My brother just started school at the University of Iowa, and this was his first caucus. He describes a room totally crammed full of young people: “It was basically all the students caucusing for Obama and the adults dispersing among the other candidates.”
In the end, in his Iowa City precinct, the students sat victorious at the Obama camp with 70% of the votes, while the caucuses for Edwards and Clinton were shouting over to the Kucinich supporters to abandon camp and come to them.
This is a metaphor for the workplace. The young people have, effectively, shifted the balance of power to themselves, and the older people squabble between each other, as if their power structures still matter.
Millennials are fundamentally conservative
The victories of Generation Y will not look like the Boston Tea Party or Kent State. They will look like this Iowa caucus: Gen Y, playing by the rules, and winning.
When Gen-Xers were this age, we were so overwhelmed with trying to earn a living that voting was the last thing on our minds. And when baby boomers were this age, they were protesting, and dodging the draft, and disrupting the establishment. So in a way, it’s remarkable how engaged, optimistic, and rule-abiding Millennials are during their twenties.
But as a group, Gen Y is fundamentally conservative, so it’s not surprising that they come out and vote in droves. Voting is a way for people who color-within-the-lines to instigate change. Voting is a fundamentally conservative way to tell the establishment to get out of the way.
Baby boomers are being forced out, in a non-disruptive way
And this is the exact same way that generation Y is telling baby boomers to get out of their way at work. Gen Y plays by the rules, meets expectations, and in the same step, pulls the rug out from under the people with power. How? By refusing to pay dues, by customizing their own career paths instead of lusting after a promotion, and by job hopping when learning curves get flat.
When USA Today wrote “Gen Y has already made its mark” the story was about entrepreneurship – Gen Y is ambitious, driven, and success-oriented, and since hierarchical structures of corporate life allow for so little mobility, young people are turning to entrepreneurship and are starting businesses at a blistering rate not seen among young people earlier.
This is not exactly the Civil Rights movement or grunge music. But Gen Y doesn’t need to rebel because, as I wrote in Time magazine, young people are already in the driver’s seat at the workplace. They can work within the established lines of business to get what they want, but they get it faster than we expect.
The gender divide is an antiquated view of the world
So many times I give a speech and explain to the room why women should not report sexual harassment. Invariably, the room divides. The millennials think the advice makes sense, the baby boomers are outraged.
Baby boomers perceive that there is a gender war going on at work, and women are fighting for equality: “The glass ceiling still exists!” But millennials are entering a workforce where women are making more than men in major cities, and the salary gap is essentially gone in most fields of business for this demographic. Nearly 50% of millennial girls were sexually harassed in their summer job, and by the time they are of voting age, sexual harassment is old news– it doesn’t scare them because they have plenty of power at work.
Early pundit posts declare that the results in Iowa hinged on the votes of young women. The Clinton campaign assumed women would vote for women. But young people did not make this election about gender, they made it about age. They want change. They want a chance to do things differently, within the established structures of power.
And this is true of the workplace as well. There are not women fighting for women in Generation Y. The gender divide ended when Gen X dads started giving up promotions to stay at home with their kids. Today there is a generational divide, and it’s happening at work and in politics and the balance of power has shifted to Generation Y.