By Betsy McCloskey | Partner, Plaid Swan Inc.

Right now, in 2018, there are four generations trying to work together in most organizations. Baby boomers and Gen Xers have likely taken over the company’s corner offices and C-suite, while millennials are likely on their first or even second real job. Sprinkle in Gen Z, who is just entering the field as a very high-energy, hardworking generation (more like their boomer grandparents than they want to admit), and no wonder everyone is in a tailspin.

Currently, Gen X and millennials make up the largest number of employees in the workforce of the United States. How can these two generations of women benefit from each other by building on inherent skills and talents? First, let’s talk about what drives them.

Millennials are carrying more debt at their age than any other generation in our country’s history. This may be why Gen X and boomer executives feel this generation is demanding power and pay that they have not earned. More likely, it is panic over student debt and the desire to move out of Mom’s basement. However, often they are making far less than they anticipated after graduation, so they are looking for more work/life balance to offset the disappointing take-home pay.

To prove their value to their older female supervisor, young women should focus on building credibility. Credibility can be earned through several avenues, but the most desired is emotional intelligence (calm under pressure, ability to handle deadlines, ability to accept change, and most importantly, the ability to handle disappointment). Take on the projects no one else wants, do those projects well, and present a new approach to the team. You will get our attention. We value the doers.

Millennials are the "trophy generation." This is a mismatch with their Gen X supervisors who were the first "latchkey kids." Gen Xers often came home from school to an empty house, having to take care of ourselves while our parents worked. Millennials received positive feedback for trying and were taught to not be concerned with who won or lost the game, and in many cases grew up with helicopter moms on constant watch.

This gap in upbringing methods also creates a special challenge for young females, who may assume that someone is ensuring that all games are being played fairly, even on the job. 

Unfortunately, in Iowa, women continue to fight for equal pay and young millennial women are inheriting this statewide battle. We, as Gen X female leaders, need to expose our young female charges to women’s leadership groups, as well as politics and what is happening at a state and national level. Talk about it often and build a united effort to create change.

What millennials bring to the table is their ability to talk to anyone. They grew up feeling that they were the center of attention and their opinions were valued as kids. That built great self-confidence in this generation and taught them to be fearless as well. Millennials were also born with a computer in their home, so they are incredibly comfortable adapting to new technology rolling out almost daily and are happy to share their knowledge with others.

So how can we, as Gen X women, help bridge the gap between our millennial sisters? By sharing our path. Our generation has an incredible work ethic and we understand the power of off-line, in-person networking. Take your young generation team everywhere. Invite them to meetings, take them to after-hour events, ask them to follow up with thank-you calls and work on office events. Put them out front in group settings as often as possible. Hone their public speaking skills and encourage them to join committees and boards as early as possible.

Millennials have a reputation for being over-collaborative. They have been encouraged to work on committees in school, to join team sports and live in online social networks. Ask them to lead projects that encourage them to work across departments and groups to highlight the impact they have on the company and on other people.

What do we get for all this training and effort? Access to their magical, tech-savvy brains. New software rolling in? Place a millennial as project manager. It will get done right the first time. Millennials also care more deeply about other people and the environment. They bring compassion and conscience to an organization. That skill set is priceless.

In the end, if we let them, millennials can reignite Gen X’s passion for the work. They are not afraid to try and fail and try again. In today’s competitive landscape, it doesn’t get much better than that. So, let us commit to stop complaining about them and embrace our differences and get out there and do some amazing work. Together.

Betsy McCloskey is a partner at Plaid Swan Inc., a full-service marketing communications firm located in Cedar Rapids and Dubuque. She is also a board member for Iowa Women Lead Change, a statewide women’s leadership organization.