A simple conversation can be the perfect first step towards change.
While Laura Youngkin, founder of The Brave Millennial, was having countless conversations with women about the variety of issues that they faced in the workforce — from feeling burnt out to balancing life and work to dealing with the infamous wage gap — she finally realized that having these conversations was the catalyst necessary to create equality and inclusion.
“We were having these conversations — one at a time, two at a time — over a bottle of wine or in a corner of the office where no one else could hear us,” says Youngkin. “It felt like we were all ashamed that we were experiencing biases at work. No one wants to admit that they need help so I thought ‘What if I got all these women I’ve been talking to, and we had a bigger conversation where we could share stories and help each other based on our own experiences, and share what’s worked for us just as much as what hasn’t worked.’”
And from there, Brave Millennial events began to span across the country, and became a place for millennial women to connect over shared experiences from diverse perspectives. While ambitious women can gain professional relationships and mentors through the events, they also gain insights and stories from similar women who have gone through (and are still going through) their own professional woes.
Because when you’re working every single day to achieve something, it’s vital to know that you aren’t alone in the fight.
So why millennial women in particular? “Millennial women are an amazing group,” Youngkin point outs. As studies have proven we’re the most educated group in history, it’s important to figure out why that isn’t translating into success in the workforce. Even when significantly more women are graduating college, and thus are entering the workforce more prepared, they aren’t reaping the same benefits as their male counterparts.
So while convincing our working women that they are capable is an important first step, Youngkin also knows that the problems lay far beyond just a mindset.
Aside from hosting events, another huge part of The Brave Millenial movement is working with companies to help them be more inclusive of young people, women, and really anyone that is seen as “other.” While new policies are being increasingly implemented to ensure equality, even the most successful companies are struggling to be inclusive when recruiting workers.
“There’s a spectrum of diversity inclusion that needs to be addressed and that’s what I help [these companies] do,” say Youngkin. “It really is figuring out what is going on in a company’s culture, and how we can go in and turn the ship. Most of them are pretty big ships so they’re very slow to turn but [we’re figuring out] how we can start to make changes that turn that ship so their culture is more inclusive.”
Because Brave Millenial events span across the country, Youngkin knows that issues that women might face on the East Coast could vary drastically with those faced in the South. For example, women in some cities may struggle with work/life balance and overworking. In other cities, there might not be as much burnout but the wage gap is drastic.
And issues don’t just vary regionally, but can also vary depending on the type of company. While older and more established companies may prefer an older, more “experienced” workplace, new tech-start ups are excited about ambitious college grads.
Youngkin says “I was just in Silicon Valley, and everyone told me that being a millennial in Silicon Valley is where it’s at. They don’t want someone over 35 in the office, it’s being a woman that’s the problem.”
But despite the very unique issues that women may hurdle when climbing the career ladder, there are some universal tips to make the journey a little bit easier. In my conversation with Laura, three distinct pieces of wisdom stood out to me.
1. FEELING ENTITLED ISN’T ALWAYS A BAD THING
Yes, “entitled” is often used as a petty jab aimed at people we think are spoiled. But what if we put a positive twist on it?
Youngkin brings up an essay at the end of Mindy Kaling’s autobiography Why Not Me? in which Kaling argues that entitlement is simply being confident in your worth.
Kaling says “Confidence is just entitlement. Entitlement has gotten a bad rap because it’s used almost exclusively for the useless children of the rich, reality TV stars, and Conrad Hilton Jr., who gets kicked off an airplane for smoking pot in the lavatory and calling people peasants or whatever. But entitlement in and of itself isn’t so bad. Entitlement is simply the belief that you deserve something. Which is great.”
Too often we are undermining our capabilities when going out for a promotion or trying to move up in a job. We tell ourselves:
‘Am I doing this right?
Am I enough?
Do I even deserve to be here?’
And sometimes (maybe even most of the time) you’re going to have to answer those questions yourself. Yes, you are doing this right. You are enough. And of course you deserve to be here. And if that warrants you entitled, then know that it’s nothing short of a compliment.
2. ALL RELATIONSHIPS TAKE EFFORT AND TIME
The importance of fostering professional relationships isn’t news. We all know that networking can be the key to landing a dream job. But Youngkin reminds us that we shouldn’t just rely on coincidental run-ins or good luck. Maintaining relationships should become integrated into your daily work schedule.
“I think everyone has to acknowledge that it takes time — whether it’s a romantic relationship, a friendship, a relationship with a mentor,” Yougkin says. “All relationships take effort and time and you just have to commit yourself to knowing that your professional network is important and worthy of as much time and attention as you can give it. And when you find someone you want to build a relationship with, just show up. That’s really it. Keep following up, keep showing up, and create opportunities to see this person.”
3. MENTORSHIPS ARE NOT ONE SIDED
No one is willing to give away their life secrets for free. While mentors are often perceived as an older, more experienced colleague leading their mentee’s way to the treasure chest at the end of the rainbow, it’s important to remember that it’s just like any relationship.
“You have to realize that it’s not just a one-sided thing,” Youngkin says. “It’s not just your mentor telling you step-by-step what to do or picking up after you or staying on top of what you’re doing and giving advice. You really have to bring something to the relationship. It goes both ways — my best mentor relationships are ones where we both end up helping each other.”
It is obviously no easy task to overcome inequality in the workplace. But along with encouraging companies to be more inclusive, The Brave Millennial most importantly urges you to talk it out, revel in shared experiences, and continue hurdling obstacles — side by side.