Business has changed for good. This we know. The beauty of the down economy has been the rise of social enterprise, a collective questioning of public and private sector values, and a mainstream search for ways to integrate sustainability into our lives and work. From where I sit, the future looks bright for Millennials – a generation of quiet rebels on the path to find a non-traditional, soul-enriching, values-fueled existence.
It isn’t a surprise that the media is tasking Generation Y with shaping the future. We’re well-positioned with our understanding of technology, our hyper-acuity for collaboration, and our desire to redefine success by the impact (not the money) we make. And while that is exciting – maybe even a little humbling – handing over responsibility to a new generation because we seem to “get it” isn’t good enough.
I have a different call to action to the women of my generation: lead and live like you’re on a mission.
Women catalyze change. Research shows that business does better, nations govern better, and impact happens faster when women represent at least one-third of the voices at the table. It’s called the “30 percent solution” and it’s a concept that took hold at the United Nations Conference on the Status of Women in 1995 — five years before some Gen Y women were even born.
Nearly 20 years later, we are just now witnessing a global breakdown of old systems that would allow women to become part of the “30 percent.” Wall Street collapses, Arab Springs, and women college graduates outnumber men. The world is changing. And it just so happens that the Millennial woman’s voice, values and vision align with what’s needed to build something meaningful and sustainable.
Just a few months ago I was interviewing a 30-year old woman who is running a burgeoning social enterprise with a 10-year goal of creating 1 million jobs in some of the world’s poorest countries. This is her second go-around at leading an organization. The first time she helped found a nonprofit that garnered celebrity endorsements from Jennifer Connelly to Justin Beiber. It grew 85 percent in its first year.
As we wrapped the interview, I threw out a question that seemed natural, “What’s it like to be a leader for your generation?”
The pause on the other end of the phone was long. She finally said, “I’m not leading anyone. I’m not a leader. I’m just doing what needs to be done.”
If my generation has a chance to make a difference in this world, we have to go beyond modestly “doing what needs to be done.” We need to reframe what leadership looks like and proudly claim our role as leaders.
Here is how Millennial women can use their voice, values and vision to stand up as leaders and be a force for change:
On voice: Millennial women will be a force for change when we take the stance that our natural assets are our leadership capabilities.
There is genius in being a woman. The Millennial generation has come of age during a time when the feminine power base is becoming more valued. But there is room to grow. It requires that we start talking about our ability to engage, build alliances, and literally feel our way through situations as more than assets. Leading means that we own up to our gifts and see them as leadership capabilities that drive creative processes and create triple bottom line results.
On values: Millennial women will be a force for change when our closely held values define who we are and what we do in work and life.
Last year, Forbes published a study that pointed to the many reasons that Millennial women are reaching burnout by the age of 30. Having made it through the other side of 30 alive and well, I have a different take. Millennial women burn out when they realize that there’s more to life than just a job. They burn out when they discover their career isn’t quite as meaningful as they had hoped. They burn out when they don’t feel like they are contributing to something bigger than themselves. Burnout isn’t about taking the time to relax. It is about taking the time to deeply understand the values that guide you and a purpose that motivates you to get up in the morning. When we align ourselves to our values and purpose, we can’t help but lead.
On voice: Millennial women will be a force for change when we move beyond great ideas towards a strong vision for the future.
We’ve been taught the more ideas, the better. There’s nothing more fun to witness than a brainstorming jam with some energetic Millennials. It quickly turns into idea central. While ideas are fine for solving one-off problems, world-shifting change requires vision. Vision doesn’t just “play with existing paradigms; it changes them.” And, the world already thinks men have a leg up when it comes to “that vision thing.” Millennial women have a chance to change this. I see it happening in the social enterprises that they launch. I see it in the way they are changing the philanthropic conversation. I see it in the roles that they are pursuing within organizations. Leading means that you do more than participate in the change: you define its future.
Smart and savvy ladies of Generation Y, I know you’re ready to lead. If you want to create impact and social change, you will have to lead. You are the key that will unlock new approaches to business and sustainability — not because you inherited the responsibility, but because you have what it takes to be a force for change.
The only question is: will you lead?