Bias is bias
An open letter to those taking every opportunity to call millennials entitled.
“All great changes are preceded by chaos.”
- Deepak Chopra
As a millennial, I have a bad rap with society. After all, I wont eat cereal because I’m too lazy to clean the bowl, I’m narcissistic, I’m quickly becoming an alcoholic, and I’m relentlessly entitled to both personal and professional success.
There’s been a lot said about my generation recently from all perspectives on the argument – I know because I work in marketing. Marketers rely on ethnographical research about psychology and personalities, trends, and age groups to understand how to reach their audiences. These viewpoints are generalizations for sure, sometimes even stereotypes, but they can be a really useful way to understand how brands appeal to broad groups of audiences. They’re just not such a great way to understand individual people. In this way, these stereotypes have crossed the line.
By all accounts I have it made in the professional sense. I have a promising career, big aspirations for my future, and strong role models who have helped me turn my ambition and creativity into accomplishments I’m really proud of. But I have been underestimated. I’ve been told I’m too big for my britches, and I’m too confident. The very generalizations I rely on to do my job have been used to hold me back. I’ve been passed up for opportunities and my potential has been doubted because my ambitions are bigger than age and title would merit.
I’m not in it alone (there are said to be 80 million of us around these days.) I know that making real change involves swimming upstream every now and then. But in the meantime I have one request: please know that bias is bias, and those that hold negative stereotypes (even when true) against those of a certain age, title, class race, or gender are holding themselves back to a greater degree than they’ll ever limit the people against whom they’re biased.
In writing this article I was tempted to pull some quotes from recent surveys and opinion pieces about millennials to show how blatant the bias can sometimes be. Instead, I challenge you to read these articles about millennials and other generalizations in a certain way from now on. As you read, test yourself by replacing “millennials” with “women” or “black people” or “old people” or “immigrants.” This approach isn’t absolute, but it will quickly help broaden your perspective past assuming that millennials aren’t going for the same happiness in life as Gen Y or the new Gen D people are talking about recently.
Mine is by far not the first voice to speak up for sake of understanding the line between generalizations and pure discrimination. After millennials it will be another generation, and then another. That said, I hope you use this as an opportunity to think twice about the way you perceive and connect with coworkers who are combating millennial stereotypes every day. There are only more to come.