A while ago I was thinking about stories to tell at a Women’s Legal conference where our panel was discussing the issues at the intersection of generations and gender. Most of the attendees were women partners in law firms or female senior in-house counsel. My perspective was as a consultant and coach, as a problem-solver seeing the bigger issues.
Immediately coming to mind was another conference slated for months from now at which I am being asked to moderate a panel on relationship skills relating to the value equation of inside/outside counsel collaborations. Interestingly (and surprising to me), the panel that has been selected by the organizers is to be all women, as are almost all the speakers besides the male conference co-chair.
Next racing through my mind my mind was a fundraising message I had received again that morning from a not-for-profit organization with a mission to enhance the personal and professional lives of women over age 50, which restricts membership to that demographic.
Hearing from All Voices
What these three events have in common as I see it is that the focus, intentionally or not, would turn out to be Boomer and older half of Gen X cohort women talking primarily to themselves, preaching to the choir.
I had pointed out in each case the need to have all the stakeholders in the room, all with a voice, and all talking freely with each other. Where are the male leaders with the clout to lead change? Where are the younger people who need to be engaged, not only for their career development, but also to sustain the success of organizations? Are the more senior women — many of whom consider themselves a minority demographic (as they are in leadership roles) — making assumptions without inviting the voice of others whose support they are only likely to have when the conversation feels comfortable for all genders and generations and other aspects of diversity?
I truly believe we need cross-generational conversation and cross-gender, cross-race and other diverse elements as the beginning of the solutions to achieving sustainable success for our businesses and our institutions.
Once “women’s initiatives” get beyond creating a certain level of awareness and empowerment, these initiatives would benefit from inviting men to join their discussions and events. The level of interest may be surprising and rewarding.
Some years ago, a large law firm engaged me at the request of some Baby Boomer women partners to conduct a workshop that would enable the older and younger women to come to terms with their differing views on work-life flexibility. Summer associates were also invited. As word got around, men showed interest in the topic. So the workshop was opened to all — and one-quarter of the participants were men. Participants, both male and female spanned the generations, and all jumped in with enthusiasm, happy to be able to share their views and learn from the viewpoints and emotional context of others.
Reaching Across the Gender Divide
I truly believe we need cross-generational conversation and cross-gender, cross-race and other diverse elements as the beginning of the solutions to achieving sustainable success for our businesses and our institutions. For example, different generational attitudes inform and influence all aspects of diversity. If each group is talking primarily to itself, and if everyone is getting the same message, they receive and interpret it differently. The discussions must be in truly diverse forums and informal cross-generational conversations.
My approach is to put together panels comprised of different generations, genders, ethnicity, countries of origin, sexual orientation and perhaps less obvious characteristics. There is always diversity of thought. The more we allow opportunity for diverse expressions, even outside one’s comfort zone, the more likely we are to grow comfortable with interaction. We don’t learn much when we are insular.
There is comfort in talking with similar thinking individuals and supporters but much less progress than when being inclusive and inviting resisters and those unaware of issues and possible biases to prominent seats at the table. Or perhaps developing understanding relationships over a drink.