Considering decades passed, with the exception of those born with a silver spoon, position in corporate America (when looked at from an equitable point of view) has always been based on time invested in a given field. You found a job, you learned the ins and outs of it over years, gaining experiences and innovating when you could. But people didn’t change fields too often because access to information was scarce and time consuming. If I was a marketing professional, I knew marketing and I wasn’t going to invest years in learning accounting. However, today, we are at a point in society where we have access to all the information we need at all times. Therefore, I can become a theoretical expert in a field in a quarter of the time necessary to do so three decades ago. That is not to take away from the advantages and wisdom that practice provides but, even when we think about theoretical educators who have little to no experience in the classroom, I could conceivably read enough over a three year period to comprehend what a doctoral student learned over his seven or eight years of formal schooling four decades ago.
Now, imagine that you are that seasoned, well-educated professional who sees a young person come into your office for an interview. She has a solid theoretical knowledge of your field and, in addition to her knowledge of what you know, she brings a skills set that you don’t have, one that is strongly reliant on the ability to learn things quickly and put them into practice, executing and then moving on to whatever is next. You, as that professional who has invested years into developing a knowledge base and reputation may be intimidated by this young person. She is throwing a wrench in the “natural order” of things. At this point, the experienced professional has two options: A) become a mentor, allowing his practical knowledge and wisdom to supplement her theoretical understanding of the field or B) become a blockade, holding her back from reaching her potential because you automatically assume that her status as a young professional makes her arrogant and unteachable (ironically making him the unteachable one because he refuses to open his mind to the possibility that someone so young could comprehend with the right instruction).
Now, we will take a look at the same situation from her perspective.
Imagine walking into an interview as a young woman, looking to enter a field that was once dominated by men. You may be on edge and defensive already. Eager to show what you know and that may come off as arrogance. That perceived arrogance, to some, may give off the impression that, eventually, this young lady is going to work to take steps forward, eventually working to dethrone the interviewer. Thus, in response to your defensiveness-turned-perceived-arrogance, the experienced professional will become defensive. So the young professional has two options: She can: A) tone down her confidence and realize that, though she knows everything in theory, she knows little to nothing in practice and wisdom can be given but not fabricated or B) allow her defensive response to earn her an enemy instead of a mentor.
And there you have a cycle of culture change and resistance to change. But what if both individuals (generations) put themselves in the other’s shoes? Maybe then we’d be able to come to common ground. That’s not to say to back down from people who threaten your professional stability/growth but when you perceive a threat, try to come to an understanding with (s)he who opposes you and turn your enemy into your ally.
Make professional development a priority.