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?