Respect and Gen Y: What’s Age Got To Do With It?

26 Feb


I’m working on an exciting new project. It’s awesome, really, because I get to do something that I love.

I get to teach college students about leadership and about success at work.

Yes, I’m currently in the midst of trying to be productive…even though this is me on most days…


Alright… so in an effort to find the right topics to discuss and the right stories to share with these students, I’ve had to reflect a lot on my experiences in the workplace.

And well…that hasn’t been fun.

It hasn’t been fun because I’ve realized something.

I’ve realized that although there are a lot of things that I can teach these students, there’s no way that I can control the hardships that they’ll continue to face as young professionals.

There’s no way that I’ll be able to rid them of the label that they’ll often be given:


This makes me mad.

You know, I once went on a job interview and overall, it was a great experience.

The people were friendly and made me feel comfortable…something a bit rare for an interview. I was actually having a good time.

Until I wasn’t.

I was totally bothered by something that one of the men who was interviewing me asked.

He said, “I’m going to ask you something…you look very young…how are you going to handle yourself when an executive or a senior employee needs something resolved and doesn’t want to talk to you because you look so young?”

Yes. I was really supposed to answer that.

Now, don’t get me wrong…the man who asked me the question was a nice guy. I actually got a long with him very well and so I know that he didn’t mean this question to be negative or to upset me.

But it did upset me because it made me realize that this is a very real problem.

When we talk about discrimination, stereotypes, diversity in the workplace, etc., we often tend to focus on race and ethnicity.

But what about age?

I mean, in that very same interview, would it have been okay for him to say, “you know…you look a bit Asian….how are you going to handle yourself when an executive or a senior employee needs something and doesn’t want to talk to you because you’re Asian?”

No. Absolutely not. That would absolutely NOT have been okay.

So why is it okay that he asked about age?

Why is it okay for young professionals to receive less respect than we deserve?

Think about it.

So many of us are intelligent. So many of us are driven. So many of us are talented and determined and hungry for the opportunity to make a difference.

Sure, we don’t know everything. No one does. And yes, we have a lot to learn.

But we need people who will teach us and who will treat us as equals.

Not people who feel that we’re beneath them.

Because at the end of the day, we all have a lot to learn from eachother.

So when I think about these students that I’ll  be advising, I hate that I won’t be able to force others to fully see their value. I hate that I won’t be able to delete that label that many of them will get stuck with.

But I CAN make sure that they understand the following…

Each of us…we get the respect that we demand.

Simple as that.

Just because we’re young doesn’t mean that we’re not good at what we do. Skill and ability are not necessarily determined by age.

Experience, not age, is what leads to wisdom.

And sometimes people forget this.

So young professionals…

Demand that respect. Demand that equality.

Don’t let people underestimate your abilities and your talents.

And when they do, prove them wrong.

Don’t let people be mean to you just because they think that they can.

Know your worth.

Be professional.

Do good work.

And always make sure to stand up for yourself.

Because if you don’t demand that respect for yourself, no one else will.


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41 Responses to “Respect and Gen Y: What’s Age Got To Do With It?”

  1. libertyonless February 26, 2013 at 6:17 pm #

    I love this post and totally agree! Also, don’t be afraid to get right in the mix professionally and put your ideas out there! My current job loves that I dove right in and started offering suggestions, despite being so young and new.

    • Steve Borek February 27, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

      I’d encourage you to do even more. Get involved in as many parts of the businesses that you can. Your current employer and future ones are looking for people with a wide set of skills.

  2. Garland McWatters February 26, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

    This is a great point, and I have experienced it on the other end. As a Boomer, I’ve been in situations where younger managers looked at me as if I am “past my prime.” That I have nothing relevant or important to offer. I know I must find a way to relate to younger professionals, and I’m trying to do so. I have no misgivings about getting older — that’s life, and it’s unavoidable. I am terrified of becoming irrelevant — and I’m doing everything in my power to avoid it.

  3. Katie February 26, 2013 at 6:54 pm #

    Such great points! That question is totally out of line. There definitely is a stigma to being a young professional. People assume you’re not knowledgeable and that you’re incapable of being professional. It’s totally ridiculous. I’ve seen plenty of “old” people who didn’t have an ounce of the professionalism some people my age have.

    • learnactshare - Pete Ferguson April 12, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

      Katie and Kayla – Having just tipped 40 … The people who don’t take young’ns like me seriously heard the same rhetoric when they were your age, your student’s age, and my age :-). So they are repeating it because they feel threatened or entitled that now it is “their turn.”

      Helping people “convert” what you are saying by showing where it has worked greatly helps. And someday when we are all pushing our 50s and 60s and feel threatened by the new workforce, we may find ourselves asking the same question if we are not careful …

      Whenever you pitch an idea to someone, regardless of their and your age, you have to think about what is in it for them to listen to you and take your advice.

      If it is all about me, you probably aren’t that interested.

  4. Katie Robinson February 26, 2013 at 7:44 pm #

    That’s awesome that you get the mold younger lives into future leaders. That’s an incredible opportunity.

    That question you were asked in the interview does seem extreme and blunt. What was your answer? I can only imagine that his intention for asking was because he realized it was an obvious prestigious in the working world in general.

    I’ve seen this as a very real problem in my life and my friend’s. I’m assuming it will never really go away either. It will be an obstacle every generation will have to face. And I’m assuming we will have to face again when we’re old; “Too old to be working”.

    This is why I love blogs like your and mine. I think it is important for the youth to empower each other and keep moving to higher heights.

  5. Rebecca's News and Entertainment February 26, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

    Reblogged this on Rebecca's News & Entertainment and commented: :)

  6. Trevor Nagle, ABD February 26, 2013 at 8:25 pm #

    Reblogged this on Leadership Musings of a Skeptical Positivist and commented:
    Kayla Cruz discusses the topic of respect and age in this wonderful article. While I’m definitely not a Millenial, as someone blessed with a very immature face, I’ve similarly felt the lack of respect from others who simply assumed I am younger (and therefore, less experienced) than I am. (When others express surprise that I’m 42, I usually answer, “I’m very immature for my age, so it all works out.”). Kayla hits it out of the park with this article, though. It IS about respect, which is ageless.

  7. Trevor Nagle, ABD February 26, 2013 at 8:26 pm #

    Fantastic message, Kayla! You have my respect!

  8. larkycanuck February 26, 2013 at 9:58 pm #

    So how are you managing the hit ons coming your way

  9. Laura4NYC February 26, 2013 at 10:00 pm #

    A very true text! Reminds me of my first job I took and this 30-year-old woman was trying to diminish me constantly just because I was 23 back then (well, 2 years ago). “Oh no, you couldn’t know this, you are so young!” was her favorite quote. It didn’t bother me as much back then, I just thought she was rather stupid (and luckily so did others). Your comparison with the Asian candidate is exactly what age during an interview is about and I believe a lot of companies don’t even know how absurd they sound during the interview when they refer to it.

    Now, on the flipside, I am currently working for a company which does tend to promote more younger people than older. Our manager of the entire office was only 25 and had worked here for 3 months when he was promoted to this position. BUT he was nowhere near to ready for the position out of lack of experience and perhaps even maturity…

    I guess it can go both ways: Too little of appreciation and opportunity can hurt but too much also.

    • Laura4NYC February 26, 2013 at 10:15 pm #

      I tend to get the age thing more with friends of friends, too, where it bothers me a lot more than at work. There is nothing more annoying than a 3-years-older person who thinks he/she knows it all and looks down upon you without even knowing your life story and accomplishments (which usually top his/hers).

  10. Blair C Sollenberger February 26, 2013 at 11:03 pm #

    Whether younger or older (and in every interaction we are one or the other) respect is earned. Sometimes tenure brings greater knowledge and experience and sometimes the greater contribution comes from a fresh, new perspective and a lack of being able to predict an outcome (based on a previous failure). Confidence in one’s ability to contribute something of value can be a strong foundation for earning respect.

  11. Sam February 27, 2013 at 2:04 am #

    Great Blog, though I’d argue that age AND experience lead to wisdom ;-)

  12. stoptrippin February 27, 2013 at 6:40 am #

    Reblogged this on I Work For Me and commented:
    Relevant, and inspirational as well. Interesting blog by a writer that I really enjoy :)

  13. Steve Borek February 27, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

    Many of my clients are Millennials. I’m a Boomer. I love working with Gen Y. Why? We light each other up!

    I asked a client, in her late 20’s, what it’s special about our coaching relationship. She said “Steve, you come from a place of not being judgemental.” She’s absolutely correctamundo!

    Gen Y’s are so misunderstood. I take them right where they are and ask, “what perspective can this person bring to the situation?”

    Then all I do is get out of the way and watch their brilliance shine.

  14. College Forever! February 27, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

    I’m lucky that most of the student affairs staff is on the young side, but the majority of faculty on my campus are older and not only are they hesitant to work with us, but they are very set in their ways and HATE change. I hope that man gets to apply to a start up full of young people one day and somebody turns that question on him.

    • Steve Borek February 27, 2013 at 1:38 pm #

      Many people are set in their ways. What changes would you like to see in the staff?

  15. ourageisretrospective February 27, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

    I encourage you to explain the hardships of life after college as a young professional. It is often too easy to tell the good and leave out the bad. It would of helped me so much if I knew more of what to expect once graduating. Great post!

  16. BLT February 27, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

    It’s actually a necessary evil, don’t you think? Everybody – kids, teenagers, young adults, etc.. need to face some level of adversity. It builds character, confidence, and conviction in a person to fight for what they want. Call it a test of will if you want. Outside of an office, things just get worse. If you are starting your own business and trying to gain customers and clients, a spiffy 1 or 2 page resume with a prestigious degree isn’t gong to cut it. They’ll want a history of proven success (yes, I know it’s a catch-22). Its just a fact of life, and those roadblocks are whats needed to bring out the best in us.

  17. Yaitza Canterbury February 28, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

    Great post Kayla. As an older member of Gen Y, I can relate. Unfortunately, there are members of our generation who perpetuate the stigma. You cannot simply demand respect in the workplace, or elsewhere for that matter. Respect is not given, it is earned. I would also argue that age and experience lead to wisdom. Our generation simply has not lived through the trials and tribulations our predecessors have lived through. These experiences are very much engrained in their nature much like the experiences our generation faces will shape us. It is great to be in a position to help prepare our future generations for taking on the world. I urge you to encourage them to take time away from technology to “live” life. Encourage them to volunteer, seek education, travel the world, dive into self-exploration. Encourage them to listen and learn from previous generations. Encourage them to keep an open mind. Encourage them to read. Encourage them to find effective ways to deal with stress. And above all, encourage them to accept failure and rise from it.

  18. Devan February 28, 2013 at 7:31 pm #

    I dealt with a work situation like that first-hand. Back in high school I used to work for a pizza joint and was a shift manager when I was 17 — all the other managers were at least in their 30s.

    We had a delivery driver who was in his 50s. The first day we worked together, I had opening shift with him.

    Well when he came in the door for work, he was a total jerk to me, and then left shortly after with out saying a word when he left. I was so confused as to what had happened. Turns out he was so pissed that I was the manager and wouldn’t work for someone so young and apparently quit on the spot. Yikes.

  19. rightways March 1, 2013 at 7:57 am #

    Great blog!

  20. Anthony Moore March 1, 2013 at 8:44 pm #

    Good point. I’ve found it hard myself, fighting my age in the eyes of my bosses. I’ve found that acting like it doesn’t bother me/my age doesn’t matter to me helps them feel the same way.

  21. Ryan C. Rohlf March 3, 2013 at 8:31 am #

    Another great post! I definitely agree with you. It is so hard to get people to overlook that you’re young. I’ve experienced some of the same things in internship interviews. It’s no fun! The one good thing that has come from it though: I’m extremely motivated and driven to prove them wrong. Hopefully, my work ethic and drive to learn will help me as I enter the job market.

  22. Brian Patrick Cork March 4, 2013 at 1:31 am #

    I see your world a bit differently, Kayla.

    Everyone is younger older older relative to someone. And we all have a unique perspective based upon what we are interested in, for example.

    The “deck”, a power-point derivative, was created for supposedly ADD-addled young CEO’s. But, I’ll maintain it was for emerging leaders that absorbed, process, and execute through data on a different level. Key decision-makers today are in the thirty-four to forty-four range and coming into their power-band years (phase). Decision-makers under thirty-five prefer smaller amounts of information on mobile devices, driven by collaboration. These people will influence how information is used over the next twenty years. That is going to impact all five generations at work today.

    So, twenty-somethings and early thirty-somethings have a unique opportunity to teach and influence older generations in understanding how data is the new oil and we are all the refinery. You are more vital to the work-place than you realize because technology is evolving to accommodate how you think, process and execute.

    More later.

    brian patrick cork

    • Brian Patrick Cork March 4, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

      I’m going to give Kayla Cruz her props. I found myself on her blog GEN Y GIRL last night being curious. I made a broad comment to her effort.

      Then VERY early this morning it struck me that Kayla and many of her generation might be like the iPhone. It’s cutting-edge, powerful, sharp, and relevant. But, there are so many people more focused on being judgmental and full of criticism of it to fully appreciate the impact, both realized and potential, it has on our lives, daily.

      In my view too many people talk about what the iPhone and GEN Yers should be able to do, as opposed to what they can do.

  23. D.A. Vereen March 5, 2013 at 1:20 am #

    Great points. I interview lots of young men and women for jobs where they will manage people old enough to be their parents. I usually ask a very similar question, but I phrase it in a different way – When leading a team, how do you gain the respect of associates that may be more experienced than you are? When asked this way, the response focuses less on overcoming age differences and more on strategy.

    I really enjoyed your blog. Thanks for sharing

  24. Renata March 5, 2013 at 1:52 am #

    I would like to share this quote, from a source I could not name, that is pretty relevant across ages, etc.: “Respect is what we own, love is what we give”. Your thoughts?

  25. RJ March 5, 2013 at 5:39 pm #

    It’s actually not ok to talk about age in an employment interview. Some states protect all ages not just those 40+ like federal law. But you’re right–it happens. Happens to me on a regular basis and I’m not even in my 20s anymore! Oh! And it’s a double negative to be a young female in the professional world…ah…reality.

  26. John Smith March 6, 2013 at 7:48 am #

    You have made some very interesting points out here. I am sure in years to come, you are going to achieve what you always have been thinking of… Very rightly said Age doesn’t matter when it comes to working….. This is a human psychology, if you have years of experience you think you better than others. But no there are talents hidden all over. you never know. We call this an era of science and technology where you are supposed to be well versed with what comes your way.. I really liked your post, truly inspirational for young blood…..Well done. keep up the good work going…..

  27. vxa023 March 8, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

    Reblogged this on GraduateGoneGaGa and commented:
    Great post from Gen Y Girl – totally agree!

  28. Ryan Naylor March 8, 2013 at 5:49 pm #

    Success does not depend on what someone else says to you, thinks of you (‘good’ or ‘bad’) or age. The interviewer was more interested in your response/reaction, rather than ‘being young’. People are going react and judge no matter what – no one can prevent that. I would advise your students to simply surround themselves with others who support them -regardless of age. But that’s what we are taught in school and life – bow down to your employer.

  29. Laura Hedgecock March 16, 2013 at 10:16 pm #

    Great post. I remember when I was working in Germany for a company that put our date of births on our ids. Since I was under 30, it worked against me, so I covered it up with whiteout.

    A friend of the same age wore non-corrective glasses when she gave a presentation.

    Now, at 50, I’m on the other side, with people wondering if I’m too old.

    Fair or not, age prejudice exists. You just have to ignore it and wow them with your ability and confidence.

    Laura Hedgecock

  30. Lauren- skinnywrapstar March 20, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    You are such a gifted writer!

  31. My Camera, My Friend March 30, 2013 at 2:00 am #

    So true. I’ll get older eventually, but if I never get an opportunity, I will always be inexperienced.

  32. lemonmem April 2, 2013 at 1:46 am #

    I like your analogy of them asking you to deal with the fact that someone might think “you look a bit Asian,” and that prompted me to wonder if their initial question were illegal, in an HR way, the same way mentioning race would be. It would also be bad (and possibly illegal) if you were older and they asked, “How would you handle it if all our young employees didn’t want to come to you with problems because you look old?”

    Seems like this definitely ties into the theme of some articles I’ve been reading about crappy interview practices.

  33. Saba May 24, 2014 at 11:39 am #

    Hello and thank you for your thoughtful post.

    Regarding your interview encounter – have you considered that the interviewer may not have shared a belittling view of you, but just wanted to see how you might respond to what is, unfortunately, very likely to happen in any job in the beginning? Managing people who are older than one is always best handled with diplomacy and courtesy, as well as confidence (without bragging) in your own abilities.

    One of the biggest challenges starting out is how to negotiate with grace while being true to ourselves all the different personalities and mindsets in the workplace. There is racism, there is sexism and there is ageism – I’ve experienced all three in various jobs. That’s not right, but that’s the way it is. Your challenge lies in how you respond to all of that, hopefully with dignity, determination, and talent.

    I have recently been back at university 20 years after graduating with my first degree. I took another eight years ago, and this more recent experience of studying alongside people half my age was enlightening and frightening in equal measure. There’s clearly a lot of talent and passion and fun in Gen Y. My concern however stems from having observed and interacted with my peers over 18 months in seminars and groupwork. My observations indicate a broad trend of, for want of a better, kinder word, self-absorption.

    This is particularly hard to work with. Even harder at times to live with. I’ve felt saddened and alienated by my classmates, whom I did see as simply my peers, when they have displayed this characteristic repeatedly.

    It’s never OK to cite someone’s youth as a reason for supposed incompetence. But what better way to learn about a working environment than through working your way up from the bottom? This is the way to earn your colleagues’ and bosses’ appreciation and respect. Your grace under fire will be remembered, and you may well find that promotion time rolls round quicker than you thought.

    What troubles me more is how colleges and universities who now cite employability of their graduates as a priority don’t coach their students on really important workplace attitudes. There’s no excuse, considering how much debt they create for a sizeable chunk of alumni lives.


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