Generations and gender: what does your workforce want?

A leading business author explains her findings from interviewing women from different generations about gender equality

Generations and gender: what does your workforce want?
In late 2014, business author Avril Henry interviewed 91 successful women from ten countries and four generations, with the intention of uncovering their stories of unfair treatment based on gender.

The result was a blueprint for organisations and individuals who wanted to change the status quo when it comes to gender equality.

What can men do?

According to Henry, one of her most interesting finds was the differences between generations in terms of what women want men to do.

“Older, wiser women – the veterans and baby boomers who have seen and experienced much in the workplace – believe that senior male leaders need to be more courageous, changing the culture to be more gender-diversity friendly without being afraid of going against the flow.

“They believe that male leaders need to publicly reward those men and women who actively implement diversity, while taking timely, corrective action against those who discriminate against women and engage in sexual harassment and bullying at work.”

Generation X, meanwhile, felt that senior male leaders needed to simply ‘change their mindset and how they see women at work’.

Millennial participants in Henry’s study said that senior male leaders should promote more women.

“[Gen Y thought that] if you can’t do this they are almost certain to leave, and quickly, going to another organisation or setting up their own businesses,” Henry explained.

Different expectations

“Generation X are more sceptical [than Gen Y],” Henry told HRD.

“Although they would challenge me and say they are simply more realistic than the overly optimistic Generation Ys and accommodating baby boomers.

“Gen X believe that women need to challenge the status quo, something baby boomers were reluctant to do as they found it was easier and less confrontational to ‘fit in’ to a male construct.”

She added that Gen X women also believe they need to define success on their own terms, which may or may not include combining a career with a family.

Generation Y’s expectations generally involve equality at work and in society, and equal pay.

Diversity in business

“Implementation of gender equality across the globe has been stop-start-stop, ticking off compliance checklists and completing compulsory reporting,” Henry said.

“Real sustainable change has been less forthcoming. Gender diversity programs aren’t enough on their own.

“While they provide the initial start, all too often enthusiasm wanes and old habits resurface. In my view, ‘big, bold’ diversity strategies which are separate to the business strategy may win awards, but unless they are integrated into the business strategy and culture of the organisation, it will never be ‘how we do things around here’.”

She suggested that senior males need to take action, not simply talk about gender equality.

“Small, practical, incremental changes done consistently will create a tipping point until gender is no longer a separate ‘special’ issue.”
Related stories:
Is it difficult for female leaders to be both capable and likable?
89% of employees demand diversity at work
90% of firms ignore female board member possibilities

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