Millennials Don't Want to Lean In: Why Generational Differences Among Working Women Matter To Companies
Recent media coverage of Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, highlights the roles of women in the workplace and the bias and unfairness experienced by female professionals. Sandberg’s powerful message is, however, distinctly shaded by her own generational lens and her experience with feminism. Her “mission to reboot” feminism and to reframe discussions on gender, distinctly reflect her Generation X values of autonomy and work-life balance, and misses the mark with Millennial women, who do not see gender inequality in the workplace and are either confused or annoyed at the negativity they think older generations bring to the subject.
In order to understand women’s issues in the workplace and to retain and engage them as employees, companies must recognize that generational differences among working women exist and that each generation has an equally valid perspective on the topic.
Here is a critical reference guide for organizations on the generational traits, experiences and attitudes of American working women.
Traditionalists (born 1925-1943)
- Generational Traits: Loyal; Patriotic; Financially conservative; Faithful to institutions; Respect for authority and hierarchy
- Female Role Models: Rosie the Riveter; Eleanor Roosevelt; June Cleaver
- Attitudes & Approaches to Work/Life Balance: Strict boundaries between gender and work; Family first
- Career Models: Working women in non-management positions with little opportunity for advancement; During World War II, occupied temporary positions previously held by men
Baby Boomers (born 1944-1962)
- Generational Traits: Competitive; Value materialism and professional identity; Challenge authority; Plan to continue working beyond traditional retirement age
- Female Role Models: Gloria Steinem; Julia Child; Hillary Clinton
- Attitudes & Approaches to Work/Life Balance: “You-can-have-it-all” mentality; Superwomen responsible for ongoing family care while maintaining careers
- Career Models: Women compete with men until “glass ceiling” is reached and challenged; Professional identity is critical; Likely to engage in new, late-life careers
Generation X (born 1963-1981)
- Generational Traits: Independent; Skeptical; Resourceful; Value autonomy in their work
- Female Role Models: Madonna; Sandra Day O’Connor; Michelle Obama
- Attitudes & Approaches to Work/Life Balance: Family comes first, but may be delayed until their late 20s and early 30’s; Financial pressures increase need for dual income families, while single women have a harder time economically
- Career Models: Multiple careers over a lifetime; Professional identity is important but not a driving force; Increased opportunities for “stay-at-home” moms with entrepreneurial side businesses
Millennials (born 1982-2003)
- Generational Traits: Realistic; Optimistic; Confident; Multi-taskers; Civic minded; Value teamwork but not hierarchy
- Female Role Models: Princess Kate; Ellen DeGeneres; Lena Dunham
- Attitudes & Approaches to Work/Life Balance: Complete integration of work and life through technology, i.e. no need to “balance” work and life; Entering marriage and starting families at a later ages than predecessors
- Career Models: Non-linear progression, with less expectation of early jobs being a stepping stone to later career opportunities; Parallel careers and multiple jobs at the same time and over a lifetime; Experiencing rapid promotions and equitable pay
Addressing gender in the workplace is not a one-size–fits-all issue. To understand and meet the needs of professional women, organizations and the leaders who run them must have a high degree of generational savvy and be able to communicate effectively across generations. How much do you know about the perceptions and attitudes of the women in your workplace?
Amy Hirsh Robinson, MBA, (www.interchange-group.com) is a leading expert on the changing workforce and the impact of generational shifts on organizations. She consults to Fortune 500 companies, privately held businesses and not-for-profits to prepare and retool leaders and their workforces to excel and compete in the New Economy. Her strategies and programs focus on onboarding new employees to ensure the retention and engagement of top talent, managing and motivating a multigenerational workforce, and building competitive talent pipelines through effective succession planning practices. Amy speaks and publishes widely on workforce strategies for the New Economy and has been cited and quoted in publications such as Forbes, the Los Angeles Times, and the Huffington Post