At a recent gathering in Chicago organized by Finimize, a financial website targeting millennials, I asked the participants what kind of careers they wanted. Out of about a dozen early twentysomethings keen to work in finance, only two raised their hands indicating they hoped to work in traditional big banks, more than half wanted to work at startups, and a handful were interested in social enterprise or nonprofits.

The response was somewhat surprising, given the popular perception that the large and increasingly influential cohort of 20- and 30-something Americans is more risk-averse than older generations. (The Pew Research Center defines the millennial generation as the 71 million Americans born between 1981 and 1996 — that is, those who are between 23 and 38 years old in 2019.) These are just a few recent headlines declaring it so: “Millennials Are Risk Averse and Hoarding Cash” (Investopedia) , “Yes, Millennials Are A ‘Risk Averse Generation’” (Hedgeye), and “Overcome Risk Aversion to Optimize Millennial Investment Behavior” (T. Rowe Price).

Flooding into startups and other companies that are not yet established isn’t exactly the hallmark of a risk-averse group. In fact, when we look behind the headlines, it is clear that millennials, rather than being risk-averse, are risk-savvy and risk-aware.

By some measures, such as their investments or social decisions, millennials take fewer risks than the generations that came before. But by others — say, speaking up at work or career decisions — millennials likely set older generations’ alarm bells ringing. Seven in 10 millennials aspire to be CEOs, and more than nine in 10 seek more broadly defined leadership roles — none of this is for the faint of heart.

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