Retaining Gen-X women becoming crucial (Guest commentary)

Keeping demographic key to fill in for retiring workforce
By Deanne DeMarco
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/29/2007

During the Second World War, women on the home front kept factories running and the war effort strong. In the near future, the Generation-X woman could once again be the critical element that keeps corporations healthy.

That’s because a good chunk of the workforce is expected to retire in the next decade. And, on top of that, Gen-X workers tend to be more mobile and more inclined to be entrepreneurs and start their own businesses. In other words, older workers are set to leave in droves over the next few years while younger workers, especially women, see their jobs as temporary.

In order for companies to succeed, HR needs to focus on retention — specifically retaining Gen-X women.

Who are Gen-X women?

Born between 1964 and 1979, Generation X learned there was no such thing as job security. Their parents were downsized, laid off and lost corporate pensions. This generation act more like “free agents” in selecting their employers.

Their moms, baby-boomer women, went to college in unprecedented numbers. Boomer women had high expectations. They believed they could break through the glass ceiling and soar to new heights.

By the 1970s, boomer women were raising children, managing households and running departments. The duality of trying to balance home and business life led to higher stress and escalated divorce rates. Gen-X children became latch-key kids and learned about blended families, adjusting to step-parents and dividing holidays and weekends.

Boomer parents instilled a belief that their Gen-X daughters would inherit a world of unlimited workplace opportunities — that due to their mothers’ hard work they would enter the workplace as equals, climb the corporate ladder and, therefore, should dream big. So why are Gen-X women leaving?

Unmet expectations

: Parents and university counsellors promised that having good grades and a university degree would lead to exciting, high-paying jobs. Gen-X women entered the workforce and didn’t find the excitement, purpose, high-paying jobs or fulfillment they expected. This generation is not focused on feeding their egos and gaining corporate status as much as feeling a sense of job satisfaction. Additionally, they believed the Old Boys club was dead. They were wrong.

Sexual harassment

: Legislation didn’t make sexual harassment disappear. Statistics Canada estimates that, in a given year, about six per cent of women are sexually harassed at work. Among younger workers, the rate is even higher. In the United States, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported a 14-per-cent increase in the number of sexual harassment lawsuits from 1992 to 2006.

Children

: Gen-X women are having children later in life. They want to spend time with their family and are finding it difficult to balance career and household. They don’t want to repeat the divorce scenarios they witnessed growing up and would rather earn less at a less prestigious job to spend time with family.

Earnings

: According to the Equal Pay Coalition, women in Ontario in 2007 only earn 71 per cent, on average, of what men earn. That is despite the fact pay-equity legislation was passed in Ontario two decades ago.

What can companies do?

The key to keeping Gen-X women on staff is for companies to adopt a “we want to keep you” attitude. Below are seven strategies to retain them:

Equal pay

: Make it clear that men and women receive the same pay for the same work. Gen Xers talk to one another about salary and will quickly discover if the pay scales are unequal.

Flex schedules

: Gen-X women want the opportunity to attend family activities. Sequential eight-hour days are not necessarily ideal — they want the opportunity to work when it’s convenient for them. This may mean working 7-3 rather than 9-5, working four 10-hour days and having three days off, or coming to the office for half the day.

40-hour workweeks

: The boomers were interested in making a difference and had no problem putting in long weeks. Gen Xers are interested in autonomy, a good work schedule and time off. If they choose to work full time, they want to work 40 hours and that’s it. This does not mean they are lazy — they work hard and accomplish a great deal but won’t sacrifice family for work.

Part time/job sharing

: If a Gen-X woman wants to work part time, consider offering job sharing, where two or more people share the same job.

Mentoring

: Gen-X women want a clear career map. They want to identify how they can make a positive impact on their working worlds. Therefore, offer mentoring where employees can identify what is satisfying about their jobs and develop career plans.

Focus on the family

: Employers need to clearly state, both in words and actions, that they will do whatever they can to help women focus on family, especially when the employee’s children are young. So if an employee has a child who plays softball after school, let her leave work to attend the game. Remember, Gen Xers do get the work done when it needs to be done. Therefore, give them the flexibility to actually be a parent.

Offer opportunities

: Realize people are more willing to stay in jobs where they learn and grow. If an employer isn’t willing to develop Gen-X female employees, they will look for opportunities with other organizations or they’ll start their own business and be the competition.

Deanne DeMarco is a Westchester, Ill.-based speaker and coach and author of Speaking of Success. For more information visit www.DeanneDeMarco.com or call (708) 836-0118.

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