Facing Generational and Gender Challenges

Written by: Rainee Busby
09 Sep 2015

While for some this may be a difficult topic to openly discuss, this is a conversation worth having. Generational and gender challenges are in every workplace and every employee is affected by it.

Many companies struggle with how to understand these differences impact their culture. What most are really missing, though, is how to take advantage of these changes to give them a competitive edge. Each brings a different kind of value to the business. Understanding that value and taking advantage of it is the ultimate goal for any organization.

Businesses are also struggling with gender issues, which has been an on-going challenge regardless of the generation. Some interesting insights have been surfacing which are worth exploring to give us a better perspective on what the challenges are and what other companies have done to overcome these obstacles.

I truly believe much of the friction that comes about when we discuss these matters has to do with our reluctance to change. This is a difficult thing for many organizations to overcome, in regards to any challenge, not just related to generations and gender.

The most important thing a organization can understand is diversity. By diversity I mean any person that belongs to a different culture, is from different regions of the country, people who dwell in small versus big cities, practice a different religion, have a varied upbringing, are a different gender, or simply differ in how they think and make decisions in comparison to the majority of any given population. The acknowledgement of this critical piece of your organization is ultimately your greatest asset.

The Five Generations in a Workplace

Organizational leaders are typically older – either from the baby boomers generation or pre-baby boomers generation – who were brought up in the business world with a work ethic that was driven by the prior generation. In order to survive and excel they had to react and align to their environment. When you have constantly been reactive, it is difficult to make the transition into driving proactive change for the organization for which you are the leader.

Generational definitions are more characterized by personality traits than the year in which someone was born. So many times, generational ranges vary based on whom you are talking to. It is similar to astrology and those that fall on the cusp of one sign to another. Sometimes you can have a little of both. It really comes down to the individual person but, for the purposes of this article, I have a few general definitions.

Silent Generation (1925 to 1942)

Those who belong t this generation have a strong connection to War. Many fought Korean and Vietnam wars and if not, they were surely a part of them in some way typically by association. There are still a few leading companies or on Board Of Directors; although many have retired.

Baby Boomers (early 40s] to early 60s)

These are mainly our current leaders, although some are nearing retirement age. Typically members of this generation work long and hard hours; this is where the butt in seats mentality is very strong. Many believe if you pay your dues, manage your life around your work and show loyalty you will be rewarded.

Gen X-ers (mid 60s to early 80s)

This generation is famous for their independence, resilience and adaptability. Many of Gen-Xers had working parents and they watched things happen to them like corporate downsizing and layoffs. They believe that loyalty doesn’t exist nor would it benefit them to show this loyalty. Placing a value on freedom and independence allow this generation to be great entrepreneurs. They are ambitious, eager to learn and value working for something meaningful. Because they fall right on the cusp of the start of the technology revolution, they are also more technologically advanced than their older baby boomer counter parts.

Gen Y-ers AKA Millennials (mid 80s to early 2000)

This generation can be the hardest to manage. They are enthusiastic, confident, and highly networked. Given their access to technology they are much more connected and better at keeping those connections. They tend to be highly educated and are the product of helicopter parents, so they also tend to respond well to praise and coaching rather than traditional management styles. Their lives are heavily scheduled with many events and they search for variety and challenge in their positions. They do not wish to be told how to do something, but search for their own way to do things.

Gen Z-ers (mid 2000 to present)

Because this generation is so young still, it is hard to tell. There are many events that have impacted them including 9-11, economic recession, and the middle eastern wars/conflicts. Given all these varied influences, it will be interesting to watch this generation grow into the workforce.

Of course, it varies considerably as mentioned. I believe our true opportunity is really focusing on the individual regardless of age. The real changes that are driving behaviors, has been technology. It has enabled us to be exposed to so many things that were never even considered to be possible in prior generations.

Gender Challenges in the Workplace

Just as baby-boomers have had to adjust over the years, we have found that women have also had to adjust to their environment in order to be successful. Many women were forced to make tough choices between family or career. I am a baby boomer female who had an IT career for over 20 years. IT is typically an environment that is made up of mostly men. I found that you had to play like the boys to be recognized and respected. At least that is what worked for me. Each person is different as is their environment that they worked within.

Although many times we don’t like to admit it, men and women are different. They think and work differently. We need to understand their strengths, as individuals, and leverage them to our advantage. Keep in mind, people are different based on many factors not just their gender. The picture of gender differences is made with a very wide stroke.

First of all, men and women tend to manage, communicate and build relationships differently. While men are more direct, women are softer in their delivery and more supportive towards their coworkers. Men tend to questions to get information, while women ask questions that engage or show interest in people. In a working environment women like to collaborate and cultivate more relationships with their colleagues, while men are more independent workers. All of these traits support the claim that women tend to have a high emotional intelligence than men. Note: Emotional Intelligence is by definition the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior. Not a person’s IQ.

Although men and women differ in the ways they go about doing their job, they frequently occupy different roles as well. High-level and C-Suite roles are typically held by men such as CEO or CFO. They also sometimes occupy different job sectors entirely. For example, men tend to occupy the technical, engineering and manufacturing businesses, while women are often involved in service industries, nursing and teaching.

Finding the best fit for your company culture

Before anything else, you need to define what are you looking for that will match your culture? Different styles work better for certain cultures. Some cultures are in your face and tend to be male dominated, although it’s not impossible for a woman to assimilate to this type of culture, it’s not typical for women.

If you have a collaborative/team culture women may be your best asset, although again it’s not impossible for men to succeed here either. So many things impact the way an individual is able to thrive and be successful; depending on their age, their upbringings and sometimes even the stereotypes we place on them. I understand that this is a very touchy subject but it can be critical to a business’s success.

Create an Effective and Diverse Workforce

After you have your culture defined and know what you expect of your employees, ensure you have clarity on the behaviors and values that fit your organization and will set you apart from your competition. This will enable you to put the right person in the best job based on those characteristics. Don’t be afraid to be open to managing people differently based on their desires; it goes back to the individual. You should be able to utilize collaboration as a key to help unlock the tools your team needs to be successful. Utilize training to help each other understand that there isn’t a right or wrong but rather how best to work/communicate that’s important.

Command and control are a thing of the past. Diversity, inclusion and tolerance are the new norm and as businesses we need to learn to grow around that. Encourage your upper level female and minority executives to become mentors. Ensure that your organization is not only accepting diversity, but is promoting it for everyone.

STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) events are hosted across the nation and can be a great asset for your organization to get involved with. An upcoming event that I will be a speaker on will encourage students to become a part of one of these fields and invest in our nation’s future. It will help you and your company to become advocates for minority populations in your communities.

I believe generational and gender challenges are improving but have a ways to go. As older leaders and workers retire and the younger generation takes over they will implement their way of doing work. Of course, that doesn’t mean the younger generation will agree either. Generational challenges will always exist. Overall, leverage the value one generation brings – share that knowledge and expertise with other generations and vise versa. Just like diversity in our client base or product offer makes us strong as a business so does having a diverse workforce. Embrace it and enjoy!

Next week we’ll be talking about Engaging Employees. Employee engagement is real and has a direct alignment to business success. We want employees who are passionate and care about their company. They expect to be treated in a manner that warrants that level of engagement. Almost 80% of engagement issues begin with the leaders/managers. I’ll share some insight as well as best practices to get your employees engaged, satisfied and working towards a common cause.