Where are all the Millennial Role Models?


There is ongoing debate about where to draw the line between different generations. And indeed whether it matters. And if it does, why?

There’s discussion about how long a generation should last, what defines it, and whether people who grew up with land lines and fax machines should be counted in the same generation as those who can’t remember a time before the internet and smart phones? 

And the generational stereotypes rage on: “Get off your Instagram and see the real world, Millennials!” “Shut up Boomers, you ruined the planet and screwed the economy!”, “Just ignore us as you always do” says Gen-X. … And on and on it goes.

Many of my contemporaries lament the behaviour of their millennial direct reports, (“fucking Millennials” is as likely to be uttered by someone in their mid-30s as it is by someone in their mid-50s, maybe more so). In fact, we all belong to the same generation – just different ends of it. (The annoyance often stems from people being a bit tricky/annoying/young? in their first ‘real job’. I’m certain I was a nightmare to manage in my early 20s. I put this down to youthful ‘crapness’ rather than a specific generational ailment).

By some definitions, including the one below, my 42-year-old husband is a Millennial (a concept he wholeheartedly rejects as a devout ‘work hard, play hard’ Gen-X-er).

Nonetheless, in order to continue this conversation, we will have to agree a rough generational cut off between us. Give or take a few years either way, the generations and associated current ages are generally accepted as follows:

Traditionalists—born before 1946 (currently over 73 years old)
Baby Boomers—born between 1946 and 1964 (currently 55-73 years old)
Generation X—born between 1965 and 1976 (currently 43-54 years old)
Generation Y, or Millennials—born between 1977 and 1997 (currently 22-42 years old)

Generation Z—born after 1997 (currently under 22).

My personal view, and something I am working on through Pale Blue Coaching and Juggling Act consulting work is that generational stereotypes, in- fighting and ‘blame game’ warfare only holds us back in work (and the rest of our lives). So you’ll have to bear with me while I appear to immediately contradict myself.

In some cases Millennials appear to suffer from what I will call ‘delayed onset adulthood’.

There are many reasons for this, most of them financial. As a NY Times piece by Laurence Steinberg has it, “According to a large scale national [US] study conducted since the late 1970s, it has taken longer for each successive generation to finish school, establish financial independence, marry and have children. Today’s 25-year-olds, compared with their parents’ generation at the same age, are twice as likely to still be students, only half as likely to be married and 50 percent more likely to be receiving financial assistance from their parents”.

To a large extent we are all a product of the times in which we live.

The result of this is that a lot of us 22-42-year-olds don’t see ourselves as the ‘adults in the room’ when it comes to work. We do more waiting for permission than our parents did. We seem unsure as to whether it’s truly ‘our turn’ to lead yet. We can end up ‘at the effect of’ our work and our roles and our lives. Waiting for someone else to sort everything out.

These are generalisations of course and everyone has their own situation, family set up, aspirations, worldview, constraints, financial means etc., which all impact how they behave and work and see the world.

It is significant, however, that Millennials are the generation having children at the moment, and yet they may not feel like ‘grown ups’ themselves. “Adulting is hard” anyone?

What is the impact if we are not moulding our workplaces and societies to meet our needs, support our values; not leading the way for the next generation?

If we look at the current government, our work cultures or the climate crisis for example, and go: ‘how did this happen?’ I mean seriously though, how did it? How do we (those aged 22 to 42) look around and not see our reflections in the institutions we have? In the way we work?

I have been voting age in this country for nearly 20 years and yet we can see that the baby boomer generation is still running the show. At work. In government. In banks. On boards. Everywhere we look. In ways that are the most fundamental and meaningful and crucial,  the generation above us is still making the big decisions.

This is not an anti- boomer article, I would be nothing without my incredible parents and their contemporaries. Every generation has its own challenges and opportunities. But, I do see a severe dearth of millennial leadership. And that’s a problem. A massive problem.

I don’t want my toddler son growing up in a world that last had a major workplace rethink 40 years ago. One where many companies still operate working hours and practices from much longer ago than that. Industrial era work practices that were life-saving and revolutionary at the time are now terrifyingly out of touch for the needs, desires and challenges of today – let alone 30 years from now!

Those floods in Yorkshire, the fires in Australia, the lack of flexible working environments, the gender pay gap, inequality, spiralling healthcare costs, what are we doing about it?!?!

To what extent do we Millennials feel that we should be (and are) in the peak of our careers, making our mark and leading with great purpose and ambition in our 30s/early 40s? If we are not now, when do we think it will happen? For those of us that are leading now, how is that being received at work? What else can we be doing to take up the mantle of leadership, holding tight to our values and convictions and stepping into our power and creating great, positive change.

Many millennial-age friends, clients and contemporaries say to me: “where are all the role models?” I hear this a lot in Juggling Act Workshops and in the Q&A after I give talks:”Where are the men and women leading for the modern age?”

I have asked myself the same question. Where are the people our age leading by example? I’ve come to the conclusion that I need look no further than the nearest mirror.