By Carrie S Ahmad, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Vice President, People, Turning the Corner, LLC
Do any of these comments sound familiar?
“Millennials are entitled and not willing to work hard.”
“Gen Xers are so cynical and critical.”
“Baby Boomers are out of touch and can’t think innovatively.”
“Traditionalists can’t keep up with the younger generations and don’t challenge the status quo.”
These phrases represent stereotypes that I, and my team, have heard recently in businesses and at networking events throughout Denver and Boulder. Stereotypes that generalize a race, gender, or generation can paralyze your culture and the ability of your organization to dominate within your industry.
Who are You?
Think about your own career. Has a stereotype ever hindered or perhaps silenced you? In my 20s, as a Gen Xer, I had to combat leaders stereotyping me as both a woman, and as a Gen Xer who would “likely not be a positive member of the team.” As someone who is positive and cares deeply about the success of team members and an organization, comments like this felt like a slap in the face and shove to the back of the room (message received: sit down, be quiet, your ideas aren’t valued).
Given that I am self-reliant, I took a back seat initially, assessed the environment, and then showed those leaders what I was capable of accomplishing. I wonder how many Gen Xers haven’t progressed as far in their careers as they had hoped early on because they felt pegged as being a certain way, and they didn’t feel comfortable pushing back against the stereotype.
Why it Matters
Just this week I witnessed one of my Millennial colleagues feel the brunt of stereotyping at a client meeting. During the meeting older managers within this organization were speaking openly and disparagingly of Millennials. What my colleague heard was “you are entitled and not really welcome here.” This man, who has a deep passion for his work, concern for our clients, and ideas for positive change was essentially stopped in his tracks because of beliefs held about his generation that these managers were generalizing to mean everyone who is a Millennial.
Let’s Make a Difference Together!
At Turning the Corner our team is comprised of Boomers, Xers, and Millennials, and what a powerhouse of a team we have! We leave the stereotypes outside the doors of our office and focus instead on the talents and gifts each person brings to the table. Our brainstorming sessions are challenging, exciting, and move us forward. Our team meetings are lively, fun, and effective. And we each pour our hearts and passion into the work we do in support of our clients. We are a team that enjoys each other and gets results because we focus on each person as an individual, not a stereotype.
Who are They Really?
Are you allowing your beliefs about a race, gender, or age get in the way of your success? Take a step back and get to know the people on your team. What motivates them? What do they do for fun? What frustrates them? What energizes them? When you know your people for who they are, you can align them with work that fully engages their mind and abilities, and you will find you have a team that is productive far beyond what you expect.
Getting to know your people for who they are is a critical component for building a winning culture. Kick the stereotypes out of your culture and watch your people thrive!