I am female and a Baby Boomer. I know that how I see things and my values are not the same as for all women or all Baby Boomers. But I tend to understand the perspectives of both women and Boomers in general. I see that in general there are differences in the values and perspectives of women Traditionals, Baby Boomer, Generation X’rs and Millennials. This is where two areas of difference in today’s workplace, gender and generation, intersect.
What are the commonalities among women of the four generations in today’s workplace? What areas of tension or conflict might be different or more intense for women than men of different generations?
Women of the four generations have lots in common. Differences in masculine and feminine perspectives and behaviors do not change much over the course of a generation or three. My book Difference Works explores the characteristics of masculine vs. feminine approaches in 10 different dimensions of work, including how we communicate, structure things, make decisions, view relationships and use humor. Women of all generations are more likely than their male counterparts to operate on the feminine side of the masculine-feminine continuum in these areas. They share this preference for (or understanding of) feminine ways of thinking, working and leading.
Some values and needs of women cut across the generations. Women of all generations, as a whole, have wanted the ability to have both career and family – to have flexibility or “balance” and pursue a non-linear career. Because of changes in gender and family roles, men Gen X’rs and Millenials share these needs. And yet this is also a source of tension among older and younger working women.
Until the 1960’s, middle class women’s lives were very similar. Each generation has had more choices about how to balance work and family. Women, unfortunately, sometimes judge other women who have made choices different from their own – about having children, using day care or the priority given to career. In what is called the “mommy wars,” Boomer women who struggled to “have it all” judge Gen X or Millenial moms for working part time or not working. Boomer career women are judged by younger women for making the “wrong” choice. I have never seen this area of choice be a source of dissension among men!
Generational differences lead to misunderstanding and conflict among the four age groups independent of gender. Hard-working Boomers of both genders judge Millennials for not having the right “work ethic.” They scratch their heads at the informality of the attire of younger workers. In these areas women seem to experience the conflict more intensely.
- Just as women divide over their choices about balancing work and family, Boomer women may judge younger women for not working enough hours — and women Gen X’rs and Millenials may judge Boomer women for working too much!
- Boomer women may resent younger women for wearing casual or revealing attire. In their early careers, women Boomers may have felt that “fitting in” and succeeding in the business world required that they play down their femininity. They fear that the casual, revealing attire of the younger generations threatens or dishonors the progress women have made.
Can awareness of these and other commonalities — and sources of conflict — help women be more supportive of women of older and younger generations?
I continue to work on practicing what I preach, consciously leveraging both masculine and feminine aspects of myself. I look for the “Max” ways I think and act, Max being the prototype of the masculine. I recognize the “Fran” parts of my thinking and behavior; Fran is the prototype representing the typical or average woman. (I use these prototypes rather than stereotyping about how men and women think or act; men and women all have some elements of both masculine and feminine.)
I am still recovering from neck-fusion surgery and resulting nerve damage. My arms and hands still are not functioning at 100%. Nerves heal, I am told, really slowly. For many weeks, I have been unable to operate at my usual (fast) level of multi-tasking. Initially, I could do very little work. Now I am trying to strike the balance – between doing as much as I can and taking care of myself and my long-term healing.
A friend suggested I think about this as the need to balance the Max and Fran parts of myself. The Max or masculine part of me (a big part) wants to dive right in, build my business back up quickly, get results. This part is “lit up” when I am creating a workshop or article or confirming a speaking engagement. My Fran or feminine part is more cautious, less focused on one thing (getting a result), less competitive. This part weighs multiple issues and perspectives. This part assures (or is supposed to assure) I get enough self-nurturing and nurturing generally.
My inclination is to follow my Max elements and get moving. I recognize that I need to honor my Fran nature and avoid speeding up too soon. I am grateful for both parts of myself. Just as balance in the workplace and in leadership style is a good thing, a personal balance of masculine and feminine is good for me!
I talk and write a lot about mindsets. I focus on mindsets that create obstacles for gender diversity at the leadership level of business. I recently recognized how quickly mindsets can develop. I developed a mindset that I need to change.
When I use the term, I refer to a way of thinking that has developed over time and may operate at the sub-conscious level. Brain scientists are learning much about how doing certain things, and thinking certain ways, lay down neuropaths. The more we do or think that way, the more deeply grooved the neuropaths become. This is the root of a habit – a “knee jerk” way of reacting in thought or action.
I have spent the last two months recuperating from surgery and resulting nerve damage. I had to slow way down. Everything (dressing, typing, even eating) takes much longer than normal. What I got done in a day has been far less than before. Prior to this medical challenge, I might feel I had a productive day if I designed or delivered a speech or workshop, followed up with two prospects, wrote a blog and did physical exercise. Now I feel I have had a productive day if I take a shower, dress and make breakfast, do my physical therapy, respond to a few phone calls or e-mails, take a nap, and maybe write for 15 minutes. This has become a new habit of thought. I have just become aware of it!
As I heal and regain physical function, this new, relaxed standard is interfering with my work – my mission. I know it is time to step it up at least a bit – and more and more as I can. But that takes recognizing this (recently developed) mindset about what I can and should do in a day.
Do you see? We should not feel bad or guilty about having unconscious mindsets. They occur naturally. In my case it has occurred in two months. I cannot judge people for having deeply rooted mindsets that create obstacles for women in business leadership. These mindsets are formed over lifetimes and reinforced by strong cultural forces. How much harder they are to bring to conscious awareness – and to change – than my recently developed mindset about productivity!
What mindsets can you identify in yourself? Are there reasons to change them?