I continue to explore the intersection of gender and generations. I have posted about how the similarities and areas of tension among the generations differ for women vs men. I have written about conflict that involves women of different generations – including conflict between more senior women (women bosses) and their female subordinates. I want to explore what values and perspectives of women in general are shared with those of the younger generations (Gen X and Millennial).
Cultural changes have caused younger generations to have much in common with what women have valued and needed for at least three generations. Over the last century, our views have evolved on gender roles, what women can and should do and how families divide the work. Women Traditionals (other than the blip during World War II for Rosie the Riveter) generally divided labors with their husbands; he had a job while she worked as mother and homemaker. If they worked outside the home, middle class women were secretaries, teachers and nurses; few were lawyers, surgeons or senators. Baby Boomers saw the advent of birth control and the opening of choice – stay at home, build a career or try to have it all.
Members of Gen X had “career moms”; they knew they would have choices, new to their mothers, of how to balance family and work. And they knew they would do it differently. Rather than “work-life balance,” they would insist on “life-work balance.” Often Gen X women have married men (who also had career moms) who share the work of raising children and caring for the household. Millennials grew up seeing women as Secretaries of State, Supreme Court Justices and a Presidential candidate. Millennial men – who have competed with girls in school and on the job and have had women bosses – are likely to see women as equals.
As a result of these changes in gender roles, younger generations are natural allies with women on “work-life balance” issues and have more evolved views on the potential of women. Interestingly, they also exhibit more balance between masculine and feminine ways of thinking and working. My book Difference Works establishes a common definition of masculine vs. feminine approaches in 10 different dimensions of work. It explores the masculine-feminine continuum in 10 areas, including how we communicate, handle conflict, structure things, make decisions and view relationships. In two dimensions of the continuum, how we structure things and how we view workplace relationships, men from the younger generations are more likely than those of the two older groups to demonstrate feminine approaches.
Traditionals and Boomers observe and honor hierarchical structures – a masculine form. Members of Gen X and Millennials tend to value hierarchy less and prefer flatter, more networked (feminine) structures. Traditionals and Boomers established a masculine norm of workplace relationships based on role and position. The younger generations seek more personal relationships at work, characteristic of a feminine value for more intimate connections.
So there is reason to believe that the needs, values and perspectives of women in general have a lot in common with those of Gen X’rs and Millennials. Can this combination result in a critical mass to advocate for a kind of workplace where both men and women can reach their potential — and thrive?