4min readCulture 27 December 2019
Teenage girls have it very hard.
Anyone who has ever been one knows this instinctively. Navigating your newfound emergence into the contradictory social and sexual politics and expectations, where your body is weaponized against you and your value dictated by its degree of conformity to a Barbie doll, where you're either a slut if you have sex or a prude if you don't, where eating disorders are tacitly encouraged and you're constantly told to be quiet, be small and meek and always complaisant, and stay out of the way – it's a lot. Their argot is maligned, their speaking habits policed, their manner of dress demeaned and insulted as vanity, and their interests automatically deemed shallow, frivolous, and intellectually deficient by their mere association with them. In short, being a teenage girl isn't easy.
But Greta Thunberg, named this month as TIME Magazine's Person of the Year at the young age of sixteen – smack in the middle of some of the most difficult and complicated years a girl can have – is proving something we've long ignored: that teen girls are amazingly influential drivers of cultural change.
This is documentable. To cite one of my favorite examples, we need only look at the English language, which teenage girls have been on the bleeding edge of defining for literally hundreds of years, as linguist Gretchen McCulloch argues. You may remember the way mallrats and Valley girls were derided back in the 1980's for using "totally," you know the way we totally all do now. And it's so much more fundamental than that; the demise of words like "ye" and the shift from "hath" and "doth" to "has" and "does" are all first documented in the personal letters of teenage girls hundreds of years ago. It's so well-documented to the point of being actively a cliché; women, far more than men, drive innovation in how we speak to each other, and even what we speak about.
That's been true in the twenty-first century as well; the place feminism has in our public debates owes itself to young women hanging out on the internet and sharing their experiences. And so it should come as absolutely zero surprise that the leading light of this day and age's climate change movement is a teenage girl who is 100% finished with being dismissed and insulted – even by the president.
Greta amazes me. I think of myself as a pretty future-oriented, driven, focused person, but I didn't have a fraction the initiative, follow-through, and bravery she has, singlehandedly turning the solitary protest into a global following behind a voice that presidents, prime ministers, and princes all must acknowledge. And she's done it in less than two years.
Perhaps that's a testament to the anxieties of the age; climate change looms for younger generations in a way those of us who won't live to see its most devastating consequences probably can't entirely understand. Similarly, the last twenty years have been the story of declining faith in institutional responsibility, and that's true on all sides of the political spectrum. From clergy sex abuse scandals to the Iraq War to Brexit to the "liberal media elite" and Donald Trump, we've been buffeted on all sides as the ongoing crisis of the twenty-first century has unfolded around us. And it is undoubtedly true that Greta tapped into that. There would be no public movement without a public ready and willing to join.
But I would be remiss if I failed to highlight how remarkable it is that it's been spearheaded by the clarity and resolve of a teenage girl. She's succeeded where every climate activist group, every climate lobbyist, and every politician has failed by galvanizing public opinion into public, clear-throated, take-no-prisoners action.
Greta is also unbelievably canny. She has had the foresight to know that putting her up on a pedestal gives you permission to ignore the things she's actually saying and to keep the focus, as much as she's capable, on her generation rather than on her. She's spoken, forcefully, about how the people who will be most affected by rising temperatures are the ones without the power to do anything about it. In other words, she is beholden to no one and doesn't give a single damn about what you think about her. Or even what I think about her.
She's been compared to Joan of Arc, which isn't much of a reach; both teenage girls who stuck their heads in where they were profoundly unwelcome to force through action. And both did it from positions of profound social weakness; if women are second-class citizens, girls are doubly, with all the burdens of girlhood atop those of youth. Yet despite that, she is fomenting rebellion and anger and, thank goodness, hope.
It's theorized that the reason young women drive language change is because women learn language from their peers and men learn it from their mothers. That women, historically, build stronger and broader social networks, and so are able to exercise under-the-radar influence. Maybe both of those things are at play here, too: that young women are uniquely situated to internalize new facts, new politics, new ideas, and then to mobilize those things into action. That's a power history has willfully ignored, and which we, in the slimmest of silver linings, are lucky to have the opportunity to witness on a grand scale.
If nothing else, I am grateful for that.
4 Min Read
In 2020, as the world turned on its axis, we all held on for dear life. Businesses, non-profits, government organizations, and entrepreneurs all braced for a new normal, not sure what it would mean, what would come next, or if we should be excited or terrified.
At the same time that everything is shifting, being put on hold, or expanding, companies have to evaluate current talent needs, empower their teams to work from home, discover new ways to care for clients from a distance, and navigate new levels of uncertainty in this unfamiliar environment. Through it all, civilians are being encouraged to lean into concepts like "resilience" and "courage" and "commitment," sometimes for the first time.
Let's contrast what the business community is going through this year with the common experience of the military. During basic training, officer candidate school, multiple deployments, combat, and reintegration, veterans become well-versed in resilience, courage, and commitment to survive and thrive in completing their mission. Today, veterans working in the civilian sector find the uncertainty, chaos, instability, and fear threading through companies eerily familiar.
These individuals do not leave their passion and sense of service behind when they separate or retire out of the military. Instead, typically veterans continue to find avenues to serve — in their teams, their companies, their communities.
More than ever before, today's employers who employ prior military should focus on why and how to retain them and leverage their talents, experience, and character traits to help lead the company — and the employees — to the other side of uncertainty.
What makes veterans valuable employees
Informed employers recognize that someone with a military background brings certain high-value assets into the civilian sector. Notably, veterans were taught, trained, and grounded in certain principles that make them uniquely valuable to their employers, particularly given the current business environment, including:
It's been said that the United States Armed Forces is the greatest leadership institution in the world. The practices, beliefs, values, and dedication of those who serve make them tested leaders even outside of the military. Given the opportunity to lead, a veteran will step forward and assume the role. Asked to respect and support leadership, they comply with that position as well. Leadership is in the veteran's blood and for a company that seeks employees with the confidence and commitment to lead if called upon, a veteran is the ideal choice.
The hope is that all employees are committed to their job and give 100% each day. For someone in the military, this is non-negotiable. The success of the mission, and the lives of everyone around them, depend on their commitment to stay the course and perform their job as trained. When the veteran employee takes on a project, it will be completed. When the veteran employee says there's an unsurmountable obstacle, it is so (not an excuse). When a veteran says they're "all in" on an initiative, they will see it through.
Strategy, planning, and improv
Every mission involves strategy, planning, and then improvisation from multiple individuals. On the battlefield, no plan works perfectly, and the service member's ability to flex, pivot, and adapt makes them valuable later, in the civilian sector. Imagine living in countries where you don't speak the language, working alongside troops who come from places you can't find on a map, and having to communicate what needs to get done to ensure everyone's safety. Veterans learned how to set goals, problem-solve challenges, and successfully get results.
With an all-volunteer military for decades now, every man and woman who wore our nation's uniform raised their hand to do so. They chose to serve their country, their fellow Americans, and their leaders. These individuals do not leave their passion and sense of service behind when they separate or retire out of the military. Instead, typically veterans continue to find avenues to serve — in their teams, their companies, their communities.
When companies seek out leaders who will commit to a bigger mission, can think strategically and creatively, and will serve others, they look to veterans.
Best practices in retention of veteran talent
Retention starts at hiring. The experience set out in the interview stage provides insight about how it will be to work and grow within the team at the company. For employers hiring veterans, this is a critical step.
Veterans often tell me that they "look to work for a company that has a set of values I can ascribe to." The topic of values can serve as an opportunity for companies seeking to retain military talent.
The veteran employee may have had a few — or several — jobs since leaving the military. Or this may be their first civilian work experience. In any case, setting expectations and being clear about goals is vital. Remember, veterans are trained to complete a mission and a goal. When an employer clarifies the mission and shows how the veteran employee's role supports and fulfills that mission, the employee can more confidently and successfully complete their work.
Additionally, regular check-ins are helpful with veteran employees. These employees may not be as comfortable asking for help or revealing their weaknesses. When the employer checks in regularly, and shows genuine interest in their happiness, sense of productivity, and overall job satisfaction, the veteran employee learns to be more comfortable asking for help when needed.
The military is a values-driven culture. Service members are instilled with values of loyalty, integrity, service, duty, and honor, to name a few. When they transition out of the military, veterans still seek a commitment to values in their employers. Veterans often tell me that they "look to work for a company that has a set of values I can ascribe to." The topic of values can serve as an opportunity for companies seeking to retain military talent. Make it clear what your values are, how you live and act on those values, and how the veteran's job will promote and support those values. Even work that is less glamorous can be attractive to a veteran if they understand the greater purpose and mission.
Today, veterans working in the civilian sector find the uncertainty, chaos, instability, and fear threading through companies eerily familiar.
Finally, leveraging the strengths and goals of any employee is critical, and particularly so with veterans. If you have an employee who is passionate about service, show them ways to give back — through mentoring, community engagement, volunteerism, etc. If your veteran continues to seek leadership roles, find opportunities for them to contribute at higher levels, even informally. When your veteran employee offers to reframe the team's mission to gain better alignment across the sector, give them some runway to experiment. You have a workforce that is trained and passionate about and skilled in adapting and overcoming. Let them do what they do best.