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Earlier this year at a Web3 conference in Austin, I was speaking to a colleague. Things seemed to be going well until he asked me my age, and I told him. “26?” he responded. “Isn’t that a little young to be a CEO?”
The conversation instantly changed tone — I suddenly felt defensive. I worked hard to get where I’m at, so why is age even a factor?
The tech industry has a history of successful young CEOs. It’s celebrated, especially in Silicon Valley. Vitalik Buterin launched Ethereum when he was 21, the same age Steve Jobs was when he began leading Apple. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg became CEOs at 19, and now Microsoft and Meta are among the largest companies in the world.
This wasn’t the first time I experienced condescending comments at conferences, meetings and other professional settings. But it was the first time I was made to question whether my age truly hinders my ability to lead, and it made me wonder why someone would say that.
Nearly every day, I see a headline disparaging Gen Z. I’ve heard 74% of managers think Gen Z is more difficult to work with than other generations, we are prone to making mistakes, and we follow TikTok trends like “bare minimum Mondays.”
In 2016, Adam Conover gave a presentation at Deep Shift explaining that generations don’t even really exist. We largely refer to generations in derogatory terms, like “Ok, Boomer,” which is meant to dismiss someone as having an outdated opinion.
If one were to believe the headlines, I would be someone who spends my entire day doing Tiktok dances and oversharing on social media instead of doing any work. I wish I lived this mythical Gen Z lifestyle — the reality is that I worked very hard to get where I am today, and I have a packed schedule managing my agency.
There are endless meetings between our clients and our team, all while juggling business development, client acquisition and everything else that comes with owning and running a business.
Related: How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome as a Young Entrepreneur
Youth culture actively dismantles traditional social constraints, spearheads the creation of future innovations, and fervently advocates for transformative changes. The same motivators that propel us into entrepreneurship can supplement our ability to be proficient leaders.
To understand my generation, have conversations with us. Rex Woodbury recently did precisely that in an excellent Substack post documenting his discussions with Gen Z.
Gen Z has nostalgia for a simpler time before the internet when vinyl records and dumb phones were all the rage. Many feel the system is rigged, and eschewing traditional paths like a college degree or home ownership does not equate to a lack of ambition. According to EY, Gen Z measures success as a life filled with purpose, impact and love (although I personally measure it by personal freedom).
We work hard, and 40% of Gen Z have at least two jobs to keep up with rising costs. Like everyone else in the post-pandemic age, we spend much time online. The average person spends over eight hours online these days, and being perpetually online as an agency owner is necessary to keep our clients ahead of the curve.
Skills like artificial intelligence design, social media management and influencer marketing are in high demand in the modern economy for a reason. If you don’t know how to build a community on social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Discord, you can waste a lot of money trying to make an impact there. Dismissing my generation is a mistake. Here are three things that will help you understand us better.
Related: Boomers vs. Millennials? How to Broker Peace Between Generations in the Workplace
1. Gen Z is ambitious and diligent
I’m a workaholic — I constantly get told in my personal and professional life that I need to take breaks and find work-life balance. I’m not the only one in Gen Z who loves to work. A study from United Minds found my generation is more than twice as likely as our Gen X counterparts to aspire to a CEO position (38% vs 18%). We also more than doubled Gen X in going “above and beyond” in duties versus “doing only what they must” at work.
Related: 5 Simple Tips for Incorporating Gen Z Into Your Workplace
2. Gen Z can navigate digital trends
Clients often hire our agency because we understand how to leverage emerging technologies to build communities. My team understands user interfaces, what content connects with which audiences, how to show up where your audience is online, and how to create and track authentic engagement. Gen Z was born and raised in a connected world, and we’re defined by our tech-savvy. We spend 50 more minutes per day on smartphones and are much more aware of our data privacy than prior generations. In fact, 40% of Gen Z believe Wi-Fi is more important than bathrooms.
Related: 5 Ways That Gen Z Differs from Millennials That You Must Take Into Account When Promoting Your Business
3. Gen Z is filled with unique people
As a young female founder in the tech-bro industry, I know I will always have an uphill battle. Out of 166 speakers at a recent conference my company attended, only 20 were female. Accepting people from every background is important to building a sustainable business that can scale. My agency has people from different generations, geographic locations and backgrounds. According to Pew Research Center, Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation. We have many perspectives and personalities that can’t be easily summarized with a headline.
There are a lot of misconceptions about my generation, and the truth requires a more nuanced understanding. The ageist notion of equating youth with incompetence should be challenged. History has proven young CEOs spearhead significant cultural and technological change. I have a lot to offer, and dismissing me for my age ignores the real value I bring. Gen Z is not to be underestimated. We’re here to change the world.