Gen Z Wants to Be the CEOs of Themselves

Three leaders are putting misconceptions about their generation to rest.

Two panelists from Marie Claire's Power Play event sitting on a stage
(Image credit: Ralphy Ramos)

Every generation has its share of workplace stereotypes. Gen Xers are supposedly hopeless with technology. Restless millennials bounce between jobs and set egregious boundaries while spending too much money on avocado toast at lunch. And Gen Z? According to popular myth, they have minimal work ethic and maximum attitude.

A few minutes in conversation with any generation can prove these misconceptions false—especially a chat with rising Gen Z entrepreneurs. At Power Play, Marie Claire's annual event celebrating ambitious women, three Gen Z women candidly set the record straight in a panel presented by Aerie about their approach to work. Not only are they raising millions and breaking boundaries in their respective fields, but they're also finding ways to bring their entire selves to work.

Soft ambition, this is not. The three panelists' résumés fit the traditional definition to a T. By 19, moderator Marley Dias had collected more than 13,000 books featuring Black protagonists to donate to students around the country through her foundation #1000BlackGirlBooks. Daniella Pierson reached a personal valuation of $200 million, making her one of the wealthiest Latinx women in the United States, by founding two separate companies: The Newsette and Wondermind. (And her third company, Be a Breadwinner, was just unveiled last week.) Shilpa Yarlagadda combined her love of jewelry design and computer science to launch Shiffon Jewelry, a brand that invests in women-founded businesses with each piece purchased, while she was still a college student. She's since found fans in Michelle Obama and Emma Watson, to name a few customers.

Naturally, this trio has insights into their generation's real mindset. Ahead, read the best quotes from the panelists' wide-ranging conversation about ambition, personal development, and the places where they intersect. The bottom line: At work and beyond, Gen Zers are much more nuanced than any online stereotype makes them seem.

A wide angle shot of three panelists onstage at Marie Claire's power play event discussing gen z

Marley Dias, Daniella Pierson, and Shilpa Yarlagadda discussed the realities of Gen Z entrepreneurship at Marie Claire's Power Play event.

(Image credit: Ralphy Ramos)

Shilpa Yarlagadda, founder of fine jewelry label Shiffon Company

On ambition as a daily practice: "I think so much of ambition is also the day-to-day things that you're improving about yourself. Over time, I think I've come to internalize a lot of it, it's just self-improvement and it's also balance. And that's why it's so amazing these days that we put such a priority on wellness. So whether it's having the discipline every day to just wake up every morning or get that one thing that you want to improve on, I feel like all of those help you better your long-term goals."

On finding room to grow beyond work: "Oftentimes when I spend time with my family, it really grounds me and I'm like, "I want to be a better daughter. I want to be ambitious with the kind of person that I am." And those qualities are equally important for me. So I think being the CEO of yourself and what you want to take in, what you want to improve, is equally important. Sometimes we can be so caught up in all of our career ambitions and feeling inadequate at times, but having those processes and how you take care of yourself is also something I've been looking to be ambitious in.

Daniella Pierson, founder and CEO of Newsette Media Group and Be a Breadwinner

On staying authentic in the workplace: "I think I keep my authentic self by remembering how it felt to literally be locked out of a room by an old white man whose name was on the building and he told me that I was never going to be successful. I remember those moments and they're chips on my shoulder, and that's unhealthy, too. But I remember that and that's what keeps me grounded and humble. And also, the people around me who bring me back to earth when I finally see my family. I missed Christmas for three years in a row because I was working. But I finally saw them a few months ago and it was like, 'Why do I do all this?' It's because I want to be happy and be free and be free to go do these things."

On balancing self-care and ambition: "I feel this immense responsibility to just work so hard. I think last year, going into winter break, I realized that if I actually want to be smart with my time and I wanted to put work first before I start family or anything—I do have two poodles who are my children, but a real family—I realized that I had to work smarter, not harder."

Marley Dias, Daniella Pierson, Nikki Ogunnaike, and Shilpa Yarlagadda at Marie Claire's Power Play event

The panelists gathered with Marie Claire editor-in-chief Nikki Ogunnaike to open up about balancing their personal and professional ambitions.

(Image credit: Ralphy Ramos)

Marley Dias, activist and founder of #1000BlackGirlBooks

On the responsibility of representation: "I think a lot of us find ourselves in rooms where there's a lot of people that don't look like us. And we'll continue to just naturally have sentiments and ideas and values that might counteract or contradict the idea of lifting as we climb and speaking to our community and wanting to maintain those values. You never want to feel like you've changed in the process of trying to represent or trying to bring capital or bring success to your community."

On setting an example for Gen Alpha (and beyond): "You guys remind me a lot of the principles of Sankofa, something that my mom raised me with. The Sankofa bird [symbolizes how we can] look to our past so that we can be our best today and every day. And I think you guys stand on the shoulders of really incredible community members of people, and we've continued to represent the best of what women of color have to offer for our future and are building a world that will allow so many young girls to be something that they didn't think they could be."

Halie LeSavage
Senior News Editor (Fashion & Beauty)

Halie LeSavage is the senior fashion and beauty news editor at Marie Claire, where she assigns, edits, and writes stories for both sections. Halie is an expert on runway trends, celebrity style, emerging fashion and beauty brands, and shopping (naturally). In over seven years as a professional journalist, Halie’s reporting has ranged from fashion week coverage spanning the Copenhagen, New York, Milan, and Paris markets, to profiles on industry insiders including stylist Alison Bornstein and J.Crew womenswear creative director Olympia Gayot, to breaking news stories on noteworthy brand collaborations and beauty launches. (She can personally confirm that Bella Hadid’s Ôrebella perfume is worth the hype.) She has also written dozens of research-backed shopping guides to finding the best tote bags, ballet flats, and more. Most of all, Halie loves to explore what trends—like the rise of doll-like Mary Janes or TikTok’s 75 Hard Style Challenge—can say about culture writ large. (She justifies almost any purchase by saying it’s “for work.”) Halie has previously held writer and editor roles at Glamour, Morning Brew, and Harper’s Bazaar. Halie has been cited as a fashion and beauty expert in The Cut, CNN Underscored, and Reuters, among other outlets, and appears in newsletters like Selleb and Self-Checkout to provide shopping recommendations. In 2022, she was awarded the Hearst Spotlight Award for excellence and innovation in fashion journalism. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Harvard College. Outside of work, Halie is passionate about books, baking, and her miniature Bernedoodle, Dolly. For a behind-the-scenes look at her reporting, you can follow Halie on Instagram and TikTok.