Q&A: This Commerce Student Wants to Change Your Mind About Millennials

June 5, 2019

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From left, Madhura Shringare, Akshay Malik and Stephanie Chen. Chen represented UVA and the National Millennial Community at a Verizon panel to discuss generational and racial stereotypes in the workforce.
Madhura Shringare, Akshay Malik, and Stephanie Chen

As a member of the National Millennial Community—a group of students and young professionals from across the country who reflect millennial and Generation Z voices—UVA student Stephanie Chen is working to fight stigmas around these generations, which are soon to be the largest component of the American workforce.

Chen, a third-year student in the McIntire School of Commerce, and two other National Millennial Community members—one undergraduate and one graduate student—participated in a May 20 panel discussion at Verizon’s New Jersey headquarters in conjunction with Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month. During the discussion, which was designed for Verizon employees and executives, the panelists discussed the harmful stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding millennials and Gen Z, specifically from an Asian-Pacific American perspective.

“The specific webcast that I was on was for internal usage,” said Chen, who is the marketing coordinator for HackCville and the public relations chair for Student Entrepreneurs for Economic Development at the University. “It was for [Verizon’s] employees and executives to hear firsthand from people what their experience as an Asian-Pacific American has been in the workforce.”

The discussion is just one part of the National Millennial Community’s efforts to “change the conversation” about the millennial and Gen Z generations—generally defined as those born between the 1980s and 1990s and those born from the late '90s to the present, respectively—through conversations with executives and employees from some of the top companies in media and business.

The UVA Career Center has placed 12 students over the past two years in the National Millennial Community program, which was founded in 2015 by media executive Bill Imada. Kate Melton, Director of Career Communities at UVA, said the community is “one of the best networking opportunities for undergrads [because] it addresses issues related to recruiting, job-search practices and workplace culture values of this generation.”

We caught up with Chen to discuss her thoughts on millennials pursuing careers and the opportunities she has had to shift people’s perspectives of her generation.

Q. The National Millennial Community is focused on changing the conversation around younger generational stereotypes. Why were you interested in getting involved with them?
A. I thought it was really interesting, what they were trying to do. They were trying to change perspectives and bring together the millennial and Gen Z perspectives by sharing how we feel and the way we see the world. I think it’s a really cool opportunity to bring that new perspective to different companies and hopefully instigate some change within the greater business community.

Q. In your opinion, what are some of the defining characteristics of millennials and Gen Z young adults?
A. I think there’s a difference in work style. Millennials get a bad reputation for being lazy and wanting to hop jobs a lot. That’s the way Baby Boomers view them, and most Baby Boomers are around the age of people who are in the top executive positions.

Millennials don’t see it as being lazy, but rather, we appreciate flexibility and the ability to get our work done on our own time. Not necessarily having to follow a rigid schedule and just clock in more hours is beneficial because a lot of people are pursuing side hustles [second jobs or passion projects]. Millennials are definitely putting a lot of work into projects they’re passionate about.

Q. Is there a difference between someone who is a millennial and someone who is part of Generation Z?
A. There are cutoffs for what year you’re born in to define the generations, but I think it’s more of a sliding scale. Just because you’re one year over the threshold for being a millennial versus Gen Z doesn’t mean you’re suddenly completely different. If anything, I think the people born in the 2000s are a little bit different than older Gen Z and millennials.

Q. How have the millennial stereotypes you discussed on the Verizon panel affected you in your education and your work?
A. I think companies do realize that there is a difference in mentality and I see them trying to make steps toward accommodating that. Something I enjoyed from my internship [with the U.S. Department of Defense] was having flex hours. You have the ability to get things done and take time off if you have to and make it up later.

There’s another stereotype around job-hopping: Millennials can’t stick to a job for more than two years before switching to the next company. I would argue that millennials are more ambitious and perhaps this whole internet culture has made us impatient for opportunities for growth. If companies aren’t offering internal growth and you feel like you aren’t learning, then that’s a reason to hop companies. I think that’s a different perspective to take rather than, “Millennials just can’t settle down.”

Q. There’s a harmful assumption that all millennials are the same. How do you discuss generations – huge, diverse groups of people – without relying on overly broad generalizations?
A. Something that helps when you’re on a panel; there are multiple perspectives. In the Verizon panel, there were three different students with three different perspectives and we were encouraged to voice those perspectives or disagree with what someone else said because that facilitates discussions. There’s a lot of variety between different people within the same generation. The more people and perspectives you can get within the same generation, the more you broaden your view.

Q. As a rising third-year student, you already have an impressive array of experience, from the U.S. Department of Defense to HackCville. How do you see yourself pulling together your various passions into a future career?
A. [The National Millennial Community] really has a lot of networking opportunities, [Imada] knows so many people and you’re able to speak with people ranging from small startup founders to big corporate executives.

My experience in different fields of business helps me understand where I might like to go next. Recruiting season is going to start in a couple of months, and I am interested in management consulting and brand management, and tech. True to the millennial stereotype, I’d like to create a startup someday. More broadly, I see myself in a future career that allows me to leverage my business sense, creativity, and ambition.

By Ryann Sheehy, rls7et@virginia.edu. This article first appeared in UVA Today June 3, 2019.