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Posts Tagged ‘Gen Y’

Bryce Covert’s recent post on The Nation’s website got me thinking today. It’s about an Accenture survey of Gen Y working women which found that

-they have the most positive outlook for women in the workplace of any other generation.

And yet:

-when it comes to their careers, they’re less likely to proactively manage their career or ask for a raise than their male counterparts.

Further:

-they feel underpaid,

-and have found that their careers take a bigger hit than their male counterparts’ once they become parents.

Whew. That’s one hell of a disconnect, wouldn’t you say? While I’m generally an unrepentant optimist, the type to blow sunshine up even the crankiest of derrieres until I get a smile, a study like this makes me question my approach. A positive attitude is well and good, but, when young women declare themselves optimistic about women in the workplace in the very same survey in which they point out gender-based inequities, you kinda gotta worry. Sunshine is good; complacency, not so much.

The trouble is the message we women have been fed: that feminism’s work is over; the battle won. That’s where that sense of optimism comes in, I’d argue. I myself went to an all-girls high school, not too (too too) terribly long ago, and spent my four plaid-skirted years surrounded by the enthusiastic and inspiring message that girls could do anything boys could do. Which is good, of course–because it’s true. Save for peeing one’s name in the snow.

But there’s a little bit of trouble with that approach. One: that you enter the real world largely unprepared for the injustices you will, (yes, I said WILL) come up against as a woman. And two: that when you do come up against them, you will assume they have only to do with you. That the situation–your lesser paycheck; your unwillingness to “proactively manage your career or ask for a raise” for fear of bias or judgment; your employer’s subtly shifting opportunities away once you’ve become a mom or the discrimination you’ll face if you don’t have kids–and the fact that your male counterpart in either of those scenarios will likely be rewarded, seen as either a dependable family man or a guy who has the time to devote to his job, where you’ll be perceived a flight risk or cold and odd, respectively; the realization that if you want a killer career and your husband wants a killer career and you want kids you’re in for a daily struggle that may well lead to one of you “opting” out; that if, against these formidable odds, you do make it to the very top, you will find yourself wildly outnumbered–is merely your problem. That it is personal, and not political. When, of course, it is exactly that. It is collective and it is political–and change happens when we’re willing to see it that way.

Don’t get me wrong: We have come a long way (baby). Think about this: when my mom graduated from college, it was still totally legal for employment want-ads to be segregated by gender. A company could list a managerial job in the men’s want-ads, a secretarial one in the women’s. This was not the dark ages; this was the 1970s.  So clearly we’ve come a tremendous way since disco inferno.

But the fact that we’ve come so far does not mean that our work here is finished. The fact that we have much to be grateful for in no way precludes the many things we should be angry about. Take that pay gap, for example:

U.S. Department of Education data show that a year out of school, despite having earned higher college GPAs in every subject, young women will take home, on average across all professions, just 80 percent of what their male colleagues do… Motherhood has long been the explanation for the persistent pay gap, yet a decade out of college, full-time working women who haven’t had children still make 77 cents on the male dollar.

April 17 of this year is Equal Pay Day. Don’t let the delightful sounding name fool ya, though: that’s the day that a woman’s salary catches up to a man’s… from last year. For doing the same job. Another way to look at that is like this: taken as a whole, from January through April 17, women are working for free.

So, clearly, we still have a hell of a way to go.

Or, I suppose, maybe I should rephrase: the world still has a hell of a way to go.

But who is going to be responsible for steering it in the right direction?

It occurs to me that perhaps these young women are right in their optimism–or here’s my Pollyanna side’s spin, anyway:  for centuries, men’s roles have not changed. Whether buffalo or bacon, they were to bring it home. They were the hunters. They were to provide.

Women, on the other hand, have always adapted–whether when acting the gatherers, surveying the environment to see what it had in store and shifting the game plan accordingly, or to a male-dominated workplace in which we nevertheless were able to ascend, bit by bit, to the point where we are today. We had to fight for the right to wear pants, for craps sake. Now, how many pairs of jeans are in your closet? Change is in our DNA. The office, corporate culture, political institutions — these things aren’t going to change themselves.

The angry part of me and the Pollyanna part come together in the faith that these women will eventually get angry on their own behalf: and once that happens, they’ll see the rest of us, and they’ll join us. And then we’ll do what we’ve always done. We’ll change things. A little anger will help. And so will a little optimism.

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Apparently, Gen X has become the forgotten child of the stalled economic engine, stuck between the Baby Boom and Gen Y.

According to recent research by the Pew Research Center, slightly over half of middle aged workers say they are planning to delay their retirement. You can blame it on the recession and tanking IRAs. But what it means for Gen Xers is that there will be fewer places at the head of the table. And thanks to do-it-cheaper Gen Y’s, very few new seats at the foot. Women may be in the biggest pickle of all.

According to an Associated Press story, those workers who came of age with the Brady Bunch are experiencing new levels of workplace angst:

They’re antsy and edgy, tired of waiting for promotion opportunities at work as their elders put off retirement. A good number of them are just waiting for the economy to pick up so they can hop to the next job, find something more fulfilling and get what they think they deserve. Oh, and they want work-life balance, too.

Sounds like Gen Y, the so-called “entitlement generation,” right?

Not necessarily, say people who track the generations. In these hard times, they’re also hearing strong rumblings of discontent from Generation X. They’re the 32- to 44-year-olds who are wedged between baby boomers and their children, often feeling like forgotten middle siblings — and increasingly restless at work as a result.

It becomes even more complicated for Gen-X women, often navigating unfamliar turf when it comes to the workplace, who have to scramble for any place at the table, as we’ve noted here :

Sure, we women do school well. University structures, especially, support the way we learn and succeed. Overachievers? High expectations? Duly noted and rewarded. But once we get to the workplace? Different kind of rules.

Let’s face it. We missed the socialization. From ancient times, men have been raised to know their job is to slay the dragons, and that they will be alone in doing it. American mythology, too, teaches men that their role is to go, seek and conquer. For generations, men’s roles have been predetermined, and unquestioned: They provide. And workplace — and social — structures have evolved to support the model.

For women, though, relatively new to this world of work, roles are still in flux. We never learned to slay the dragon — we were the pretty princesses waiting back there in the castle — and often, we’re a little confused by the messy nature of reality as opposed to the comfortable fit of school. And so we’re flummoxed. Overwhelmed. We’re feeling our way. Where do we fit in? How do we fit in? Should we fit in?

Then, there’s this: Gen X women are often the ones struggling mightily with work-life issues, figuring out how to balance career and family:

… many women are in a place where they have young children or have begun to think about starting a family. Suddenly, career choice becomes a matter of careful and excruciating calculation: Women raised to be masters of the universe –but still seeking the flexibility to raise their kids – are pulled in opposite directions: Meaningful career? Meaningful family life? Choices become crucial: how will we find that niche that will allow us to find satisfaction on both ends? What if we don’t? Maybe we came up expecting to achieve the male model of success; now we realize it’s impossible. Or we’re agonized and guilty because, with all this grand, amorphous opportunity, we find we don’t want that model of success anymore.

Finally, we’ve pointed out that, when it comes to family, these very same women are often judged in ways that their brothers are not:

Let’s also acknowledge that one of the most significant cons of having children might be the impact on a woman’s career; moms with young children are often passed over for promotions, while childless women of childbearing age are often passed over as well, on the grounds that they’ll likely have children soon. Despite the fact that fathers’ roles have begun to change as they’ve become more involved in child-rearing, work-life balance is still considered a women’s issue. And yet. A recent study by Lancaster University prof Dr. Caroline Gatrell found that some employers see their female employees who don’t want children as wanting in some “essential humanity,” and view them as “cold, odd and somehow emotionally deficient in an almost dangerous way that leads to them being excluded from promotions that would place them in charge of others.”

No wonder the discontent is growing: Promotion? Unlikely. Jump ship? Gotta compete with the new kids, who are cheaper to hire, and more tech savvy anyhow.

On the other hand, the AP story suggests all is not lost for the X-ers — so long as they are willing to do a little reinvention — and pimp out their years of experience for newbie wages:

Jon Anne Willow, co-publisher of ThirdCoastDigest.com, an online arts and culture site in Milwaukee, is among employers who’ve recently been able to hire more experienced candidates for jobs traditionally filled by 20somethings.

They’re hungry to work, she says. And as she sees it, that gives her fellow Gen Xers and the baby boomers she’s hired a distinct advantage over a lot of the Gen Yers she’s come across.

“When the dust settles, they’ll be exactly as they were before and we’ll just have to sift through them and take the ones that actually get it and hope the rest find employment in fast food,” she quips.

Swell. Should you stay? Should you go? Call it a Gen X sandwich, with a hefty dollop of indecision on the side.

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So, the other day I rambled on about all the distractions that come with uber-connection. And, if we were to be honest, we would all admit that one of them has to do with cybershopping. Sigh. One of the clutters in the inbox comes in the form of seductive ads for shoes, dresses, “outerwear” (why can’t we just say coats?), you name it. All tantalizing us with pretty pictures of skinny models in clothes we may never wear, special online discounts, and real or imaginary deadlines.

Really, we have work we should be doing, but then there’s the seduction: Buy now! You too can be a fashionista! Free shipping! On sale for the next five minutes only!

And so you bite. (Or don’t. But wish you had.) And then that yellow dress flies into your mailbox and your credit card lives to regret it. If only you could have tried it on first. Trust me, I will get a little more substantive in a minute here. But first:

Just this week I came across a tech piece in the SF Chronicle about a bunch of new websites that use “augmented reality” (don’t ask) to allow you try on your online purchases out there in cyberspace. Basically, you can try out that cute little frock online — and maybe even mosey onto facebook to see what your friends think — before you plunk down the plastic. Genius? Maybe. Stay tuned for serious.

You have to wonder how great it would be if real life were like that, especially when we’re dealing with the big choice Q’s: What should I do with my life? Where will I fit? What would it be like to walk in those other shoes? Can I try before I commit?

Look to the big picture, and you realize that in unexpected ways, we all can — and do — try our callings on for size. Here’s just one hint. A 2002 study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics drew a longitudinal picture of younger baby boomers (born between 1957 and 1964) showing that they held an average of about 10 different jobs between 18 and 36. Most studies show that younger workers are even more mobile.

For example, a Business Week article dating from this past summer, found that, for workers under 30:

Corporate commitment has dwindled, tenure has grown far shorter, and people switch jobs with much greater frequency. The average American changes jobs once every three years; those under the age of 30 change jobs once a year.

Trying jobs on for size? Not such a bad idea, when you think of it.

Here’s a hint, too, that maybe we’re trying on new roles at home as well. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the homefront reversals resulting from the economic downturn — some have begun calling it a “he-cession” — with women poised to become the majority of the workforce. What that has meant is that in many families, mom flies out the door with the briefcase while dad stays home with the kids. While the workplace parity has not resulted in economic parity — as we’ve reported here, here and here — there may be an unintended consequence:

Stephanie Coontz, a professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., who has written extensively about the history of marriage, says that the shift in spousal roles in some families could have a lasting impact. “The silver lining here may be that men now get a little more experience under their belt in terms of actually being the experts at home,” she said. “When the economy recovers, we may find a little boost towards men and women sharing these roles.”

Finally, there’s this. (Journalists tend to write in terms of threes. Old habits die hard) Examiner.com posted a column thursday in which Gen Y women gave thanks for all the ceilings that their strong female role models shattered for them, enabling them to try on the opportunities their mothers never had. As one 24-year-old woman wrote:

This year I am most thankful for the opportunity to have a career as a woman. Going back many generations, my family is full of strong and ambitious women, from my ancestor who came over during the potato famine to my grandmother who had a successful modeling career and raised a family. My mother was the first in her family to get a college degree. I feel thankful there is no longer any question that I could go to college and have a career. My parents pushed me to get an education and supported me as I moved away from home, which many women in my mom’s generation would not have really considered. Now the canvas of the world feels much more available for women.

Sure, you could spin a lot of this in terms of the half-empty glass. But I choose half-full. Yeah, choices — no matter what, no matter when — are tough. Angsty. And there’s still work to be done. Lots of it, in fact. But when you realize you’re not locked in, that life continues to evolve, maybe each individual choice — even a lousy one — doesn’t carry quite so much weight.

Meanwhile, back to that yellow dress. I confess. Mine. I was the victim of a 12 hour sale on Bluefly when I should have been doing something productive. But actually, after letting it sit in the mailing bag for several weeks, I realized it’s kinda cute after all. With those cool brown spiderweb tights that Shannon gave me last Christmas and my killer brown boots (yeah, I found those online, too), it might be just the ticket for Thanksgiving.

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