Thoughts on Work, Age, and Gender

I've come across some interesting articles lately on workplace dynamics- specifically relating to being a woman in the office, and being a Gen-Y'er in the office. Technically, my birth year- 1984- puts me as one of the oldest Gen-Y'ers and one of the first to enter the workforce. The shift to a new generation entering the workforce comes with new assumptions and 'norms'. It's all very interesting.

On Gender:
From a woman’s perspective, it isn’t necessarily disrespectful, for instance, to interrupt a man mid-sentence. Though to him it may appear that she simply cut him off—which is obviously disrespectful—to her she just got excited and overlapped his speech—which is perfectly acceptable, even affirming.

According to Deborah Tannen in You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, women typically talk simultaneously to each other. To them, doing so is natural, not rude. Women, therefore, may be less sensitive than men to how offensive interrupting can be.
Source: Gifted for Leadership
I do this All The Time. I didn't even notice I did it until my mom would point out that I was being disrespectful by interrupting Josh during our conversations. I didn't even realize I was interrupting. I get excited about whatever's being talked about and blurt what I'm thinking- when talking to girls, this is seen as encouraging- someone is agreeing and speaking up for you, and elaborating on your idea. I see myself in the workplace doing this with men sometimes, and it has an opposite effect.

Unrelated, a TIME article about women and software:
A couple of years ago, they stumbled upon an intriguing tidbit: Men, it seemed, were more likely than women to use advanced software features, specifically ones that help users find and fix errors. Programmers call this "debugging," and it's a crucial step in building programs that work.

Beckwith decided to investigate why women and men might interact so differently with the same software. She pored over 30 years' worth of books and academic papers from psychologists, education researchers, economists, computer scientists and others about gender differences in problem solving and computer use.

One theory grabbed her attention: High confidence correlates with success. Both men's and women's confidence in their ability to do a challenging task affects their approach and the outcome. And most studies indicated that women — even ones who study computer science — have less confidence than men in their computer skills.
This is so true. And, as is typical for women (as explained in the rest of the article), when I have low confidence, I freeze up. I become unable to move forward in my job, if I feel I cannot do it. I have to force myself to continue pursuing the answer to whatever problem I have, because my natural reaction is to shrink back from the problem. If I have low confidence about my ability to use a new tool, I won't even install it. I know, intellectually, it's probably silly. Reading an article like this actually helps me, because I know that it's not something wrong with just me, this is a very typical feeling that I need to overcome.

On Age:
I found myself browsing the Brazen Careerist blog lately- and it is full of workplace observations and studies I found interesting. They've written quite a bit about Generation Y:
- we're conservative: "Here are four reasons why members of Generation Y are fundamentally conservative in what they envision for their lives: 1. They love their parents... 2. They operate in teams...3. They are not complainers...4. They are not asking for anything crazy."

- we have different priorities: "With 85 million baby boomers and 50 million Gen Xers, there is already a yawning generation gap among American workers--particularly in their ideas of work-life balance. For baby boomers, it's the juggling act between job and family. For Gen X, it means moving in and out of the workforce to accommodate kids and outside interests. Now along come the 76 million members of Generation Y. For these new 20-something workers, the line between work and home doesn't really exist. They just want to spend their time in meaningful and useful ways, no matter where they are."

- we care about family over career: "many women find themselves in a position where they are struggling to line up a grand convergence of career, marriage and motherhood within a couple of years of age thirty. ... How can women alleviate some of the pressures of turning thirty? For one thing, Macko advises that you “Tune out the cultural white noise” and figure out a plan that will meet your own needs, regardless of the expectations people place on you."
"you have your whole life to get a career. This is not true about having a baby. ... Take that career drive and direct it toward mating because your career skills will outlast your ovaries.
In case you think you’re waiting for “the right time,” there is no evidence to show when in a woman’s career is best to have kids. At any point, she is thrown off track. At any point when a woman has kids, statistically she will start to earn less money even if she takes no maternity leave whatsoever. There is no evidence to show that it’s easier to take time out of the workforce at a certain point in a career. People just plain don’t know.
"1. Women no longer put their career ahead of their biological clock. We tried it for a generation and it was a massive failure.
2. Business schools acknowledge that they have to change to accommodate women -women are sick of changing themselves to accommodate the old corporate life that is geared toward men.

- we're loyal: "Just because young people job hop constantly doesn’t mean they are not loyal. In fact, the reason they job hop is undying loyalty to the values their parents raised them with: Value your time (remember those overscheduled after-school superstars?) and always learn new things (Gen Y is the most educated generation, ever)."

- we work differently: "Five workplace practices that should be over. Now...1. Voice mail ... 2. The reply-to-all button ... 3. The workplace candy machine ... 4. Soliciting money at work ... 5. The 800-person office party"

What does all this mean? I'm pretty normal. I'm lucky to be in a job I enjoy, and provides me a lot of the "Gen-Y" values. I'm at the cusp of this generation, so I'm figuring things out on my own as the articles are being written. There's no book for me to turn to. Surely it will turn out OK.


ashley @ twentysixcats said...

Well you know I find this really interesting. :-)

I think Gen-X managers and supervisors really need to understand where Gen-Y'ers are coming from. I felt that way at my last job - that they hired all recent college grads (because we were cheaper, no doubt), and then were frustrated when we were different. Then they provided an office environment that they thought would be pleasing, but it really missed the point about what we wanted.

I cut people off all the time too. :-) I get excited and finishing their sentences is a way of me joining in their conversation.

Crusty Old Person said...

As a crusty old person, I am getting tired of these stories about how this generation wants this or that. It's not really news.. every generation is different from their parents generation! No one likes businesses that are run in the old school good old boy way except the old-school good old boys. Why are we surprised by this, exactly?

Joanna said...

I'm not surprised at any of this- it's not 'new' information to me. I resonate with it. I post it to show that these differences are being acknowledged by some studies and workplaces. Some of my friends' experiences in their workplaces have shown that, although there wasn't necessarily a "good ol' boys' club" there, the Gen-X or Boomer managers did not understand the Gen-Y mindset. The generational differences may not be as obvious to everyone as you think.

The differences may not be news, but they're something that needs to be acknowledged, to attract and retain the new generation of workers.

Becca said...

Joanna, you have to read about Millennials! It's another name for gen-y-ers (and one I like better). Here is a link to a page about millennials in the work place:


Also, check out this info on generations, you may enjoy it:


Kristen said...

I know this is late but i was out of town :) I have to agree about the interrupting thing. I find that I consider those who are my best friends to be ones where we interrupt each other. It's not the fact that ALL of my thoughts get out, but that we share in the conversation. I never realized it went beyond me, but only with females....


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