Women on the track to becoming a partner at a firm would often forgo their personal lives for their careers, but today’s woman is redefining the traditional path to partner, according to Deborah Epstein Henry, founder and president of Law and Reorder and Flex-Time Lawyers.
She said women in the legal profession want to have a family as well as a career, but the challenges of balancing the two in new ways can often create a problem for the rising generation of lawyers.
Henry and Suzanne F. Kaplan, president of Talent Balance, offered suggestions for adjusting to an ever-changing workplace at the Philadelphia Bar Association’s recent Chancellor’s Leadership Institute program, “Four Generations in the Workplace: Finding Common Ground,” which focused on identifying and solving both generational and gender differences in the workplace.
One such gender problem is the scarcity of women in the workplace, Henry said. When a few women have a coveted status, such as a partner position, they may not be as inclined to relinquish their title, which makes obtaining a high-ranking position even harder for women entering the workplace, she said.
Women need to gain a “critical mass” in order to have a presence in the workplace, but this becomes difficult when women try to have a presence both at home and in the workplace, Henry said.
About 70 percent of female bullies target other females, but men also contribute to women’s struggle in the workplace, Henry said. Men tend to be apathetic, fearful of replacement or oblivious to the problems women face in the workplace, she said.
Generational discrepancies also pose a particular problem for women in the workplace, Henry said. Women in senior positions often resent junior women who have had different experiences rising through the ranks. Meanwhile, women in junior positions often feel that the women in senior positions are not their idealized role models.
Kaplan, a generational consultant, provided further insight into problems that arise because of generational differences — an issue that was on many of the attendees’ minds.
She began her presentation by asking, “Why did you come?” While the responses may have been different, the answers were the same. Bar members came seeking advice about how to interact in a workplace where different generations have different means of communication. As one attendee noted, “We’re all speaking the same language, but we’re not.”
Kaplan said age differences can create “communication challenges, work-life integration issues, leadership issues, team issues that all come because we have such diversity among generations.”
She said there are currently four generations in the workplace with a fifth on the way, which she divided into traditionalists, baby boomers, Generation X, Generation Y (also known as the Millennial generation) and the upcoming Generation Z. Each generation has distinct attributes, according to Kaplan.
“We can change as we age,” Kaplan said. “We can change our hairstyles. We can change our clothing, but in the end, there are some core values that never leave us — they define who we are in that particular generation.”
While she acknowledges that classifications within generations are variable, a traditionalist is typically older than 66. The traditionalist generation experienced World War II, and about 50 percent of the men in the traditionalist generation served in the military, she said. In the workplace, traditionalists value company loyalty, respect and face-to-face contact, Kaplan said.
By contrast, baby boomers experienced the Vietnam War and are around 49 to 66 years old. Kaplan said baby boomers crave symbols of achievement and promotions in the workplace. She said their mantra is “live to work.” In addition, baby boomers value face-time, meaning that their boss sees them in the office working until the boss leaves the office, she said.
Members of Generation X, by contrast, are in approximately their mid-40s to late 30s, and 50 percent of Generation X has divorced parents, which has made the generation more flexible and independent, Kaplan said. As a result of their autonomous nature, members of Generation X do not make the best mentors in the workplace, and they often clash with younger generations who tend to be needier, she said.
Millennials, who comprise both Generations Y and Z, were born primarily after 1980, Kaplan said. They strive for work-life integration and want to know that their work is valued. Millennials are collaborative and want to work in different ways than their predecessors, she said. According to Kaplan, Millennials’ mantra is “work my way.”
Despite grouping workers into certain categories, Henry stipulated that she wanted to be careful about making generalizations. She said the program’s goal was to present the information and to make people aware of the issues.
“If you put it out there, then you can work through it,” Henry said.
Kaplan said the first step to bettering the workplace is to stop making assumptions about a person based on age. People should be open to keeping their co-workers’ technological and teamwork preferences in mind, but they should not assume that because a person is a certain age, he or she prefers one method to another, she said.
Making co-workers feel comfortable enough to ask questions and to offer suggestions for improving the work environment also creates a positive work environment across the generations, Kaplan said. Before becoming troubled by communication differences, co-workers should ask themselves if “that’s just different or does it make a difference?”
Similarly, Henry suggested that becoming comfortable with alternative ways of advancing also helps to remove judgment amongst women in the workplace. She said senior women should not expect their female co-workers to pursue the same career path as themselves, and junior women should appreciate the knowledge and experience senior women have to offer. Both senior and junior women need to become comfortable with competing with other women and “recognizing that’s part of the game,” Henry said.
Henry also recommended trying reverse-mentoring, engaging in facilitated discussions and obtaining executive coaches to “remove judgment” in the workplace.
Despite the challenges co-workers need to tackle, Kaplan said she believes that, in most organizations, people will have more in common with each other than they will differences.
The Chancellor’s Leadership Institute program series was created by Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Kathleen Wilkinson to provide “ongoing substantive programming aimed at assisting and developing leadership skills and tools for women, attorneys, attorneys of diverse backgrounds and young lawyers so they can succeed in their careers,” according to the bar’s website. •