Two Millennials and two Baby Boomers comprised the panel at a MetroWest Leadership Roundtable, and some of the conversations took on a comic overtone, as the Boomers described a new generation of spoiled workers, and the Millennials pointed out that it was Boomers, who did the spoiling.
Beneath the ribbing, panelists addressed how these two demographic bulges – two generational behemoths as moderator Stephen Brand described them - can best understand each other and work together.
U.S. Boomers, born roughly from 1946 to 1964, have ruled the business and political worlds for decades. The Millennials, essentially the Boomers’ children, are now ascending to workplace and public prominence.
How the work-world looks to those entering in 2011 is, no surprise, dramatically different than how it looked when the people now in charge started.
Susanne Conley, an admissions vice president at Framingham State University which hosted the event, first pointed to historical commonalities as a way of understanding generational conflict.
Three hundred years ago, she said, Harvard Divinity students demonstrated for the same rights Framingham State students demonstrate for now – to have beer in their dorm rooms.
But Connelly also noted that generations differ. For instance, she said, unlike their own parents, Boomers don’t drop their kids at college and say goodbye. Technology allows them to continue to closely attend to and act as advocates for their children’s college careers.
Connelly held up her hand as if to stop traffic. I have to go through the parents first before I talk to the students, she said.
Google’s Joshua Stuebing, a Millennial on the panel, turned the laughter a bit on its head by asking the audience, Who are these people – the helicopter parents, the ones who hand out trophies win or lose?
“They're you,” he said to the primarily Boomer audience of about 50 legal, business, media, academic and political types.
Lauren Stiller Rikleen, a consultant, author, retired attorney and executive-in-residence at Boston College's Center for Work and Family, said though Millennials want the meritocracy that Boomers have striven to create, they are disappointed at the illusion compared to reality.
Millennials entering a workplace that talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk have every right to be perplexed by the power dynamics underlying bromides about equality, equitability and self-actualization, she said. Stereotypes of women as child-bearers and men as providers continue to dominate the workplace, she has found in research for her books on work and family life.
Jessica Yu, a recruiter for Bedford’s Mitre Corp., high-level information analysts for corporations and governments, outlined several models – her own job among them – that Mitre uses to incorporate Millennials into Mitre’s culture. Mitre provides defined ways for those new workers to help build the company’s future culture and direction.
Some of those are essentially playground ideas, such as taking the golf course where deals are made in-house with company activities where the younger generation can bond among themselves.
Others involve unconventional programs. The highest-level executives meet periodically with groups of Millennials to hear their ideas and concerns.
Some of those concerns – like lack of authority and participation in key company structures - are as mundane as those of any new workers. The idea of new workers meeting regularly with the CEO may not be unique to the 21st Century. But it pushes the right buttons for a generation assured from birth they are bound for greatness, and provides Mitre's leadership with invaluable tips on its future.
The final message was that young workers won't simply be integrated into the workplace, they will be the workplace. Some of the changes - in ease of electronic communication especially - have already re-mapped work's topography.
The changes beneath that surface are still to come. One role Boomers must play is to advise on structural modifications and upheavals from their own perspectives of experience and imagination, and listen to their new colleagues as eagerly as they wish those Millennials to listen to them.
The MetroWest Leadership Academy will celebrate its 25th anniversary tonight with an event called Music on the Mountain at Bose.