Alexis Brown on unsplash

There are two labels in use right now for our youngest adult generation: iGen and Gen Z.* Does it matter which one we use for them?

I’ve done some very informal polling of these young people (OK, really I just asked my kids and their friends) and they don’t seem to care much one way or the other. In fact, they aren’t interested in talking about it much at all!

But, speaking as a member of Generation X,* it matters to me. Why? Because my generation was saddled with a label that was intended to be generic and unflattering. It seemed like a throwaway name for us, an entire generation of people commonly thought of – and referred to! – as “slackers.” That is, when anybody bothered to pay any attention to us at all.

According to the generations in power, Generation X was simply the right name for us. Or maybe it was the easiest name for them to use, and we didn’t know enough to protest.

The problem is that the “Gen X” label, born out of what I would characterize as lazy stereotyping, never really fit the vast majority of us.** As we have matured (we are all older than 40 now!), we have certainly proved that we are not slackers. We are the steady backbone of our workplaces and homes. We go about making sure things are progressing, improving and that innovations are happening on a daily basis, generally without calling attention to ourselves.

Yet the “Generation X” label still persists.

Which is why, whether in writing, in a keynote speech or in a video, I try very hard to use both names – iGen and Gen Z – for our youngest adult generation. Because, if we are going to insist on stereotyping everybody based on the years they were born, I want this group to know they have a choice. That we see them. That someday, we recognize they may even decide on another label entirely!

The bottom line, then, is this: it’s a matter of demonstrating mutual respect and understanding.

*For clarification: members of iGen/GenZ are people born after 1996 or so; Generation X are people born from about 1965-1976 or so (these birth year spans are not an exact science).

**This is the universal and frightening problem with stereotypes. They can’t define any single individual. And in the end, we are all individuals, not stereotypes.


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