My company, DifferenceWORKS is celebrating three years in business. Although women have been in the business world for decades, women are far from proportionally represented at upper levels in business. There is a compelling business case for gender diversity; businesses do better with women and men leading together. I set out to make a difference in this area. Birthdays are good times to review accomplishments; I chronicle what DifferenceWORKS has done in its first three years.
Recent discussions on the “Millennials” (Generation Y) focus on (negative) stereotypes and on similarities. An HBR blog says we exaggerate differences and should focus on similarities. I agree that we exaggerate differences but do not think the solution is in ignoring them. We can be “generation blind” no more than we can be “color blind” in dealing with racial differences. Recognizing differences enables us to see strengths and to leverage differences.
To reduce judgment about other generations, it helps to understand them — and why members of that generation are different from members of our own. One important factor in shaping generations is how they were parented during their formative years. GenXers are independent and self-directed and want “life/work balance” because their parents were workaholic Baby Boomers and they grew up in two-career families or families of divorce. Millennials are confident, but more dependent on advice and praise, because their parents protected and praised them.
I am in the business of increasing understanding, of reducing judgment, which gets in the way of inclusivity. It’s like light and dark. Light dispels darkness; understanding dispels judgment (which often exist below conscious awareness). Men and women judge each other; members of different generations judge each other. When we understand differences and why we are different, we can set aside judgment and find ways to work together. Understanding enables people to think and act more inclusively, especially if new ways of thinking are reinforced and one practices new behaviors.
MUCH of the workforce will respond positively to changes suggested in Anne Marie Slaughter’s article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” Addressing the difficulty of working a demanding job and having a family, she suggest “changing the culture of face time.” This is more than a women’s issue; it is a generational issue affecting large sectors of the workforce. Members of Generation X and Millennials “want a life.” Leaders who address the need for more flexible work schedules will see improved engagement and retention; those who don’t will see disengagement and turnover.