Chicago — Gen Z started their careers amid an aging U.S. population and as Boomers have retired or are heading toward retirement. Some see it as an opportunity to take the reins in some of the most impactful industries and to shape culture at the companies within them.
Matt Monroe, a 24-year-old IT professional and Lincoln Park native, thinks so. He has dreams of one day managing teams and driving strategy across entire IT organizations. As he watches a lot of longtime employees at his company head for retirement, he sees a chance to move closer to his goals.
“It’s a chance for me to show what I’m made of and show my bosses that I have the potential to rise up,” he said. “I’m making sure to raise my hand for projects I normally wouldn’t take on to get outside my comfort zone and to just to show them that I can do it.”
Lisa Reed, a 27-year-old paralegal at a law firm, has taken similar courses of action to one day be a lawyer. She’s made an effort to soak in career advice and lessons from some of the firm's senior attorneys to leverage as she makes her way through law school. She wants to use their wisdom to make needed changes in the legal field once she graduates.
“Women and women of color are still largely underrepresented in the legal field,” said Reed, a Black woman. In 2022, about 38% of all lawyers in the U.S. were women and although more than half of all law school graduates are women, the number in senior leadership roles at U.S. law firms is far less than half, according to the American Bar Association. Women on color also continue to be significantly underrepresented, making up less than 8% of all attorneys, a 2019 Harvard Business Review wrote.
Numbers like those only confirm her long-time ambitions. Since she was a kid, Reed has vowed to make the field more diverse.
“I’m hoping that if I can go from being a paralegal, to an attorney and maybe even to a partner or a in-house lawyer one day, I can show little Black girls that it’s possible and that they can do it too,” she said.
The tech industry faces a similar diversity challenge, one that Sofia Hernandez, a Pilson native who works for a startup, is aiming to solve.
“Besides a few mentors I’ve had, there still isn’t enough women, women of color or Latinas in leadership,” she said, pointing to the fact that 28% of the industry’s workforce is made up of women. “How can we empower the next generation to lead if they don’t see people who look like them doing it today?”
With leaders heading toward retirement in her industry and others, Hernandez hopes they reach back to young generations to prepare them to sit in their seats. Though she’s still on her own journey to be a leader, she’s playing her part by performing outreach to her high school and her college to inspire girls to take on tech.
“I think for so long girls just haven’t been encouraged to pursue it but once they realize what it is and how fun it is, they jump at the opportunity,” she said. “It’s best to start reaching back now, so these kids have guidance early.”
Noah Johnson (he/him/his) is a Chicago-based journalist. Follow him on Twitter: @noahwritestoo.
Edited by NaTyscha Pickett