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Tired Of Millennials’ Participation Trophy Culture? Blame Identity Politics


Last week, Forbes ran an essay by Alyssa Rapp entitled “Feminism in the Era of Millennials: It’s About Leaping Versus Leaning.” Rapp’s thesis: To break the glass ceiling, millennial women must leap to promotions, not merely lean in, because the disparity in female management begins early in a woman’s career.

Rapp’s article was extremely insightful—just not for the reason intended. Instead of offering helpful guidance, her essay provides a virtual case study on the entitlement mentality of the millennial generation on which so much has been written.

For instance, in his 2008 book, “The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaking Up the Workplace,” Ron Alsop explored, in-depth, that generation’s coming of age—and into the workforce. Alsop penned an adaptation from his book for the Wall Street Journal, writing:

If there is one overriding perception of the millennial generation, it’s that these young people have great—and sometimes outlandish—expectations … ‘They want to be CEO tomorrow,’ is a common refrain from corporate recruiters. More than 85% of hiring managers and human-resource executives said they feel that millennials have a stronger sense of entitlement than older workers, according to a survey by The generation’s greatest expectations: higher pay (74% of respondents); flexible work schedules (61%); a promotion within a year (56%); and more vacation or personal time (50%).

With an utter lack of self-awareness, Rapp’s essay provides a window to view the warped millennial mindset of which Alsop wrote nearly ten years ago. Through this lens, it is an intriguing read: A millennial who instructs millennials and is oblivious to the fact that she has laid bare her generation’s entitlement mentality in the “guidance” she provides for women to “leap” to a promotion.

Reward Me Simply Because I Have Lady Parts

She writes: “Are we hearing this? That even for our millennial generation, it will be more status quo, more glass ceilings and fewer women in leadership. What can we do to accelerate a crucial shift?” Her advice: “support women being promoted earlier in their careers.” Otherwise, she reasons, “few women will be in roles that position them to become CEOs further down the line.”

Hear that? To break the “glass ceiling” we must promote women, and sooner. Don’t promote a woman because she is the most capable, or the most qualified. But because she is a woman. In other words, hand out that participation trophy, stat.

Of course she doesn’t say that. She probably doesn’t even believe that. On the contrary, she seems to believe women are the most qualified and the most deserving of the “brass ring,” with large drips of entitlement splashing along the way: “We assumed that being a ‘great team player’ was enough. But it’s not. We teach our daughters to be bold competitors, but professionally and politically, society is not yet ready for us to grab the brass ring we deserve. We are still living under a glass ceiling.”

Let me repeat that, because it’s just so shocking: “[P]rofessionally and politically, society is not yet ready for us to grab the brass ring we deserve.” Wow. Just wow.

‘More Righteous And Aggrieved’

Equally as fascinating to the entitlement mindset on full display is the showcasing of identity politics, another thread holding together the millennial generation. In a New York Times op-ed, “Will the Left Survive the Millennials,” author Lionel Shriver aptly described the millennial rendering of identity politics, writing:

Viewing the world and the self through the prism of advantaged and disadvantaged groups, the identity-politics movement — in which behavior like huffing out of speeches and stirring up online mobs is par for the course — is an assertion of generational power. Among millennials and those coming of age behind them, the race is on to see who can be more righteous and aggrieved — who can replace the boring old civil rights generation with a spikier brand.

From start to finish, Rapp’s article is all about the entitlement of the disadvantaged and aggrieved woman. She also cites the Women’s March on January 21, 2017 that inspired a “moment of pause and reflection for women worldwide.” Color me skeptical, but the march seemed more reactive than reflective, and spiked throughout with crudeness to boot.

Also highlighted? The Women in the Workplace study that “distilled” the state of the female nation—if by distilled you mean distorted. Case in point: It bemoaned that only 3 percent of women of color hold a top “C-suite” position, even though they make up 20 percent of the American population. Ignored entirely is the percentage of women of color holding bachelor or higher degrees in the relevant fields.

This blatant omission calls into question the report’s criticism that only 46 percent of entry-level hires are women, as opposed to 50 percent. Unstated, but important to know, are the number of women holding degrees relevant to the businesses surveyed, which included corporations in the STEM fields but not in female-heavy fields, such as education.

What Feminism Has Done Is Make Women Entitled

Then there was the preaching of the gospel of “feminism.” “[T]he good news,” Rapp explained, “is that we may have arrived at a ‘perfect storm’ moment in the feminist movement as it relates to the millennial generation.” And what’s that perfect storm? That young women are now willing to call themselves feminists and, as her Stanford colleague put it: “[t]hose young women now expect the same equality and equanimity in the workplace. It now seems we have a generation of women going into the workforce who would call themselves feminists.”

Those millennials. They are just so darn special and smart: “Ah, I know,” they exclaim, “we must demand equality. THAT’S IT!” If only I had expected equality in the workplace, and if only the women coming before me had thought of that.

Rapp is right, though, that more millennials are willing to call themselves feminists. Like her colleague, I too can speak (anecdotally) of the shift. When I began teaching college undergraduates in 1991, never did my female students—who easily represented half the student population in my business course—speak of the “glass ceiling” or the now well-bandied-about claim of a 70-some-cents gender pay gap (which is hooey, by the way).

But things had changed by mid-to-late 2000. In those years, female students often spoke of the glass ceiling and pay gap as established fact. They also often commented to me about how wonderful it was to have a strong female role model, fitting in with Rapp’s view that “[w]omen are at a disadvantage in their daily interactions because they see fewer women around them.”

While I was touched and humbled by the compliment, I was equally perplexed by the recent focus on my sex in giving it. As a college student 20 years earlier, I had plenty of female professors and saw many female professionals, including the controller of a financial institution to whom I reported at my part-time job. But my mentor was a man, my business law professor whose career I sought to emulate, and that, most assuredly, was not a disadvantage.

Don’t I Get Points for Showing Up?

Looking back on my 20-plus years of teaching, I now see what I had missed then: my students in the mid-to-late 2000s were millennials. This insight also put into perspective a comment that until recently had baffled me. In 2008, the last year I taught as a full-time faculty member—resigning to marry, have a son, and care for him full-time—a student asked me after class to re-explain the correct response on a critical-thinking short-answer question from the midterm examination.

‘But I wrote something. Don’t I get any points for writing something?’

After explaining the correct answer, she countered, “But I got a zero.” Puzzled, I said, “Right, but you didn’t answer the question correctly.” She continued, “But I wrote something. Don’t I get any points for writing something?” “But everything you wrote was wrong,” I gently explained. She left unconvinced, and I left unaware.

But with eyes wide open, I now see the millennial mindset had been slowly overtaking my classroom. That also explains the shift in those identifying as feminists that Rapp highlights. That shift is a function of the identity politics to which the millennial generation hyper-subscribes, rather than any advancement of the “women’s cause.”

Rapp, though, has unwittingly hit on something: A game plan for women millennials to advance quickly through the ranks—identity politics. Play the female card, get flexible work schedules, a work-life balance, and a promotion within one year! Now that is “Feminism in the Era of Millennials: Play Identity Politics and Score a Promotion.” Talk about the ultimate participation trophy.