Tell us about WoMen’Up. What do you do exactly?
WoMen’Up is the first mixed association that combines gender and generation issues. It was founded by Emmanuelle Duez in 2011, born from a simple observation: in the workplace, women and younger generations face the same struggles! In 2012, we carried out the first international study on Generation Y, which showed that behind the aspirations of this iconic generation (balancing professional and personal lives, more flexibility at work, meritocracy…) one could find the same aspirations women have had for decades.
Since then, we’ve been doing two things: informing young people full of illusions on the reality of gender equality in the workplace before they begin their professional career, and, most importantly, trying to shake things up by reaching out to companies on the subject of diversity. It’s not just about women anymore, but also about young people, especially in the context of the current war for talent and the increasing disengagement of younger generations. We believe these are things worth reflecting about!
The association progressively organized itself around a think tank that is responsible for most of our publications, events and collaborations with our partners. We also have a talent incubator, La Fusée, which trains about 40 young people every year; the new ‘class’ will be launched in January 2018. More recently, we started an online media platform so that younger generations can express themselves regarding the main issues we deal with: diversity, work and society.
Why did you decide to create a MOOC on Generations Y and Z?
This MOOC is the continuation of our desire to reach out to the largest number of people about these subjects. We launched a collaborative media outlet that we conceived as a platform for younger generations so that we can distribute our message more widely. We also use it to tackle social issues, particularly women’s rights. We believe that once again, younger generations hold the key to these deep changes that affect society as a whole. MOOCs as a format are one of the most important new training tools that exist and are at the heart of the current shift in knowledge transmission. We knew that we could rely on Coorpacademy’s know-how and methodology to shape our content with the appropriate pedagogical approach.
The subject of Generations Y/Z, or Millenials to speak broadly, is still full of uncertainties. Just about everything has been said about Millenials since everyone has their own interpretation. These generations are annoying as much as they are fascinating. Someone recently told me “I hate you just as much as I find you amazing”. Fickle, selfish, slackers… Younger generations seem elusive, even contradictory. For businesses, this is a crucial subject for very pragmatic reasons: this generation will represent 75% of the working population by 2025, they are arriving massively in the workplace and implementing dramatic changes in work habits. Better to anticipate these changes than to remain spectators of the collision of worlds that will happen if they cannot understand each other.
Why is it important to understand these generations?
What we must really remember when it comes to these generations, also called Digital Natives, is that they hold the key to the transformation of businesses. This digital transformation, which in reality has to do with human issues more than technological ones, must use digital tools as a means to reassert the value of the human element in the workplace. It’s a form of liberation of work that is enabled by digital technologies and by younger generations, but in reality it corresponds to intergenerational aspirations. When you look at the aspirations of people under 30 (the right to happiness, the need for transparency, authenticity and trust), you’re looking at a portrait of the company of the future. They are pushing businesses to evolve, changing their cultures, remodeling them the way they want them to be: hierarchies are erased, times and places of work are redefined, and most importantly, there is a search for meaning and value through work. This generation shouldn’t be perceived as a battering ram crashing at the door of companies, but as a driving force for businesses as they can no longer afford to remain static. Their main particularity is that they grew up in this digital world: a world where everything changes, nothing is definitive, a flexible, agile, transversal and interconnected world… They are simply the result of this perpetually shifting new paradigm – which is certainly one of the reasons why they’re so hard to capture. But we mustn’t make the mistake of being too simplistic by considering Millenials as one homogenous category. Of course, there is a general trend emerging everywhere around the world, and specifically in the workplace, but you can’t draw general conclusions with a clear sociological impact. All 18 to 35 year olds aren’t necessarily a Y or a Z!
You sometimes hear people saying these generations are nothing but a capricious bunch. What do you think of that?
I think they should check out our MOOC right away! That being said, these “generational oppositions” are hardly anything new. What’s more complicated today than for previous generations is that there has been a steeper tipping point than in the past: what was true yesterday is no longer true today and will be even less so tomorrow. Only yesterday, today and tomorrow are much closer in time than they were before. The dominant system where older individuals are more knowledgeable than young ones doesn’t work anymore; it’s actually reversed. There is an inversion of power, a change of culture, and that bring with it a real need to create an intergenerational dialogue in order to ease these changes that can cause tensions.
I think these younger generations come across as having it easier because they overall enjoy a context that is more evolved, even more pacified than their predecessors. But when you look at the figures, you see that young people today, at least in France, are poorer than before. We also know that the models that built our societies need to be reinvented and that it’s up to them to do that. These generations have a tremendous weight on their shoulders, if only with regards to the climatic crisis, and because of that, they allow themselves to be more demanding.
Within companies, one can only observe that they have inherited their parents’ difficult and sacrificial relation to work. They want to break free from these types of careers and will get involved in a company if it doesn’t contradict their aspirations. This “individualistic” quest for happiness is often interpreted as selfishness, when it actually has to do with deeply humanistic values.
Finally, I think that younger generations from all periods of time have had to struggle with that eternal contradiction: “you don’t know how lucky you are” and “it was better before”. Progressism is still a valid concept, but a bit of intergenerational benevolence will be necessary in order for these generations to change the world.