Britney Lowery leads a discussion about Millennials.

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by Jordan Green

Dialogue series focuses on attitudes and preferences of Millennials in the workplace.

Dominic Nwanji, Brittany Hairston and Elton Holland formed a kind of focus group for Winston-Salem marketing professionals, business people and nonprofit leaders who want to understand Millennials’ attitudes and preferences.

The three answered questions in the second of four modules in the Millennial Mondays series at Flywheel co-working space in the newly renovated [email protected] building in the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter on Monday.

Tory Gillett, director of strategy at the Wildfire marketing and communication firm, said her company was motivated to organize the series because of a growing awareness about the need to reach out to Millennials — a generational marker generally used to identify those who became of adults after 2000. The firm coordinated with 24-year-old Britney Lowery, the administrative assistant at the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership, to put the series together, with Lowery handling most of the presentations.

The small group that joined the session on Monday afternoon engaged in an intergenerational dialogue about civic engagement, standards of professionalism and career expectations.

“I’m not going to lie: I’m not political,” said Brittany Hairston, a recent NC Central University graduate who works at Davenport Engineering. “I know the president. I’m not that concerned with my mayor or senator.”

Winston-Salem State University student Dominic Nwanji said he got plugged in to local politics thanks to a connection with Winston-Salem City Councilman Derwin Montgomery. Nwanji is an intern at the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership.

“Students are not necessarily connected,” he said. “When I started working downtown, that’s when I started getting connected. The councilman is the reason I work and play downtown.”

All three panelists work on the same block of West Fourth Street.

Elton Holland, who is studying medical office administration at Forsyth Tech, works at Downtown Perk.

“The mayor comes into my store and gets his Wolfies [frozen custard],” Holland said. “I know who he is, but he’s just another human being to me. With our generation, you’re in school and you’re not connected very much. I’m barely able to take care of my animals at home, so I don’t have time to research a political office.”

The three said they get most of their election information by Googling candidates’ names and looking at their campaign websites. The older professionals in the dialogue, including Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers, said they also get information about candidates from the internet, along with targeted mailings. One mentioned that the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce regularly hosts candidate forums during every election.

Lowery emphasized the value of direct engagement with candidates.

“If I can feel where you’re coming from or feel your energy, I’ll probably vote for you,” she said.

To a one, the older participants urged their younger cohorts to get engaged at the local level, where they said government is much more likely to impact their businesses and personal lives.

The participants also discussed stereotypes of Millennials as being noncommittal and entitled, using a “Today Show” segment highlighting disparaging comments by co-hosts Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb as a conversation starter. One of the more pungent remarks was made by Kotb, who said, “We see a lot of young people come through here who want our jobs right away.”

Holland said, “I’ve been working since I was 17. I think the older generations don’t think of us as being serious about our jobs. Some of us do bounce from job the job. The job I have now, I’ve had for five years. People think we’re lazy and that we don’t care; it’s not true. We may care about different things. We do care about our jobs, but they’re not always there.”

Gillett said attitudes among Millennials don’t seem all that different from when she was young.

“I’m Generation X,” she said. “We were labeled the ‘slacker’ generation. It’s the same thing.”

In some ways, older generations seem to have already adapted to Millennials’ preferences, particularly when it comes to the way they consume information. Media is increasingly segmented and customized to consumers’ tastes, said Chase Hogland, a strategic planner at Wildfire who will present at next Monday’s module.

“The way media content is delivered it’s pretty different by generation,” he said. “In the 1950s and ’60s you put an ad in prime-time television, and you could reach 65 percent of the market. Now you have to put out 50 or 60 versions just to reach the same number of people.”

While technology may be advancing, generational clashes over professional standards of appearance have been transpiring for at least a hundred years.

Holland and Hairston both said they have tattoos, and don’t understand why some employers consider them objectionable.

Gillett said the staff at Wildfire would be fine with tattoos, but some of their clients, particularly in traditional established corporations, would have a problem with them. She said younger employees would be well advised to cover up their tattoos with long sleeves when meeting with clients, and to generally be mindful of the differences of taste when interacting with people of different backgrounds. Another woman recalled working during an era when slacks were prohibited in the office for female employees, who were expected to dress in skirts and pantyhose. Still another woman suggested that younger employees demonstrate creativity in their thinking rather than their appearance.

“I think our generation’s version of professionalism has to do with actions, not looks,” said Holland, who added that he dyes his hair once a year for his birthday. His propensity for tattoos and shifting hair colors created tension with his employers at Lowe’s, where he formerly worked.

“I had customers that loved it, asked to see the tattoos and what they mean,” he said. “Some people had reservations about it. It’s like they don’t want you to stick out. But nowadays, if you don’t stick out, you’re never going to get noticed.”

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