Goodbye, Status Quo: Millennial Women Are Changing the World for the Better
A mother reflects on the challenging world awaiting her graduating daughter, and the profound changes her child’s generation will drive in our economy.
Lynne Ford and her daughter Blair at graduation
As my daughter launches out into society with the 2014 graduating class, I greet this parental milestone with considerable reflection. The world is a different place than it was when I cast off my own mortarboard, presenting my daughter with brand new challenges and opportunities. One thing is for sure: She and the other young women of her generation are going to disrupt some of our long-held economic paradigms, and corporate America appears woefully unprepared.
The millennial generation is much more holistic than those that came before it. Millennials grew up in a world that was already globalized at the moment of their birth, and accelerated changes in technology molded their perceptions of possibility. The pace of technological change they’ve experienced in their lifetimes have made their world feel intrinsically integrated, whereas baby boomers’ lives were far more compartmentalized. As a result, millennials are remarkably savvy about the social and environmental issues embedded in their employment, consumption, and investment decisions.
It’s not that millennials have stronger values than the rest of us. It’s just that they were raised on a diet of sustainability. They grew up recycling, conserving water, and sitting in family rooms when a climate change show would come on TV. They’re more sensitized to all of these issues. This was not the case when I was growing up. Millennials expect that such considerations will be integrated into whatever it is they’re doing, whereas some boomers still aren’t even convinced about settled climate science!
More and more studies are emerging to support what I’ve observed as a parent. In a fascinating research paper published this month by the Brookings Institution, authors Morley Winograd and Dr. Michael Hais identified the following key values that distinguish Millennials and the effect they will have on our economy and society:
- Desire for daily work to reflect and be part of broader societal concerns.
- Emphasis on corporate social responsibility, ethical causes, and stronger brand loyalty for companies offering solutions to specific social problems.
- Greater reverence for the environment, even in the absence of a major environmental disaster.
A 2013 U.S. Trust report found that Millennials are willing to accept a higher risk profile or receive lower returns to invest in companies that create positive social or environmental impact. (In my role with a sustainable investment firm, imagine my enthusiasm to show them the evidence that no such tradeoff is necessary!) The study found this effect to be more pronounced among young women, among whom the authors identified even stronger feelings about the importance of investment for social and environmental impact.
This should come as no surprise. Millennials’ lives started in the era of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer, and more recently were punctuated by Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, as well as mounting alarm over growing water scarcity and the real potential for irrevocable climate change. When I think about my daughter’s future, the monumental implications of these challenges sometimes terrify me.
But then I am immediately encouraged, because this generation is up to the task of resolving these problems. Millennials have the wherewithal they need to make a significant impact on the world. The ones who are really in trouble are the dinosaurs of corporate America. The up-and-coming generation has little appetite for business as usual. For instance, a recent Intelligence Group study found that nearly two thirds of millennials would prefer to make $40,000 a year at a job they love than $100,000 a year at a job that bores them. The Brookings paper I mentioned above is chock full of evidence that millennials are including social and environmental factors in their purchasing decisions more than their predecessors ever have.
My daughter’s generation is going to force corporate America to embed sustainability in its value proposition if it wants to survive. Despite grave challenges, that leaves me optimistic about the future. Here’s to the class of 2014.
Lynne Ford heads Calvert Investments' distribution efforts including institutional and retail sales, product, marketing, and public relations. Ms. Ford has more than 20 years of experience in the investment management industry, including serving as CEO Individual Retirement at ING U.S. just prior to joining Calvert. Ms. Ford currently serves as a Director and Executive Committee member of the Insured Retirement Institute (IRI) and as a Director of Junior Achievement USA. She holds her bachelor's degree from Davidson College and a master's degree from the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.