Pranam Lipinski, co-founder of Work with Gen Z, joins the program to discuss the formative events that have shaped Gen Z, and what Gen Z looks for when they join an employer. Pranam also shares his thoughts about cancel culture, and how Gen Z has been instrumental in destigmatizing discussions about mental health.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- Pranam’s diversity journey and how it led him where he is today (25:00)
- The connection between diverse identities and comfort with change (29:00)
- What Gen Z employees want from their employers (32:00)
- The technology that defined Gen Z (37:00)
- The commonalities between generations (40:00)
- Why DEI is at the forefront of values for Gen Z (44:00)
- Why Gen Z is far ahead of most corporate DEI programs (48:00)
- Pranam’s reflections on cancel culture (52:00)
- How to lift up the next generation of leaders (48:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: Hello, all of my listeners on The Will to Change. I am so glad you’re tuning in today. We are going through some really intense change as a country on the topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion, which is my passion and I know probably yours too, if you’re listening to The Will to Change. There’s so much to learn and so much to flex around that’s occurring, so I wanted to make sure that everybody knew the kinds of support that we are providing.
We are providing something every week on Thursdays at noon Eastern, which we called the DEI Community Call. It is a free, hour-long call. People have called it the DEI Spa because it is known to restore us, to connect to us with each other, to remind us about the critical importance of our work, to remind us of the strength of our community and that we aren’t alone at this moment, and the beautiful diversity within our community of people doing this work, whether it’s folks who are doing it as their paid job and organizations, folks who are volunteering their time, folks who write about and podcast about the topic, and people who want to do this work, which is more and more all the time.
We hold these calls on every Thursday at noon, and I wanted to make sure that you have the text that you can send a text to, to get on the RSVP list. Once you’re on that RSVP list, you will always know about the upcoming calls, who the guests are, what the topics are, and also you will have the opportunity to listen to the replay, which is really important, because sometimes we just can’t make that call at noon Eastern on Thursdays. You could also read the chat, which is really interesting in these calls, really vibrant, full of ideas and resources and links and offers to connect and offers to meet up offline.
I know that much serendipity has been introduced into the world because of the connections that have been made on the chat alone for these calls. So I really encourage you to stay close to us because we are constantly pivoting in this changing world. We are constantly doing our head and our heart and our hands work to figure out how do we create change amidst so much uncertainty and chaos and countervailing forces and polarization. If you would like to get on his list, you can text DEI Community to 33777. If you put 33777 into your text to field, and then write, all one word, deicommunity, it will prompt you to provide some information, which we will guard, of course, and keep safe, but it will get you into the mix and onto the list, and you can download a calendar reminder, and you can join us and feel all the things that I described.
I just have to say, we’ve been doing these since March 2020, every single week, and they have kept me going on a personal level. The checking-in with the community reminds me of the magnitude of the work, but also the brilliance and the intelligence and the creativity of this community of advocates. I know for me, it’s been a touchstone. So please consider joining us. And now onto today’s Will to Change.
Maybe in this cancel culture world that we have, that we discussed how cancel culture isn’t necessarily a net good thing. It’s not a net positive perhaps, but there is some positive in it in the sense that if there isn’t a consequence for certain bad behavior in a way that is going to sting, then how does change happen? So Gen Z in a sense is saying we will give you a sting if you want a sting, and you see that more and more for inclusion equality, more than anything else. And that’s why this generation has brought so much change. Even if you just look at their coming of age over the last few years as they’ve entered the workplace and as they’ve entered society as young adults.
DOUG FORESTA: Everyone has a diversity story, even those you don’t expect. Welcome to The Will to Change with Jennifer Brown. Get ready to hear from leading CEOs, bestselling authors and entrepreneurs, as we uncover their true stories of diversity and inclusion. And now here’s your host, Jennifer Brown.
Hello, and welcome back to The Will to Change. This is Doug Foresta. Of course, I’m with Jennifer Brown, and today’s episode features our interview with Pranam Lipinski on the topic of Gen Z. Let me say a little bit about Pranam. He was the co-founder of the Door of Clubs, where they surveyed 15,000-plus Gen Z-ers about what they wanted from employers. He’s currently the co-founder of Work with Gen Z. I love these conversations, Jennifer, about generations, and specifically about Gen Z. We haven’t done one in a while, and I think it’s really important.
JENNIFER BROWN: It’s so important, and I learned so much. I’m sure you did too, Doug. You probably have some Gen Alphas in your family.
DOUG FORESTA: I do. I’ve got two of them, and a Gen Z. I have three children in two generations. I feel old, Jennifer.
JENNIFER BROWN: That are different than yours. You’re a Gen X-er with me. We’re the oldsters. You know I love this topic. It’s a diversity dimension that is critical. I often bring this up that when I do my keynotes and poll hundreds of people in one of these keynotes, for example, when we ask what do you cover the most or spend the most energy covering in the workplace, age is normally the first or the second out of a list of 12 diversity dimensions. I always make the point that in that data, I know this because I’ve interrogated it, there are lots of younger people, there are a lot, a lot of 20-somethings covering their age, meaning that they’re downplaying or minimizing their cohort. How they do that is they dress perhaps more formally, they speak differently.
They don’t share their personal interests or hobbies or musical tastes or anything that’s going to remind people of their cohort, because they instinctively understand that it is stigmatized, and the number of microaggressions people here, in all age groups, but particularly on sort of the ends, the two ends of the spectrum, that’s something that these cohorts have in common is that it’s one of the last acceptable isms, as many people say in the advocacy world for, particularly, over 50 talent.
So the last acceptable ism. I think we need to really monitor ourselves in how we speak to and about different cohorts and extend that respect and benefit of the doubt and watch out for that, because it is harmful, and the fact that people are covering their age to me and that it pops out so high in our polls means that it is extremely pervasive. Otherwise, we would not see the pervasive covering behavior to me, like where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
Anyway, so I wanted to bring somebody on like Pranam who specializes entirely in Gen Z, what they want from the workplace, like you said, Doug. He actually has on work with gen z.com, a Gen Z quiz that I recommend everybody go take to test your acumen and think about your organizational approach to engaging this cohort. The conversation went some interesting places. Doug, I wanted to ask you what struck you living with multiple generations in your household as you do, what did you learn, or what crystallized for you in talking to Pranam?
DOUG FORESTA: The interesting thing about the cancel culture, which is hard for me to understand as a Gen X-er, I think it’s something that it’s a little bit hard for me to understand, it’s not my natural inclination. Canceling doesn’t sort of come naturally as an instinct to me. But I see my son, he’ll be 16 in a month or so, and Pranam talks about how the… I thought it was interesting, his explanation about how… We’re seeing, first of all, the idea that there’s something in the swiftness of it, the sting, the immediacy of how to do that. I think one of the things I see in my children, all my kids, maybe more so my daughters even than my son, is this need for immediacy.
I can’t even get my daughters to watch commercials. If a YouTube commercial comes up and they’re watching a show, they get so angry. And I go, we had to wait until shows came on. They expect and demand everything immediately, and there’s an immediacy to cancel culture that I feel is part of that… Maybe it’s part of youth, but it’s also a part of technology and a way of growing up. So that really hit me, the thought of the difference between the way in which I guess that immediacy of cancel culture, which is part of what’s hard for me to understand or to relate to. I see that in my children, it’s like it’s faster than the microwave. There’s only one time, and it’s now.
JENNIFER BROWN: Then you pair that with the highest value, this is the Obama generation. So their highest, but even more the Millennials, hallmarks of which might have been the inconvenient truth, thinking back to the things that shaped them, the messages around environmentalism, for example, like equality. The Obama generation, which is Generation Z that we talked to Pranam a lot about is the equality generation. We thought Millennials were committed to aligning the valuing of inclusion with their employer or not, which would cause them to leave, want to leave. Maybe they can’t, but they would want to, but the Generation Z even being more immediate about their demands for equality, and I would say equity, and the swiftness you were talking about, Doug, why isn’t this fixed? Why isn’t this different?
It needs to change now. And if it doesn’t, then having the generational might to actually use the power of the cancel culture to sting as Pranam refers to it, to bring those consequences immediately and in a widespread way that goes viral. You talk about power. And then power for, I think for values that people like you and me agree with, but the method, when you get older, you realize there are many ways to tackle change, there’s many ways to instigate change. Then there are ways that I think are… You maybe need to start with the sting, and that accountability is all that people with power will listen to on the other end of cancel culture. And we’ve seen that that’s honestly, I mean, the cynic in me of course is like, well, we need to up the stakes because we aren’t being listened to. Nothing’s being done there, or it’s just lip service being given to changes that are needed by companies and whatever.
DOUG FORESTA: Yeah, we’ve seen a lot of that.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, and the accountability that we in Gen X didn’t even have any ability to sting. We didn’t even know that that was a thing. We tried in our sort of limited ways. We had no internet. We became instead, I think, very disaffected because we had no mechanism to exact consequences on a broad scale, we were not heard, truly.
DOUG FORESTA: I think you’re right. I don’t think it’s that we didn’t care or that we didn’t want to care,
JENNIFER BROWN: No, we cared.
DOUG FORESTA: We did care, but when we didn’t see a way forward to have that power, I think that’s where the disaffection set in.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right. Exactly. Because how do you respond to having no way to exact consequences for something you care about, you disconnect. We know this. That’s what we talk about all the time on The Will to Change, that so much talent is disconnecting from their workplace and their employer because they’re not seen and heard. It’s just a human reaction. You want to matter, you just want to be respected.
DOUG FORESTA: And when you can’t, you just go through the motions. That’s what we were taught.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. So we were the disaffected generation, we were very independent. We became really cynical. I hope Gen Z kind of sees themselves in us to the extent they know about what our generational experience was like. Funny enough, a lot of us are like you, Doug, the parents of the Generation Z, which is interesting. So the other thing I was curious about with Pranam is I’ve always been fascinated when I hear Millennials referred to as the echo boom. They are two generations below the baby boomers. Hence, the name echo boom, because they share, it like skips a generation, they share a lot of the hallmarks of the baby boomers, interestingly. Similarly, Gen Z, the oldest of whom is now 25 or 26, share I think some hallmarks with us, the Gen X-ers who, yes, are their parents technically, but I think there’s also this back-and-forth in this pendulum swinging, which makes total sense. We all form in reaction, I think, to and in resistance to.
DOUG FORESTA: It’s so funny. It’s just a cycle.
JENNIFER BROWN: It is funny. And then we end up like our parents.
DOUG FORESTA: Right.
JENNIFER BROWN: Anyway, even despite our best efforts. Then we got into this whole thing, Doug, with Pranam, which I thought was really rich, was just thinking through, so what happens after things are canceled? I work sometimes with educational institutions, and when Black Lives Matter peaked last summer and many, many schools were being held accountable, there was so much on social media, but I think that sometimes there’s the sting, and then those who are giving the feedback disappear. It’s almost like, okay, so now what do we do with this? Like what do we do about this? We hear you, and now we want to engage in problem solving and working through the really difficult work, I think, of going through like, well, why did this happen? Why was the cancellation necessary in the first place?
Yes, maybe it was necessary to kind of light the fire, but then the really hard work needs to happen of, okay, let’s come to the table, let’s discuss, let’s co-create something better. It’s really interesting. I’ve observed that the sting occurs, the cancellation occurs, and then there’s sort of no dialogue, and the showing up for the solution, which is the sustained work that’s really going to create real change. I can’t say much more than that, but I think I’ve noticed that.
I’ve noticed that it’s the easiest thing to destroy on the front end, but the problem is the system is not been changed, and to stick around for the part, too, where the real work has to happen and where the collaboration, cross-generational collaboration and conversations really need to happen so that we can address and remedy the harm. But if you and I are the only ones at that table, Doug, trying to figure out, okay, we were canceled and now what do we do about it? The solution that we’re going to come up with is probably not complete, because what we need to really do is have diversity at that table discussing and being very invested in the long-term fix, like the systemic fix. That’s understanding that comes from years and years on this earth, you know, [crosstalk 00:17:22]
DOUG FORESTA: You don’t get there; you live into that maturity, right? You live into that maturity.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right, but the purity of the message is, and like you said, I think the word you used the immediacy, the, this is not right, and I’m going to do something about it, and I’m going to use my power to marshal a digital army, and we’re going to take care of this. You take care of it in one way, but it doesn’t mean it’s not to come back again. If you don’t take care of it in a deeper way and in a long-term way, it’s just going to keep happening over and over again. It kind of reminds me of, I hope the listeners made it through the Stephanie Lepp episode with us, Doug, about the deepfakes. It reminds me a bit of… So all these men are canceled, well they should be canceled.
Some of them are not, but Stephanie makes these deepfakes of these predominantly male leaders and what we would love to hear in terms of a true apology and a true ownership of the harm they’ve caused. The reason she has to make art like this is because we are not seeing that in real life right now.
DOUG FORESTA: We have no model. We have no model.
JENNIFER BROWN: So Louis C.K. is canceled and disappears. We never unpack, I think, somehow together, how do we unpack that behavior for all men to learn from and to understand? I know women are having those discussions about what was problematic about it, but to me it’s missing the most important ingredient, which is let’s talk to men about this, like why did that happen? What happened? What was the harm? What’s the remedy? What could we co-create together to prevent this from happening in the future? And who is at the table having that discussion? I don’t know the answer to any of that. All we do is just cancel it and move on.
DOUG FORESTA: It reminds me so much of the… right now where we are is the… There’s a biblical line from Amos, which people might be familiar with about let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. It’s this unbelievable kind of like a hammer that has come down, and I think we’re getting good at the righteousness like a mighty stream, but then there’s the other side of it, which is sort of like, we can’t only live in that energy all the time because, A, I don’t think any of us could actually pass that test of purity entirely, and then, B, I think just like you said, there’s a maturity that comes with realizing that reckoning.
I just want to say that the deep reckonings, I went back after listening to the episode a couple of times with Stephanie Lepp, as you said, I encourage people if you haven’t listened to it, you should listen to it. I watched the Brett Kavanaugh deepfake, where he talks about his own reckoning. Of course, it’s not real, but it was so cathartic for me. I believe that, if you’re listening to this right now, go check out deep reckonings and watch like the Brett Kavanaugh one. To hear him talk, and what they say, it gives him some space and grace, but also it provides accountability. And it’s incredibly cathartic in a way that that righteousness isn’t.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. That’s right. It’s way more, whether it’s satisfying, and it is fake, but her research shows it does matter, but it doesn’t matter at the same time. If it’s the best we can get, I’d rather have that than nothing. We’re never going to get that kind of thing from him, probably. So why not, if there’s a proxy that we can create and an artist can create like Stephanie to hear those words, but, yeah, I do encourage people to go listen to it, and then think about the context of this conversation around cancel culture, thinking about how do we build better. How do we recover from harm in a way that restores and sort of is that beautiful blend of accountability and change, and real change.
We can’t have one without the other. We don’t want one without the other. How do we, I think use the best of all generations’ abilities? I think the perfect solution to all of this is what do we all bring to the table? If you and I bring to the table the context and the nuance, for example, and so what would a solution look like in practice so that this doesn’t happen again, we need to leverage the immediacy and the power and the, this is not right, and the outrage and the righteousness. We need that. That’s one of our change tools. It just can’t be the only change tool. Like everything else in life, as we talk about, it needs to be that complementary, that diversity of identity and lens at the table, looking through these really complex issues. And I think we can get the best of all generations at that table, we would be much further along in creating sustainable change.
JENNIFER BROWN: Pranam, welcome to The Will To Change.
PRANAM LIPINSKI: Thanks for having me, Jennifer.
Pranam, I’m excited you’re here because I don’t get to speak with experts very often on generations and in particular the generation that you have dedicated your scholarship to and your work to. So I’m just really pleased to have you educate us about this very important and I think not very thoroughly addressed topic when it comes to diversity dimensions in the whole diversity, equity, and inclusion mix.
But before we get to that, I would love to have you introduce yourself and your diversity story and experience to the audience. Feel free to share whatever you like about your background, your formative moments, challenges you faced and overcame, important people to you. But we really love to see, have a window into how you came to this work and why on a personal level it’s so important for you to do what you do and focus on what you focus on.
PRANAM LIPINSKI: So my story really is that I grew up in this town, small town in Western Massachusetts, and my mother is from Nepal, and my dad met her in the Peace Corps. So being from a small town here, the way that I grew up was I was the only kid in town with a foreign mother because in Western Massachusetts, we don’t have much diversity of foreigners. And then I was the only kid in town with a different name, and one of only a few kids with a different shade other than white.
So I knew from a young age what it means to be different where you’re from. So I was always looking for ways to find common connections with people, and I found that through sports and athletics but also through just friendships and starting to learn about people who are different than me, to learn things that they weren’t necessarily the most on the surface. They weren’t the same as everybody else, or maybe they were the same but deeper down they weren’t.
So I found from an early age that being different really caused me to focus on the things I have in common with people. So you might not say that I check everything when it comes to diversity, but my experience growing up was I was a one of one really where I’m from. And it caused me to really focus on finding the commonalities between me and other people.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love that. Pranam, thank you. We have a lot of interesting stories about parents and mothers in particular on The Will To Change and their influence. I guess with what sorts of values were you raised in terms of being that kind of family, living in the place you were living? What was spoken about in your family unit in terms of being onlies if you will, and perhaps that whole Peace Corps thing I’m imagining anyway there were some learnings that you’ve been excavating now as an adult thinking about how you were influenced and what you still carry forward from your parents.
PRANAM LIPINSKI: Yeah. I think that it’s a really important part of who I am from I think the interest in going beyond the current boundaries that my parents have had and that I have had. So when I have a parent, my dad who was a Peace Corps volunteer, clearly you need to cross the boundary of yourself to go out into the world and want to make a difference. He was specifically focused on agriculture in Nepal, and that opens up an entire world beyond the boundary that he had at the time. Then my mother, to be born and raised in Nepal and to one day end up in America, of course it wasn’t the normal thing for her to be doing that. And she also is somebody that could’ve been in an arranged marriage when was younger, and she chose not to. So there were a lot of boundaries for her that she had to go beyond.
So I think that that ultimately does lead to me being a product where my DNA or my intuition kind of leads me towards boundary spanning. And boundary spanning to not only go beyond my own boundaries to others but to go beyond the boundaries of social groups. I was always the guy in high school who might have been an athlete and all that, but I would always like to combine these different groups and whether it was the football players with the soccer players or the people that you might not hang out with regularly to the people that are part of another group. I was always looking to boundary span.
So I think that from my parents, they’ve always been going beyond their boundaries, and that kind of created a product of me as being a traditional type of boundary spanner.
JENNIFER BROWN: Boundary spanner. I also call it a bridge dweller.
PRANAM LIPINSKI: I like that.
JENNIFER BROWN: Living on the bridge with the white water flowing underneath you and feeling like you’re about to fall off at any point. But sometimes we hang on by our fingernails, but it’s worth it. It’s a real opportunity for growth and stretch. Those of us who inhabit that place I think it’s not an accident that some of us maybe are better at that or more comfortable or maybe even seek out that place in change and in the change equation to be that boundary spanner having foot in other worlds at the same time and being able to hold all that together. So it seems to be a theme on The Will To Change, which we actually talk about quite a lot.
So I’m curious, you founded something called The Door of Clubs, and I remember hearing about it years ago. It was so cool to finally meet you. But tell me, you actually studied the leaders of hundreds of student organizations, and from that kind of distilled, the wants and needs, the most motivated students from a leadership perspective in all of these different leading institutions. And I’m curious, if I’m describing it correctly, what did you learn? What did all that information that you collected tell you, and then did it open the door to focusing and wanting to focus on Generation Z specifically?
PRANAM LIPINSKI: Yeah. Actually it was a unintended consequence to focus on Gen Z. I had started originally with the startup, as you mentioned Door of Clubs that was focused on student organizations on college campuses and connecting them with employers who were looking to get to these motivated students that are joining the women engineering groups or the Black engineering groups or just even there’s a dog clubs or knitting clubs. But basically any student who had a passion that was unique to them and they wanted to get a club together, and these students are the ones who are instead of going to get beer and wings on a Wednesday night, they might still do beer and wings but they’re going to do it with a group of people that are trying to learn and expand themselves in a certain direction.
So that was really for me the motivating factor to focus on these students who were themselves motivated and who wanted to expand who they were at that time in college. Because in college, I was a student club founder myself of an investment club, and it taught me so much about beyond the classroom learning that you don’t necessarily get in a traditional college education.
So I found that clubs have these students who are with a spark, and they want to connect with not only fellow people on campus who are passionate, but they want to connect with employers. So that’s where Door of Clubs came and we created an online platform that connected those clubs to the employers. Along the way, I started to realize through so many calls with student leaders, as you mentioned, and student organizations themselves, we would have focus groups with hundreds of student organizations. And we would also survey 15,000 students through these student organizations to understand what they’re looking for in employers. I started to realize that this generation more than anything else, if you’re going to describe them in one word, I would say they’re the transformation generation. They’re about transformation. They’re very different than Millennials.
So as I started to dig more and more and started to see some of the data give us some key differences between the Gen Zers and the Millennials, I really started to have some aha moments that I wanted to share with the world, wanted to share with others, and especially with employers because in a sense they were over-rotated towards Millennials for so long. They weren’t realizing that there was a new generation coming, and unless they started to pay more attention to them, they were going to get blindsided by it. So that really started my research into it and my fascination really and appreciation with this new generation, Gen Z.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love that over-rotation. I mean, isn’t that typical of organizations? Just as soon as you feel like you have a handle on the Millennial generation, guess what, there’s a new one to learn all about. And it is in and of itself very different.
I wanted to clarify Gen Z and just you back me up here. But the oldest of whom are about 24, 25 years old, and the youngest of whom is about six. Is that right?
PRANAM LIPINSKI: Yeah. I mean, it depends who you look to in terms of the… Like Pew Research has a different age range than you might get from the Wall Street Journal. And then from us, Work with Gen Z, my organization, we focus on ’95 to 2012 and ages nine to 26. That’s just based on some key differences in behaviors we see in that birth range. So anywhere between what you said and in that range is basically what that generation is.
JENNIFER BROWN: Okay. So what is the reason for the 26 years old in a nutshell? What actually shifted to warrant a new generation named something different? What was the differentiation there? Was it like a sociocultural or political milestone?
PRANAM LIPINSKI: Well, yeah. So that I think is the most important thing is we need to look at is the formative defining experiences of these generations and what changes would these generations as they advance. So Gen Z grew up with a few defining experiences that are very different from Millennials. Number one, they grew up with President Obama as their childhood president, and President Obama stood for so many things. And even just as children, as they looked to their leader of the country, seeing a symbol of equality was such a difference from any other president ever before. So equality being one of those key differences that marks Gen Z, and we’ll get into it a little bit later. But when we look at their causes, what’s the hallmark cause of Gen Z versus Millennials? Millennials you would say they’re environment first, climate change and all that, inconvenient truth. And it’s not to say that Gen Z doesn’t care about climate change or the environment, but they’re equality first and that stems right back to President Obama being their president growing up.
Then the second key difference that they had growing up was they grew up during the Great Recession, and the Great Recession was a once in a few generation type of financial downturn that caused them to see their parents putting off vacations, putting off retirement, and really causing Gen Z to have an emphasis on financial responsibility that Millennials never had before. Millennials were the Dreamers generation hoping to have their dream job always and not necessarily being told that they couldn’t have their cake and eat it too. Whereas Gen Z, they started to see necessity in a very different light.
And then the third key defining experience for Gen Z as they grew up was smartphones. So smartphones being in their hands at fourth or fifth grade, that’s way different than any generation ever before. So what that caused is them to see the world as this onslaught of information in their pocket that was trying to get their attention. So it created a filter. It filtered out everything that feels like a commercial attempt at them so that they can try to sift through and find the genuineness beyond the technological connections that are coming at them in the world.
So those few defining things, President Obama, the Great Recession, and the smartphones really mark that change between how Gen Z grew up and how Millennials grew up.
JENNIFER BROWN: There’s so many things I want to ask you about. I wondered, I had heard over the years that there’s this ping pong dynamic with generations so that for example, the Millennials have been referred to as the echo boom generation. So mirroring some of the Boomer values and priorities, and you just saying what you said around having the cake and eat it too or perhaps the… If it’s the striving or maybe the status. I’m not sure. But Millennials sort of echoing not Gen X, the generation right above them, but the generation two generations above them, which is the Baby Boomers. So hence the term echo boom. And then I wonder if there’s a similar relationship of the Gen Zers with Gen Xers, which is my generation. Because as you describe what is the product of growing up in your formative years experiencing the Great Recession, kind of reminds me of the ’80s children we were. The disenchantment, the disappointment, the questioning of trust in institutions, the divorce rate that skyrocketed. The left key kid experience. That led to this cynicism and independence that characterized Gen Z.
So I wonder do you see that born out in what you look at this sort of skipping a generation and the mirroring of these two generations apart cohorts?
PRANAM LIPINSKI: Yes. And that’s a great point, Jennifer, because what you’re seeing and you’re connecting these dots is who are the children of which parent? So what you’re connecting is that Millennials are the children of the Boomers, and Gen Z are the children of the Gen Xers. So they have a little bit more in common with those generations than other generations.
But to give you also a good idea, I always like to look at these similarities, as I mentioned before, where are the commonalities between people? That’s kind of what my own upbringing had caused me to focus on. So there are commonalities that are key that I’ve found and that research shows. The Gen Z and Gen Xers, as you mentioned, there is that skepticism that is quite baked into Gen Z as it is with Gen X. And there’s also a creativity that you don’t see in other generations that both Gen X and Gen Z have.
And then as far as their similarities with Boomers, you’ll find that they really like to have the hard working moniker. They like to earn it, which is much different than the moniker that Millennials have, which a lot of us… I’m a Millennial, so I saw this against myself. I’m not trying to offend anyone, but the entitled generation. Gen Z does not want that as a label for them.
Also with Boomers, Gen Z is going to challenge authority in a sense. So you nowadays where a lot of those counter-culture or this backlash against politically, economically. We recently had the GameStop stock market fiasco where you do have these online communities going after large hedge funds. There is that challenging of authority that was very common with Boomers as they grew up as well.
And then even if you go beyond Boomers, what are the commonalities with Traditionalists or the Silent Generation, you could say is they’re a frugal generation. They are financially responsibility. They’re quite into saving their money, which is very similar with the Silent Generation or the Traditionalists.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love what you just did in kind of reflected on what we see of each generation proceeding it, living through in Generation Z. But there is that particular connection to the two generations above you basically. Yeah, for sure. I was raised by Traditionalists. So being a Gen Xer, I might have wanted Baby Boom parents actually. I had Traditionalists. So I sort of held up the generation before me as might’ve been cooler parents. That’s for sure. But I probably embody a lot of the Traditionalist values.
And then it’s interesting, and one of those by the way is frugality, and I feel that in myself. And then it’s interesting to hear you point it out about now Gen Z who’s two behind me if you will. So there is this pendulum that swings that’s so fascinating to look at, which is of course makes sense because we all shape in response to and in many ways in resistance to what’s come before us. I think it’s fascinating even to dissect Gen Z’s response to what they viewed as priorities for Millennials and how they’re going to differentiate themselves very strongly.
So let’s stay on the question of inclusion and diversity and how Gen Z has that at the very… What’s funny, it’s one of the things we said Millennials had at the forefront, but I would say it sounds like it’s moved to the absolute forefront for Gen Zers. Whereas it might’ve been one of the top values I would guess for Millennials. This is the most diverse cohort ever in everyway. I guess if you can share it makes sense, Obama was not only their president, but thinking about their fellow students, their friends, the world they grew up in. Growing up seeing diversity to an extent and interacting with that diversity, especially via smartphones, especially via having access to the whole world, which we certainly didn’t as Generation Xers. We were so limited per-internet basically.
So it’s really amazing to imagine their worldview and imagine their expectation then as they come into institutions that you and I know do not reflect that diversity and not just don’t reflect it but aren’t comfortable really talking about it and celebrating it in an authentic way or in a way that reads as authentic by this very skeptical generation.
So what is the diversity they’re all surrounded by, and what happens when they enter the workplace? I know it’s still early days. I mean, if we’re talking about early 20s, I think we’re all still kind of figuring out who are they going to be at work? How are they going to bring these values in, and how much noise are they going to make? Which is what I’m always most interested in.
PRANAM LIPINSKI: Yeah. Well, I think that from a noise standpoint, they’ll be the loudest generation because they can mobilize the fastest, and we see that… It’s a corporate fear of course nowadays where you do have these cancel cultures for better or worse where it can spread like wildfire over night if something goes wrong at someone’s store or an employee acts in a certain way and it reflects on the organization. Gen Z more than any other generation can instantly respond to that and cause a movement, literally, over night. So yeah, mobilizing and having a very loud voice.
Gen Z is plugged in right now, and they have a megaphone that no other generation has. You’ll see that through technology that they can move through. Technology to them is a tool that they can use so quickly. Whereas for the rest of us, we’re not familiar with creating movements regularly. And Gen Z does that on TikTok all the time. So that’s one huge thing.
Then the other huge thing in the workplace when it comes to diversity of course is it’s not… We always say, and I know in your work as you’ve been a champion for such an important force to bring to corporate is making it a must have or not a nice to have. And along that line, proving that Gen Z, it’s baked into who they are as a generation, they’re the most diverse ever by far. As you know, majority minority will happen 2043 or 2044. The demographics are only shifting culture to that. Today more babies are being born from the minority than the previous majority. And that’s the first time in history that that’s happened. So it is not a choice; it’s a fact now demographically.
And Gen Z, like I was speaking with Fortune 100 internship program, and they were telling me about how they had diversity training for some of their interns. And the interns were like, “What is this? This is so far behind the times. We live in this world. You’re going to talk to us about the value of diversity and inclusion as if it’s like some new concept that we don’t take into our lives and march every day for.” So that’s such a critical thing to understand with this generation is it’s like if you talk to them about why diversity inclusion matters, it’s almost like you’re tone deaf and you really don’t understand who they are.
JENNIFER BROWN: So fascinating. This is kind of a random question, but do you think cancel culture comes from this generation? It’s so much in the news, and I’m so aware of it because I have lots of feelings about it. But the utilization of your voice in that way and the strength to organize and realizing your own power to organize, like you were just saying, and how much power you really have to make serious trouble. I think that power in the hands of young people is at the same time super cool and yet can be super damaging too. So I just think about cancel… Is cancel culture stemming from this generation, and I guess does that make sense to you in terms of the way they solve problems I guess? As they come into the world and they perceive that it’s behind, there’s so many different responses one can have to that, and as one gets older, one realizes like in every action creates a reaction. Everything has a ripple effect, and you have to think through…
I think part of the benefits of age is thinking through those ripple effects and really understanding and have seen before if I take this action, then this happens, then this happens, then this happens. Do I want that? Let me back up and think about my tactic or my strategy. But I’m curious how you understand cancel culture because it certainly feels like it’s not a Millennial hallmark, but I could be wrong about that because if we’ve got Millennials who are late 20s and 30s involved in it too, I just don’t know. But it feels like based on what you’re saying that is perhaps going to become a hallmark in the history books of at least Gen Z culture at this moment in time.
PRANAM LIPINSKI: Yeah. I applaud you for having such keen insight on the generation without you talking… I know you’ve said you haven’t spent as much time as you’d like digging into [inaudible 00:29:30]. But I think intuitively you do know what’s going on with them. Of course, I am not saying I know everything on Gen Z, but doing the learning and the research and the understanding, my understanding of it is that yes the cancel culture comes from them. And it is a direct connection to their ability to mobilize faster than any other generation by far, and cancel culture, it’s about the instantaneous aspect of it that’s so powerful and dangerous that’s going on right now where in 12 hours, in 24 hours someone can be erased after they’ve been working on something for 40 years. That’s never been possible before ever other than if it made the world news or the main headline.
So Gen Z can do this, and they are I believe the originators of cancel culture. But to your point, which I think is a very insightful point, is that they haven’t seen the backend of cancel culture. They haven’t seen the consequence that comes with age. They haven’t seen part two, which is that it comes full circle and that there is opportunity to right the wrongs and reconcile. In fairness to our society, Gen Z hasn’t yet seen the other side that is needed so desperately in cancel culture, which is after something’s been canceled, it’s almost like it needs to be returned or it needs to have that second part. It’s not just over. In this sense, there’s a part two, which as you know, is some form of accountability, ownership, moving forward and reconciliation to create a better future that isn’t just it stops where you are canceled. There’s got to be some way to find a positive reconciliation with it all or to learn a lesson from it.
I think Gen Z right now hasn’t had the experience to create… Almost like their cancel culture has mobilized everything; it’s almost like they should have a second part to that as they grow older that allows the one who has been canceled to redeem or reconcile with what it is that they were canceled for.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right because that’s the only way we really grow.
PRANAM LIPINSKI: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: So yeah, the cancellation is a severe action that I think doesn’t increase the capacity for change necessarily. Definitely identifies problematic behaviors or people, but the older you get, the more you realize everything exists in the gray area of who we are.
PRANAM LIPINSKI: Right, right.
JENNIFER BROWN: So much. That must just be a product of age and having seen more of the world. I remember being that much of a purist when I was that age. I mean, I remember being really radical and feeling like I had woken up to whatever I was waking up to. At the time, in college, it was feminism and just feeling that pendulum swing really hard in myself and becoming extremely rigid and uncompromising. And yet it was so exciting. I mean, it was a weird way. We didn’t have the internet then, but the power of it to find your own voice, it’s intoxicating, for sure.
PRANAM LIPINSKI: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: But it’s using power responsibly that’s the challenge of a long life. And the question might be what is to me my definition of responsible is that it leaves the ground better or more prepared than it was before we came along. It means we leave a legacy. It means we created new wisdom. That requires a ton of patience and space holding and grace. So it’s this blend of the anger and frustration and never losing that, but also thinking through the ramifications of the many, many ways we can create change in the world.
They come into the workplace, and they have this uncompromising view. And I wonder how they’re being perceived as they come into organizations, how they’re using their voice? And they’re bringing in also sort of their own mental health is a big issue for Gen Z. You quoted to me the worst mental health of any generation.
PRANAM LIPINSKI: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
JENNIFER BROWN: So there’s a lot of stress going on for this generation as well. Anyway, so coming in to workplaces, I wonder what does the early data telling us about how they’re showing up, how employers are reacting to them, the good, bad, and the ugly, and also when they bring… I always think of it as bringing their full selves to work in this way that has been unprecedented. I think it’s a real wake up call for organizations that have until now been able to sweep under the rug all of who we are, really not address it, really not support it, really look the other way. And we crossed many thresholds in 2020 of not being able to look the other way anymore. But I still think there’s so many challenging realizations and conversations that we’re going to be having this coming year and forever hopefully to say every generation deserves to be seen and heard. It’s kind of on us to speak up and reveal I think and insist on being seen and heard, even around the less perhaps acceptable parts of who we are. I find that mental health is one of those things, in addition to all the other diversity dimensions we talk about a lot.
So there’s a lot in there. It’s a grab bag of questions brought on. But you take it wherever you’d like to go.
PRANAM LIPINSKI: Well, I think that you’re getting at what is one of these real positives that this generation will bring to the workplace, which is destigmatizing mental health. I think in general as a country, there is this stigma still around mental health and this lack of understanding around what makes for people being wired differently and how we can have more empathy for those who are wired differently than us, which we all are wired differently in a sense. So I think this generation, because they have so much stress, it does stem back to the technological effects of this having a smartphone in their pockets since the age of 10. Think about having a smartphone in your pocket all the time since you were 10 years old. We as humans don’t know how to even deal with it on a daily basis as adults, imagine if you were 10 and you have this addictive device. And all your friends are making fun of you or making fun of someone else, and how do you deal with that from a mental health standpoint?
And then the other key part of Gen Z when it comes to destigmatizing is if they are bringing in this new era of mental health awareness, what do we as companies need to be focused on? And that just means [inaudible 00:37:36] of the benefits that we provide. So what you’ll see is more and more companies are making it front and center that they are trying to create a place of wellbeing in the workplace where wellness is priority maybe number two next to inclusion and equality as number one, and both of those aren’t usually exclusive. They also go together.
So to feel like you can bring your whole self to work to feel like you’re included and to feel like whatever mental health issues you might be experiencing are not going to be looked down upon or be frowned upon or not empathized with, those are some real, real positives in what I believe. I believe in the whole society and the world that will move humans forward and Gen Z is bringing that to the workplace.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. In fact, you have an acronym, Pranam, ISA. So inclusion, stability, and authenticity, the three keys to Generation Z. I love how you just actually said wellness as a close second to inclusion and that they’re related. I couldn’t agree more. I think if you’re battling feeling a sense of wholeness or peace or safety, psychological safety, and belonging; if you aren’t feeling those things, then it’s very difficult to feel included and then to feel creative and perform at your best.
So when I try to explain this to leaders, I say belonging is critical because without people that feel that intrinsic sense that, “I matter here. My voice matters. I’m seen and heard and not erased. I don’t hear micro aggressions every day of my life about who I am.” Without that, it’s hard to ask for or expect performance because performance and sort of our most brilliant selves are all of our capabilities. They can only flow through us I think if they’re not interrupted by safety issues or wellness issues or balance issues or having my values feel that they’re present in the organization I work with or in the team I’m on or with my manager, which let’s face it managers still have an enormous amount of power and influence over our day-to-day experience.
So I think that that’s a tricky spot that I think could cause some breakages in the relationship with this incoming generation of talent and the institution and the leaders that they are met with and wanting to bring your full self to work and then meeting with that sort of unexplored, unconscious bias or stigma or we don’t do it that way or we can’t do it that way or that’s not appropriate or professional. I mean, you can imagine all those conversations are going on. It’s going to create lots of issues with retention and performance. No company wants that because every single company will also say to you, “We want to attract the best and brightest.” So it’s sort of like, “Well, you can’t have one without the other.”
We meaning Gen Xers, I feel like we’re the last generation that was willing to not… almost a compromise to make a deal in order to have our careers. I mean, it really felt very much like there was sacrifice that was embedded in that. That shouldn’t have to be made. We’re too good for that. We should be able to figure out the right organizational structure, for example, to not lose the millions of women that we’ve lost from the workforce. I mean, rolling back the clock. When you realize the foundation for all of this that we’ve been talking about is so shaky, that must be extremely disturbing for young people to come in and even they’re aware of that that’s been going on.
I mean, if they’re on their smartphones all the time, I’m hoping they’re reading all these extremely distressing stories about what’s happening with women in the workplace during the pandemic and parenting in general and just the widespread lack of support and understanding and empathy and resources for all of us. It’s still a workplace that’s built by and for a very narrow group of people. We really haven’t addressed that. So I feel like the call for change is getting louder and louder with each successive generation. I wonder when is it going to be loud enough?
PRANAM LIPINSKI: Well, it’s here really. With this generation, that’s the thing is that maybe in this cancel culture world that we have, that we discussed how cancel culture isn’t necessarily a net good thing. It’s not a net positive perhaps. But there is some positive in it in a sense that if there isn’t a consequence for certain bad behavior in a way that is going to sting, then how does change happen? So Gen Z in a sense is saying, “We will give you a sting if you want a sting.” And you see that more and more for inclusion, equality more than anything else, and that’s why this generation has brought so much change, even if you just look at their coming of age over the last few years as they’ve entered the workplace and as they’ve entered society as young adults.
The amount of transformation that’s been happening over the last few years, wouldn’t you say that it’s been a few years unlike any other? And not just because of political issues but because there’s global undercurrent of change that is coming. If you sense that, where it’s coming from is Gen Z.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. I love the useful utility of the idea of cancel culture, the sting. The upping of the stakes I think is what we’re talking about.
PRANAM LIPINSKI: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Me sitting here as a Gen Xer, impatient for many, many decades now with the pace of change and the level of frustration that’s built up. But the fatigue also I think of being in the trenches and fighting it for so long, and having this next generation with fresh energy and outrage, yes. And you just said I think consequences.
PRANAM LIPINSKI: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Perhaps my generation had none of the might and the tools to exact consequences. This is why we became disaffected. You become disaffected because you have no power in the equation. That piece, I really celebrate, and I look at and it gives me hope. Is it a blunt instrument? Does it cause collateral damage? Yes. However, I love how you just described it that it’s the wake up call.
We talk a lot on The Will To Change about the carrot and the stick. And usually I think about it in terms of trying to shake company leadership awake, and I try to say does it need to be forced or will they have the will to do it? Or will it need to be done because it’s compliance related? You know this, this is the core of so much of what we do. This debate of how can we engender a wanting to do it versus the stick, which is we’re going to force you to do.
So how this plays out is we cajole and we try to persuade, and we invite people to the table. We say here’s the business case and why it’s better for you to lead in this way. And then at the end of the day, you still have leaders who are like, “Nope. Don’t care. Doesn’t matter. Not important. I don’t get it. This is going to go away.” Whatever. And I know that that is probably a pretty common response to what I always teach on, which is it is what it is.
But I think that this balance of inviting people to change because of the will that we may be able to awaken in them and then the forcing to change. I think they’re both really important tools, and the forcing to me sounds a lot like, for example, California saying, “We’re going to require…” This is so pathetic, but, “We’re going to require at least one woman on every public board as of…” I think it was 2021. They gave them two years to achieve one woman. So no comment.
But imagine if that hadn’t been a requirement, that wasn’t happening. Even that, even with all the research. So I think a lot of us are really impatient for a generation to come along to make this stuff real and to create some sense of stakes and consequences because it’s maddeningly slow. It is. So if I quibble with the methods, but part of me is like quietly sort of cheering it on even if I’m the one… I hope I’m not the one that’s canceled. I think that’s a fear we all carry around that we’re not going to get it right, and we’re going to be “called out” instead of called in. And sometimes that blunt instrument catches up a lot in the net. It catches up a lot of fish that it shouldn’t be catching.
PRANAM LIPINSKI: Yeah, and I think that just like everything else, by having that first empathy to understand the good of the cancel culture and by seeing Gen Z for what they are, which is they haven’t seen the second part of what needs to happen beyond cancellation is there needs to be a return. There needs to be a reconciliation, a lesson like you said, a new way forward, a new lesson that we can now learn and become better for evolve from. Without understanding them in that place, they won’t be willing to talk to us, and us being the older generation. We need to in a sense mentor them, and they’re only going to listen to us, they’re only going to feel trusted enough with us to talk to us if we will, when they mess up or when they don’t know something or when they might not necessarily do what we want them to do, instead of us having just the stick only approach with them, that we do open up those lines with them and kind of work with the positives that they have. And they’ll be more willing to listen to us if we see that.
But just like most everything else, unfortunately you do kind of see these black and white, “I’m not going to listen to you if you’re from the other side of things.” In this generation, if we do find the good in cancel culture, we could be the ones that create that or collaborate with them to create the part two of cancel culture, which is that redeeming and that new way forward where we have this collaborative lesson with them. So I think that’s a great point.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s a wonderful I think call to action. It’s a mindset shift I guess, what you’re outlining, and it is kind of meeting I guess in the middle but more to me kind of two sides of a coin. The two sides of change. It’s the instigation of the change. It’s the irritant in the system that then it’s the okay, now what? What do we build together that’s different that answers this but builds it in a way that’s sustainable? And I think that piece is a piece only perhaps age and experience can bring, but in a way this is the ideal pairing. It’s the yin and yang. Of course, it always has been.
But I think rather than giving into the polarization, the seeking out to understand and then the intentional creation of that part two conversation would I think take the best of what this generation’s bringing and create it in such a way that it has legs and it has the ability to create the most positive change with the least amount of… I suppose there needs to be some damage, but the unnecessary damage perhaps. I don’t know. But if there’s such a thing as to explore that. And bringing the most people along I know, which is something I’m so passionate about. You are too. The listening skills we need right now are profound and have never been more important, particularly in those moments of disagreement or anger or frustration. It’s something collectively we just have to get better at.
So I will give you the last word, Pranam. What would you like to share, and then also let us know where we can follow your work and read more about what you’re generating in the world.
PRANAM LIPINSKI: Yes. On the last word, what I would just say is that I think that I’d like to underscore what you just said, which is the call to action of there are good things, especially as diversity and inclusion, inequity people in this profession. There are good things to be found in almost everything, and even with the cancel culture. As much as some of us might have this visceral reaction against it, we should explore that. And we should find that cancel culture is just part one of actually a solution because we’ve never had a tool that has provided instant cancellation of things where a mass movement can do that just through social media tools or technology. That’s part one, and it’s a great tool.
And then part two, in order for us to create a world that is better and to create lessons that are better, we need to create that part two, which is where we have a solution on how to redeem what was canceled and how to create a better way forward. And the only way we’ll be able to do that with the generation that has the tool to cancel is by understanding and having more empathy and having more open lines of communication with them and not canceling them because of their cancel culture.
So I think that’s-
JENNIFER BROWN: Perfect.
PRANAM LIPINSKI: … my call to action there and my last thing.
And then I think that going forward, one main thing also, the book You’re Not Listening by Kate Murphy. I just read it. It’s actually phenomenal to underscore your point about listening.
And then where you can find us, if you want to get a Gen Z cheat sheet, you can just simply email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll send you a one page cheat sheet of most of the things that we discussed on this call. I keep the cheat sheet handy myself just to keep what’s important to understand the generation front and center. And then you can connect with me, Pranam Lipinski on LinkedIn.com on LinkedIn, and then workwithgenz.com, you can find us there.
JENNIFER BROWN: What an awesome URL. I just want to quote you. You said, “Don’t cancel them because of their cancel culture.” I love that. It’s so good, and it just kind of encapsulates everything you’re talking about. And thanks for the listening book by Kate Murphy and the offer of the one pager to be lamented and on our desk.
PRANAM LIPINSKI: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: But thank you so much, Pranam, and keep on kind of holding this space for generational understanding. I really appreciate what you’re working on, and I know that our listeners really will value this episode. So thanks for joining me.
PRANAM LIPINSKI: Thank you, Jennifer. Keep being a champion in this because I know Gen Z is going to look to you as one of those people for the part two answer to their part one.
JENNIFER BROWN: I am psyched for that.
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