Research Paper By Donna Willis
(Self Awareness/Emotional Intelligence Coach, UNITED STATES)
Like a Phoenix, the conversation that has been talked around for a century and a half, the conversation of “Women and Equality” is rising again. It is really a much larger conversation than just equality for women; it is a conversation to refocus on value given to the differences between men and women, and how they are dismissed as counterproductive. It is an honest conversation of how business, society and family life all are influenced by the role of women in the world. It is a conversation to invite men to the table, as the first Women’s Rights Convention did in 1848 in Seneca Falls, NY where 68 women and 32 men signed the “Declaration of Sentiments”, a call for the end of women’s suffrage and a voice for voting rights for all, no matter gender or race. [i] For quite some time this conversation has been evolving and yet it is “all the buzz” currently about how we are still not there – and we aren’t. As the Fourth Wave of the Feminist movement builds – even women themselves are trying to figure out what is left to be done. We have evolved to a place in which we all must get into the conversation of workplace diversity – or get left behind.
Diversity is here – Ready or Not
In the U.S. Labor Force study, “A Century of Change: The U.S. Labor Force, 1950 – 2050”,[ii] the projection is made that the U.S. workplace is facing the largest societal shift in history. At no other time have there been four generational mindsets in the workplace at one time.
This spans the Traditionalist, born between 1922 – 1946, the Baby Boomers, born between 1947 – 1965, Generation X, born between 1966 – 1980, and Generation Y/Millenials, born between 1981 – 2000.[iii] (Note: actual generational time ranges vary source to source)
Within the varying mindsets of the four generations in the workplace – is the social influences of their time. Throughout the year, I inquired into the questions: “Why do women still not feel equal?” and “Why are they not rising to leadership in greater numbers?” – the conversation of diversity surfaced over and over. It is not only the second largest influx of women into the work force since the 1970’s with a surge of 48% of women working full time, who currently represent 60% of full time workers, it is the rise of minority workers and in pats. The Labor Force study shows the rise in U.S. hiring of foreign engineers and scientist – marking a shortage in the U.S. The face of the workplace is changing. There are generational mindsets to overcome, cultural mindsets, racial mindsets and gender mindsets – all rising to a peak of change at the same time.
In surveying older male business owners and executives from the Traditional Generation, statements as harsh as “It will take a generation dying for women to realize equality in the work place” and “The Good Ole’ Boy system is still firmly in place” was a common sentiment expressed when asked “What do you think is holding women back from obtaining leadership roles in business”. When asked “How do they promote or perceive women in their workforce?” – this question was always answered with a “Well, I have promoted many a female. I still don’t think they can get ahead in a male world.” When in truth – they would love the Mad Men days to revive.
When surveying male Baby Boomer executives there was a great respect for women’s views and value in the workplace but it was still held that women did not network as well as men, nor have they come to the “table” with confidence. Meaning the Baby Boomer men are women advocates, but they aren’t experiencing women stepping up to the table. They are not asking why either. It is actually in this generation that most are confused about the value of women in the workplace. Most Baby Boomer men are in management positions. They seldom step outside of their own network, or the “Good Ole’ Boys Club” when sourcing new management positions. They aren’t even aware of their narrow vision and are graciously uncomfortable when they become aware of their insensitivity – generally speaking. I found no one is honestly speaking and have learned to be very polite and politically correct about differences. After all – this is the corporate environment that grew out of the Mad Men era and saw the growth of the ‘politically correct’ wave.
Generation X experienced a huge boom in single parent homes. Women were/are a very strong and influential role in their lives. They were the children of the largest sweeping surge of feminist values implemented through societal actions. They saw the uprising of single mothers through an upsurge in divorce and an increase in un-wed parents. They experienced a decrease in population growth due to the greater acceptance of birth control and the discovery of AIDS. They lived for today either afraid of tomorrow or stubbornly taking on the challenges to rise above their home life struggles. We could say due to divorce, this generation of men experienced what it meant to have a father in the home, or not have a father in the home. Contrary to early years where a father might not be home due to providing for the family, when a father was distanced from children by divorce the consequences or effects are different – for the father and the children. Generations tend to oppose each other. As you will find Generation X’ers brought forth the dad staying home as a socially accepted choice. They also fought for equal rights for visitation. This generation experienced the largest number of women enrolling or returning to college which fed into the next generation’s realization of more women out numbering men in all forms of higher education. More families were forced to become two income families due to the economic recession of the 80’s.