Retaining Gen-X Women so Your Company Thrives
By Deanne DeMarco
World War II, women on the homefront 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 corporate America
Gen-X women so vital? According to projections, fifty percent of the
workforce will retire within the next ten years. On top of that,
according to the Bureau of Labor, Survey of Consumer Finance, and
the Small Business Administration, one in fifteen Gen-X women are
leaving corporations, either to find a new company to work for or to
pursue their own entrepreneurial endeavor. In other words, older
workers are set to leave in droves over the next few years, and the
younger workers on payroll today, especially the women, see their
jobs as temporary.
for companies to succeed today and in the future, CEOs need to focus
on retention—specifically retaining Gen-X women.
are the Gen-X Women? Born between 1964 and 1979, Generation-X
learned that there was no such thing as job security. They witnessed
parents downsized and outsized and losing corporate pensions. This
generation realized they were “free agents” in selecting the
companies they want to work for.
moms, the Baby Boomer women, went to college in unprecedented
numbers. With the equal rights legislation, affirmative action
programs, and NOW (National Organization for Women), Boomer women
had high expectations. They believed that they could break through
the glass ceiling and soar to new heights.
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. In
the 1980s, the U.S. divorce rate was at fifty percent, and children
of the Boomers (the Gen-Xers) became latch-key children. These
children learned about blended families, adjusting to stepparents,
and dividing holidays and weekends.
parents instilled a belief that their Gen-X daughters would inherit
a world of unlimited workplace opportunities—that due to their
mother’s hard work they would enter the workplace as equals, have
the ability to climb the corporate ladder, and should therefore
dream big. So why are the Gen-X women leaving?
Unmet Expectations: Parents and university counselors promised
exciting, high paying, jobs with good grades and a college degree.
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 that the “good old boys club” was dead
and that they would enter into a level playing field. They were
wrong. As a result, women are leaving the workplace due to
discrimination and the inability to get ahead.
Sexual Harassment: Legislation didn’t make sexual harassment
disappear. In fact, according to the US Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission, from 1992 to 2006, the number of sexual harassment
lawsuits has increased by fourteen percent. Gen-X women are those
Children: Gen-X women are having children later in life. Often,
when they return to work from maternity leave, neither their job,
their responsibilities, nor their clients were protected from take
over by other workers. Also, Gen-X women want to spend time with
their family, and they are finding it difficult to balance career
and household. They don’t want to repeat the divorce scenarios they
witnessed while growing up and would rather earn less and take a
less prestigious job so they can spend time with their family.
Earnings: According to the US Department of Labor, the average
woman still earns $.80 to the $1.00 of a man. And in many cases, men
with lower education levels and fewer years of experience still earn
$10,000 more a year than Gen-X women.
Can Companies Do? The key to keeping Gen-X women on staff,
especially as we enter an era of a talent shortage, is for companies
to adopt a “We Want to Keep You” attitude. Here are seven strategies
companies need to implement to keep this important work group:
Equal Pay: Make it clear that men and women receive the same pay
for the same work. Unlike the Boomers, who honored company policies
of not discussing salary with each other, Gen-Xers talk to one
another about salary. That means your Gen-X women will quickly
discover if the pay scales are unequal. Pay them fairly.
Flex Schedules: With the birth of children, Gen-X women want the
opportunity to attend family activities. For them, sequential
eight-hour days are not necessarily ideal. Gen-X women want the
opportunity to work their hours when it’s convenient for them. This
may mean working 7-3 rather than 9-5, working four ten hour days and
having three days off, or it could mean coming to the office for
half the day and finishing work at home.
40-Hour Work Weeks: The Boomers were interested in making a
difference and had no problem putting in 50, 60, and even 70 hour
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 their
40 hours and that’s it. This does not mean they are lazy compared to
Boomers. In fact, when they work their 40 hours, they work hard and
accomplish a great deal. However, because they highly value life
balance, they won’t sacrifice their family for work.
Part-Time Employment and 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. This way, between the two employees, you
have the equivalent of a full-time employee’s duties. While many
organizations have added this benefit to their HR policies, many
Gen-X women are reporting that they are being refused this
Mentoring: Gen-X women want a clear career map. They want to
identify how they can make a positive impact on their working world.
Therefore, offer mentoring where employees can identify what is
satisfying about their jobs and develop career plans. Even though
college is over, this group still wants to grow professionally.
Focus on the Family: According to the Federal Forum on Family
Statistics, ninety percent of fathers are attending the births of
their children, and this is the first time since the 1960s that we
are experiencing a 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 in their formidable years. So if an employee has a
child that 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
Offer Opportunities Within the Organization: Many Gen-Xers are
frustrated about not getting ahead. Realize that people are more
willing to stay in jobs where they learn and grow. If you’re not
willing to develop your Gen-X female employees, they will look for
opportunities with other organizations, or they’ll start their own
business and be your competition.
Rules for a New Generation: With women making up forty-six
percent of the workforce, companies can’t ignore the impact women
have on corporate America. And if companies want to keep Gen-X women
on staff, the organization must change…now. Family leave polices,
job sharing, telecommuting, on-site child care, mentoring, and
flexible work schedules are a great first step. The bottom line is
that senior management needs to shift their focus from politics and
playing games to creating a culture where people want to work, which
includes a focus on work/life balance and a sane work schedule. Only
then can you stop the brain drain and retain the best and brightest
women of this generation.
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