Cross-Generational Conversation with the Elephants in the Room

By Phyllis Weiss Haserot

A while ago I was thinking about stories to tell at a conference where our panel was discussing the issues and solutions at the intersection of generations and gender. Most of the attendees were women  partners in firms or senior in-house counsel. My perspective is not as a player in the midst of management and internal politics of the issues, but as a problem solver seeing the bigger issues.
Immediately coming to mind was another conference months off at which I was asked to moderate a panel on relationship skills relating to the value equation of inside/outside counsel collaborations. Interestingly, surprising to me, the panel selected by the organizers is all women, as are almost all the speakers besides the male conference cochair. 
Next racing through my mind was a fundraising message I had received that morning from a not-for-profit organization with a mission to enhance the personal and professional lives of women over age fifty. 
What these three events have in common is that the focus, intentionally or not, will turn out to be Baby Boomer and older Gen X women talking primarily to themselves, preaching to the choir.
I've 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 because they're in leadership roles  making assumptions without inviting the voice of others whose support they're only likely to have when the conversation feels comfortable for all genders, generations, and other aspects of diversity, including diversity of thought?
I truly believe we need to consider diversity – cross-generational, cross-gender, cross-race, etc. – at the beginning of conversations when looking for solutions to problems and to ensure the success of our businesses and institutions.

Generational Definitions

Generations are defined by similar formative influences – social, cultural, political, and economic – that exist while individuals of particular birth cohorts are in their adolescent to early adult years. Given that premise, the approximate birth years for each of the four generations currently in the workplace are:

  • Traditionalists: Born between1925 and 1942
  • Baby Boomers: Born between 1943 and 1962
  • Generation X: Born between 1963 and 1978
  • Generation Y/Millennials: Born between 1979 and 1998
The panels I put together to discuss intergenerational challenges are comprised of different generations, genders, ethnicities, 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. We don't learn much when we're insular. There's comfort in talking with like-minded individuals and supporters, but much more progress is made when being inclusive and inviting to prominent seats at the table those who are unaware of issues or who might have biases. 
What are your thoughts? Please share your experience and observations on this topic.
Read more articles by Phyllis.
About the author:
Phyllis Weiss Haserot is the Cross-Generational Voice and the president of Practice Development Counsel, a business development and organizational effectiveness consulting and coaching firm she founded over twenty years, A special focus is on the profitability of improving workplace inter-generational relations as well as transitioning planning for baby boomer senior partners ( Phyllis is the author of The Rainmaking Machine and The Marketer’s Handbook of Tips & Checklists (both Thomson Reuters/West 2011). URL:
© 2012 by Phyllis Weiss Haserot. All rights reserved.

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