Millennial is a term that dominated headlines in the early 2000s as this group entered the workforce en masse. Now, more than 20 years later, Millennials have left their entry-level positions and found themselves comfortably in the driver’s seat of the economy. They occupy not only mid-level management positions; they’re increasingly gaining ground in the C-suites of companies big and small.
Data from the past several years indicates that the average age of executives is falling. Today, Chief Executive Offers in the Fortune 500 average into the mid-50s; however, there’s a growing cohort of younger leaders bringing the aggregate average down: Millennials. The 10 youngest CEOs on the Fortune 500 are all aged 42 or under, representing a changing of the guard in companies like Chewy, Salesforce and Compass Real Estate.
As Millennials move into executive roles, they’re doing so with a new vision of leadership. Here’s a closer look at what a new generation of executive leaders is bringing to the C-suite—and how it’s changing business culture.
Who are Millennials today?
Before we dive into Millennials as leaders, let’s take a moment to get to know them as a group.
While there’s no specific cutoff date between the generations, sociologists tend to pinpoint the early 1980s as the birth of Millennials. This tenacious generation spans up until the mid-1990s, before giving way to Generation Z. This puts Millennials at the center of several important social catalysts.
For instance, many of them grew up during a technological boom—think cassette, to CD, to MP3, to streaming. They’ve also lived through the Dot-Com Bubble and the Great Recession, and many entered the workforce in a post-9/11 world.
Today, Millennials are 25-40 years old, and they’re coming into their stride professionally. With a decade or two of work experience under their belts, they’re experienced in their respective fields and many are acclimated leaders, serving in middle management or higher. Many are in a position to think about upward mobility to senior-level positions—and the most ambitious have their eyes set on the C-suite.
What do Millennial leaders care about most?
As Millennials claim their chairs at the executive table, they’re bringing with them a new set of values. This is a generation of leaders that possesses awareness not only accumulated business acumen, but also social-emotional maturity that lends itself to the changing paradigms of our modern culture.
Here are some of the things Millennial leaders care deeply about, and how they’re infusing them into company culture starting at the top:
- Millennials grew up in an era that spotlighted social stigmas. Anti-bullying, mental health awareness, callouts against systemic classism and more all rose in prominence. Today, there’s active conversation about how to make our world a better place through empathy, and Millennials are some of the most vocal proponents.
- Growing up in the fallout of flawed programs like Affirmative Action, Millennial leaders seek to find authentic means of inclusion. Through today’s DEI initiatives—spearheaded by the new wave of younger leaders—there’s a concerted effort to create equitability in ways that promote true inclusion, not tokenism.
- Today’s Millennial leaders understand that companies are the sum of their parts, and that collaboration is the key to success. Garnering buy-in for culture and emphasizing cooperation to achieve company goals are two of the strongest traits among younger executives, who truly have their fingers on the pulse of the organizations they lead.
- After seeing their parents work 40-hour weeks doing the same thing day in and day out, Millennials have a sense of purpose when it comes to their careers. As leaders that vision translates to the broader company. They’re intent on creating workplaces and companies that have purpose and, by association, jobs that feel meaningful.
- Millennial executives are deeply concerned with providing support to the people rely on them. Whether it’s institutional support through company policies or social support through their alignment of the company, Millennials aren’t afraid to throw their weight behind practices, policies, programs and purposes that produce support.
These are just a few among the smattering of generational traits Millennials bring to the C-suite. Nevertheless, they’re the core defining ones: characteristics that are beginning to change not only the C-suite, but also the culture and business of companies big and small.
Manifesting generational change
As time goes on, Millennials will naturally continue to step into the C-suite. As they do, they’ll find themselves tasked with adapting companies to a rapidly changing social landscape—one that will test their mettle. As they take the reins of executive roles, they’ll do so with a strong repertoire of axioms.
Like predecessors from previous generations, Millennials face the arduous task of leading their respective companies to success. And, just as previous generations did, they’ll pave a new path forward in reaching that success.