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.
Meanwhile, on the other book end, we have Gen Y, a generation also putting its foot down. According to Melissa Lavigne, Director of Marketing at The Intelligence Group (studying generational affects in the workplace), virtually 60% of Gen Y do not want to work like their (baby boomer) parents have worked. Furthermore, they are looking for more than just a comp package. Gen Y men and women equally want the following in their work experience: to work with high quality colleagues; to outline prospects for advancement early on in their career path; to be formally and visibly recognized by their boss, their boss’s boss and the company; to be given access to new experiences and strategic projects; and to have flexibility to pursue their life passions. They also want to make a difference in the world, are masters at networking especially for their cause, by being linked with up to 127 friends, on average. Lastly, Melissa stated that the striking characteristic for Gen Y is that they have “multiple personalities”: valedictorian, captain of the soccer team, surfer, and writer. Possessing such various traits fulfills their parents’ prophesy that the off-spring of the baby boomers will surely be well-rounded - good academically, good in sports, good in music, and good to the world.
Does this sound oddly familiar, working Gen X moms?? YES! Let’s see. Working moms are multi-faceted jugglers of all things to all people. We care about our careers but need flexibility to… well… to do it all. We have amazing networking strengths, used in volunteer positions, in work-related projects, and for our children’s well-being. In fact, women volunteer more than men and working women have the highest volunteer rate, according to The Chronicles of Philanthropy, July 27, 2008 article, “26% of Americans Volunteer,” by Debra Blum. This article cites analysis conducted through the Census Bureau that indicates 29% of women volunteered to non-profit causes in 2007(higher than the average population percentage rate). Yes, stay-at-work moms… With any luck, the “book end” demands will work out to our advantage and create flexibility, recognition, and reward in the workforce for those of us choosing a non-linear career path and life balance.
Do you agree that there is a possibility for flexibility in the workforce now more than ever? What do you suggest for corporations?