are stepping into traditional family and work roles - very different to having a fresh 23 year old on the team.
So to sum up, yes please keep hiring millennials. Believe in, support and trust us. Listen to and promote us, but please do not bring us out as a show pony. We should be valuable employees irrelevant of which generation we belong to. Show others we are not a burden, we are not token. We are an asset. By 2020 we will make up 50% of the workforce. One day we will outnumber you, so take us seriously!
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