Caught up with the Generations.

by Denise Berger


What does a 50 year old woman have in common with a 22 year old guy, fresh out of college, and what do the two of them have in common with a 35 year old stay-at-work mom? The answer: an overwhelming need for work-life balance! This comes at a very inconvenient time for corporations who are a) struggling against the economic downturn and b) desperately seeking top-performing talent in a growing shortage of talent. However, this bodes well for us stay-at-work, highly qualified, career-minded women because we just might get our cake and eat it too. With a convergence of desires in the generations ahead and behind us, Gen X women might just get to fulfill career aspirations, while doing so in a flexible, work-life balanced way.


Led by founders Silvia Ann Hewlett and Carolyn Buck Luce, the discussion at the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force (HBDTF) conference in New York City, that took place in mid-September, focused part of the presentations on the “book end generations” – the baby boomers and Gen Y. And as Janet Hanson, founder of 85 Broads, aptly points out in her re-cap, “multinational companies have an insatiable need to hire talented women globally. What is fueling this trend? Baby Boomers are exhausted from working extreme jobs; Gen X is roughly half as big as the Boomer generation [with child-rearing highly educated women making up a sizeable portion], and a majority of Gen Y wants to work to live -- not live to work!


Marc Freedman, author of Encore, pointed out that the mystery becomes, “Why is it that we load down individuals in their twenties, thirties and forties with the expectation that they are most productive at precisely the juncture when we also ask them to raise children and climb up the income curve, while we essentially prod individuals from their fifties onward to stop working, or at the very least to please move out of the way?” Twenty-five percent of females fall between the ages of 45 and 65; this translates to nearly 38 million women in the USA. (There are close to 37 million men in that same age bracket.) In this age bracket, 87.5% of females have a high school education and 27%-nearly 10 million women-have a bachelor’s degree or higher. (Thirty percent of this male demographic has a bachelor’s degree or higher.) These statistics indicate that mature women comprise the largest portion of the population and a comparable source of educated, qualified talent. This does not even include 65+ years old women who have an average life expectancy of 20 additional years, according to the Dept of Health and Human Services in their 2007 A Profile of Older Americans report. Well, here is the caveat (or the opportunity, depending on which side of the fence you sit): much like the younger Gen Y brethren, and child-rearing women between the ages of 35-45, the “encore” generation wants and will demand work-life balance, meaning/sense of purpose, and impact. Baby boomers are not necessarily interested in retiring, but rather want to put their skills to good use in jobs that they find rewarding and satisfying. Making these accommodations in the workplace has its advantages. The rising Gen X is only about half the size of the baby boomer generation, leaving us with a talent shortage that needs to be filled by experienced, seasoned people. The “encore” generation is just the place to start looking.


We are going to see so much change in the next decade in how our work is structured. As this great article mentions the workforce is changing and organizations are going to have to think out of the box to meet the varied needs of the Gen Y employees as well as the Gen X Moms. Exciting times.