That’s what I wanted to find when I sneaked in to a fascinating event chaired by The Digital Fairy at Soho House recently. I say sneaked, as I was only one of two Gen Xers in the audience. This was a debate, held by Millennials and Gen Zers including the respected author and speaker Chloe Combi
Now, I’ll start by saying I was pretty clear on my view before the event started. I believe they could indeed change the world; In fact, they already are.
Generation Z includes anyone born between the mid 90s and the mid 2000’s, after millennials. They currently account for an estimated 25.9% of the United States’ population, and distinguishes them from earlier generation labels is the how digitally native they are. To put things into perspective, an average Gen Z-er starts using a smartphone at 10 years old, and they grow up playing games on their parents’ tablet or phone. According to Kasasa, they use their mobile phone at least 3 hours in a day!
Gen Z is seems to be a Western thing. Not much has been learned or written about them in Africa for example, and though nearly 30% of the population fit into this demographic, Gen Z doesn’t just mean everyone born from 1995. It’s quite a specific cohort of relatively wealthy, urban youth that demonstrate the traits we’ve become used to.
So what are the defining traits of a Gen Z-er?
While the jury is still out on when exactly Generation Z begins, here’s a few common characteristics of Gen Z:
- They are always multitasking. With an natural ability to process high amounts of information, Gen Z thrives on multi-screening. A Common Sense Census survey shows that 50% to 76% of Gen Z students typically listen to music, text, watch television, and post on social media while working on their homework. Without sufficient challenges, Gen Z will be easily bored and look for new things to accomplish.
- They are very accepting of diversity. Having grown up in a world where gay marriages are becoming common and a black president sat in the white house, diversity is woven into the fabric of their lives. Unlike millennials who were taught to be tolerant, Gen Z sees diversity as the baseline for humanity to survive and thrive.
- They are born entrepreneurial thinkers. Compared to earlier generations, Gen Z is more likely to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities that provide greater autonomy and a space to grow in unpredictable ways. According to a survey conducted by Universum Global, 36% of Gen Zers don’t want to be stuck in careers that offer no opportunity for development.
- They value a stable and financially secure lifestyle. While Gen Z may be non-conformist in their professional careers, they also to progress with a company that offers a steady income. This characteristic emerges from observing first-hand as their Generation X parents struggled through the economic downfall of 2008 and lost significant portions of their savings.
- They prioritize meaningful connections. Relationships are important for Gen Z, and they believe that an overreliance on digital technology may affect productivity in the long run. At least 53% of Gen Zers surveyed said that they prefer face-to-face communication versus emailing or texting someone. A fact I found quite surprising to be honest.
What makes a Gen Z-er different from a millennial?
Now that we have a better understanding of how Gen Z behaves, we need to delve deeper into what sets them apart from millennials in their outlook on life, motivations, beliefs and long-term goals.
- Gen Z are the ultimate digital natives
While millennials used to be referred to as digital natives, we now see they were merely migrants, who grew up answering landlines and using a dial-up connection. Who used to call a minicab! For Gen Z, this is no longer the case because smartphones and Wi-Fi are now a basic human right. There was no transition to apps and devices; it was there from birth. Reportedly, at least 92% of children in the U.S. have a digital footprint.
- Gen Z can be extremely competitive
Millennials are known to be team players and collaborative in nature when it comes to the workplace. They value working together towards a common goal and having an inclusive approach to making an impact. By contrast, Gen Z is geared towards competitiveness and prefer to work on their own terms, focusing on individual contribution rather than team effort. Many Gen Zers take active steps to improve their skills and stay relevant in a rapidly evolving market. You’ll see most of them sitting behind their Apple macs in a Soho House near you.
- Gen Z has a global outlook
Millennials were considered the first global generation but now, Gen Zers are set to take over as they connect to world events and peer groups around the globe to exchange ideas and broaden their point of view. At least 58% of adults over 35 confirm that today’s children often find more in common with global identities versus adults in their own country.
Gen Z are on the verge of changing the world
Clearly, elements of Gen Z puts them at the forefront of transformative change. We already see how they are positively impacting the world one step at a time. They believe in action - getting off your backside and doing something about it. They are changing the way service and volunteering is perceived, as not only a means to get college credit but to build their digital brand digital brand. Research shows that more individuals from this group are signing up for volunteering opportunities as a way to address problems instead of fulfilling a requirement.
In addition, as a highly educated group just entering the workplace, their comfort with modern communication platforms allows them to collaborate and seek alternative solutions to more conventional best practices in ways previously unimaginable. To gain an edge in a competitive world, Gen Z is ready to take on multiple internships, join traineeships and follow social media influencers to finally land them their dream job. Finally, their maturity, digital sophistication, tolerance, and self-reliance is a further testament to Gen Z’s readiness to have a lasting influence on the world, changing it, I believe for the better.
So, after an interesting set of arguments, and further research, my mind remains fixed in the belief that Gen Z are going to change the world. But it is largely thanks to Millennials who created the technology and platforms to allow them to do just that.