Student Life

Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore: Conference in the Midwest

Millennials and Gen Z.

Quick, what’s the first adjective that comes to mind when I say those words?

Recently I’ve been intrigued by the way that these labels are used to lump a massively diverse group of individuals together (ranging in age from 4 to 37) into a single, homogenous ’young person‘ stereotype. A stereotype that says these younger generations are lazy, entitled, addicted to social media, have no work ethic etc. and the list goes on. 

I recently had an opportunity to confront these stereotypes head-on when I attended the National Millennial and Gen Z Community conference in the United States on behalf of the QUT Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations School. This Community brings together a diverse group of Millennials and Gen Zs from a range of backgrounds, educations, religions, ethnicities and socio-political views. The goal of the community is to change the conversation about these generations and demonstrate the value that our voices can bring.

   First stop: The Omaha Chamber of Commerce

Company Visits

Over the course of two and a half days we visited six host companies in Omaha and Kansas City and engaged in a number of think-tank conversations about company culture, social media, authenticity, corporate social responsibility and branding. Our gracious hosts included the Omaha Chamber of Commerce, Flywheel, Spreetail, Andrews McMeel Universal, Sandbox and Sprint.

Omaha, Nebraska USA

Key Take-away: Culture is not just a buzzword!

While we had a number of meaningful conversations, a recurring topic with every host company was the idea of ‘workplace culture’ and how companies can engender a culture that successfully appeals to Millennials and Gen Zs. While ‘culture’ has become somewhat of a buzzword in the modern workplace, its importance cannot be understated. Culture goes to the core of an organisation and in my opinion impacts every ounce of the employee experience.

One of my favourite discussions at the Conference was with Mr Dusty Davidson the CEO of Flywheel, a software start-up in Omaha, who spoke about “optimising his work place for happiness”. He does this by spending 30% of his time “finding and recruiting extraordinary people that are impressive, passionate about their craft and seeking to make an impact”. It was clear after meeting Mr Davidson, touring their offices and seeing the Flywheel team at work, their culture-first focus was engrained into every aspect of their business.

During my time at the conference, the question “what does positive culture look like to you?” was asked frequently by our host companies. Despite the growing conversations about this topic, I think the concept of ‘culture’ remains ambiguous to most employers. One of the greatest misconceptions attributed to Millennials/Gen Zs is that our perspective on work culture is superficial. While games, scooters and office dogs are an exciting novelty, our conversations about culture at the conference painted an overwhelmingly serious picture of what our generation truly value. To me, a positive workplace culture is one that supports personal and professional development, empowers ethical decision-making and provides guidance from strong and transformational leaders.

With Bill Imada, Conference Organiser, in the Andrews McMeel Universal offices 

Final Thoughts

After 3 enlightening days, 20 new friends, 1 tornado warning and 2 flight cancellations, I can officially say the phrase that the Midwest is thoroughly tired of hearing; ‘Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore’.

Overall, my trip to Omaha and Kansas City with the National Millennial and Gen Z Community was an extremely rewarding experience.  As an international guest, I had an opportunity to meet a vibrant cross-section of students from across the United States and was able to contribute my unique international perspective to discussions with our host companies. It was a pleasure to see so many companies embracing shifts in the modern workplace and to meet all of the incredible, driven and intelligent Millennials/Gen Zs who are all looking to change the world in their own way.

With Stephanie Chen (just one of the many amazing Millennials/Gen Zs I met throughout the conference)

 

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Bachelor of Business (Marketing) / Bachelor of Laws (Honours), President of AMPed 2019

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