Close your eyes a moment and picture some of the women who have inspired you the most. Most of those faces are older than you, right? Our role models tend to be older, simply because we admire how much they have accomplished. We look up to them, further along the path, for inspiration of what our lives will look like when we get to the same place. Even the language bears it out—”we look UP to”. But what about those alongside us? Or the newbies right behind? Don’t we have something to learn from them too?
We argue for how greater gender and cultural diversity makes for better stories and products, but age diversity is too often left out of the equation. Think about how lucky we are to have a workplace populated by five generations—The Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials and Gen Z. The resources that women have available to them has never been so rich or far-reaching, but we aren’t encouraged to take advantage of this. Quite the opposite. Social media eggs us on to make fun of the Boomers, Slackers and Snowflakes, and women over 40 are having a harder time finding a job post-pandemic.
But what a missed opportunity! A recent article in the Harvard Business Review on harnessing the power of intergenerational workplaces notes, “Age-diverse teams are valuable because they bring together people with complementary abilities, skills, information, and networks. If managed effectively, they can offer better decision-making, more-productive collaboration, and improved overall performance, but only if members are willing to share and learn from their differences.”
The good news is, the opportunities are there for the picking. A 2020 study on female ambition mandated by The A Effect and its partners tells us that Gen X women are more ambitious than their Silent Generation and Boomer forebears. However, they are actually embarrassed when it comes to admitting it. Results also point out that Millennials feel less ambitious than their Boomer/Gen X parents, and although they are proud of these ambitions, they tend to suffer from a lack of self-confidence.
In this scenario, broadening our perception of what a role model looks like, understanding that we can venerate more than accomplishments and being open to mutual mentoring could help women of every generation learn and level up. While Gen Xers can show Millennials how to gain the confidence they need to dream bigger, Millennials could inspire Gen Xers to be more vocal and proud of their ambitions (and maybe burn off a little of that cynicism too).
So how can we become more willing—and open—to this kind of learning?
You can start learning more from women both older and younger—and teaching them too—as soon as you close this browser window. Curiosity is the only tool you need. Ask questions, listen attentively to the answers. Don’t try to solve problems, sometimes it’s enough to hold space. Let your assumptions about others fall away and fill that space with their stories instead. Be the supportive woman you wish you had around when you were starting out. And then watch how we all rise together.