Several months back, when both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were campaigning for the Democratic nomination, I posed the question in this blog: Will it be women or children first? While Hillary was using her proven political ties and tried-and-true campaign tactics, Obama centered his campaign on ‘change’ and focused on the younger generation of voters.Many laughed at Obama for focusing on Gen Y– the generation with the least number of people old enough to vote, the least exposure to politics, and who were the most likely to shirk their voting responsibilities.Obviously, the ‘children’ had more influence than the political veterans realized and Obama became the Democratic nominee.But now that Republican nominee Senator John McCain has selected Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to be his vice presidential running mate, the question looms again: Will it be women or children first? Will the McCain camp be able to sway young voters with the prospect of bringing a woman into office?Undoubtedly, Palin is proving to be very popular with delegates to the Republican National Convention. Analysts have said McCain’s decision to bring Palin onto the ticket has energized the party and increased its odds of success in the election.But will it be enough?Since the nominees were named, much has been made of the 25-year age gap between Democratic nominee Barack Obama, 47, and Republican senator John McCain, 72, and their abilities to appeal to younger voters.This is the first campaign in history when a generational divide between candidates and voters is so apparent. There has actually been more emphasis on each party’s ability to market itself than there has been on their party’s messages!From the beginning, Obama has been marketed like a high-end consumer brand, with seamless graphics, a rising-sun logo, music videos, and a mellow aura that isn’t polarizing and appeals to younger voters.His campaign has made ample use of Web-based social media to drive participation and contributions and his sites boast nearly 2 million supporters on his MySpace and Facebook pages, while McCain has fewer than 330,000 supporters. Obama’s YouTube videos have received 60 million views compared with McCain’s 14 million.In an August poll by the Harvard Institute of Politics, Obama had a 23-percentage-point lead over McCain among likely voters aged 18 to 24. The poll also found that there is a gap between the enthusiasm supporters express for the respective candidates: More than 4 in 5 young voters say they are excited to vote for Obama, while only 56% say they are excited about voting for McCain.According to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, in the 2004 Presidential election, voters ages 18-to-24-year-old were evenly split between parties: 35% called themselves Republicans, 39% were Democrats.It will be fascinating to observe what happens in this election. Will young voters remain true to party lines? Will one party prove to be more influential than the other with young voters?In any case, one lesson is already apparent: Don’t overlook young America. They are 80 million strong. They are influential, they do care about America’s future, and their voices will be heard.
In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.
Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.
Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.
In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.
With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.
Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.
Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.
Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.
Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.
In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.
While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.
The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.
Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results. Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.
When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.
Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.
Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.
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Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.
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