By Ashleigh Horn
There’s no denying that each generation is different. Baby Boomers, Generation X, Xennials, Millennials, Generation Z, I’m sure as you read each of these titles, you may have recalled your own thoughts toward each group. During a time where as many as five different generations are working together in the workplace, it’s important to understand how they all function and what each brings to the table.
Though I could certainly cover all five of these and the impacts they have in the workplace, I want to instead provide first-hand insight into a generation that is seemingly misunderstood by its predecessors. This is a generation with a desire to create change; a generation that I have nearly 21 years of experience being part of.
Who are we?
Although the lines defining the age range of my generation are a bit blurry, the Pew Research Center identifies this group as having been born after 1996 (Parker & Igielnik, 2020). Today, some Gen Z-ers walk the halls of middle schools, whereas others are hunched over books in their dorm rooms, working full-time agency jobs or even preparing to vote in the upcoming presidential election. There’s no doubt we’re all at different stages in our lives; however, somehow, some way, there are a few common desires and passions we all seem to share.
How is this generation different?
Generation Z is the largest generation to date. We also have access to more technology, media and quite honestly, each other, than any generation before us. It may be our sheer size, or it quite simply may be the comfort we feel in sharing our thoughts and ideas through Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat, that compels us to reach for our dreams and to stand up for what we believe in. Politics, social injustice, sustainability, ideas for new products or businesses, we Gen Z-ers are a researched, opinionated, innovative, change-making group.
The Target Incubator
A few years back, the Target retail chain set out to better connect with this next generation of consumers. One way they did so, was through directly engaging with young Gen Z entrepreneurs in what they called the “Target Incubator.” Inspired by these young adults’ big ideas about “better for people” and “better for the planet” products, the company selected eight business pitches, created by students, to help become a reality.
You may be asking, “Why would the company do this, and what was their reward?”
Generation Z is often referred to as the “Changemaker” generation. Target recognized that many of its Gen Z consumers have big plans to change the world and sought to help make their dreams become reality. The students’ ideas ranged from producing compostable single-use products to using juice pulp waste to create healthy snacks. These eight businesses were not only unique—they did not simply provide innovative products or services—rather, they were all created as solutions to a number of the social and environmental issues we face in the 21st century.
I think James Sancto, founder of We Make Change, hit the nail on the head when he described Generation Z’s passion as “not willing to accept the world as it is, [who] believes [it] can address the challenges the world faces today, and [who] will do whatever [it] can to make the change [it wants] to see” (Sancto, 2019). The product of the Target Incubator is a testament to Gen Z’s eagerness and willingness to ensure the changes we wish to happen are made.
Gen Z’s not so breakthrough solution to creating change is to have a purpose. Whether you’re a business, college institution, or just someone we pass on the street, Gen Z-ers want to know what you’re all about.
What are your goals?
Who or what do you stand for?
Does your vision align with what we believe?
Generation Z prioritizes purpose and “[looks] to engage with brands and organizations that have a higher purpose that goes well beyond a simple transaction” (Beal, 2019). Unlike generations before us, we don’t simply purchase a product or rep a brand because we like it or it’s “convenient.” Rather, we use the power of reviews and our access to technology to compare prices, product availability, to research a company’s CSR practices and what it values, in order to make educated purchases (Salesfloor, n.d.).
Google, Netflix, Spotify and the Walt Disney Company are all examples of some of the most loved brands by Gen Z consumers. It’s no coincidence that all of these same companies placed in the Digital Marketing Institutes (2020) list of the “Top 16 Brands doing Corporate Social Responsibility Correctly.” Generation Z values these brands because they do more than provide their specific products and services; these companies use their platforms to create change on issues important to their employees and to each company as a whole.
As I mentioned earlier, Gen Z-ers look for ways to impact our own corners of the world. In fact, we often make decisions with long-term consequences in mind. We’ve been called lazy, self-involved, tech-dependent, and more (The NPD Group, 2020). Yes, some of these monikers may be partly true. But, we are also a passionate generation focused on standing up for only those issues or movements that align with our interests. Our passions drive our actions. We just might change the world.
As each new year has passed onto the next, Generation Z, or the “Changemaker” generation, has become older and older. With this age has come new responsibilities, both in our own lives and in contributing to the world around us. We are growing up, entering the workforce and making an impact in our own generationally-unique way. Slowly but surely, we are revealing who we are, what we value, what our goals are, and are debunking the generational stereotypes that have defined us since we were babies. In turn, we are using these differences to provide new perspectives in both the workplace and in society, and are doing all in our power to create change.