I’ll admit in this very public forum that I’ve been a bit taken aback by the ongoing war between generations that I’ve seen repeated in mainstream media and social media memes. “OK Boomer,” “OK Millennial” and “Hey, what about us?” posts from Gens X and Z permeate my news feeds, leaving me to wonder what the heck is going on?
It’s not naiveté or cluelessness that has me wondering what all the beefing is about. It’s the fact that as a self-described “Boomer in tech,” I’ve been blessed to have many younger colleagues — some MUCH younger — who have not only been great to collaborate with, but who have also become part of both my professional and personal networks.
In looking back at the trajectory of my career over the last two decades, as I transitioned from corporate marketing to journalism and then to tech, I’ve wondered if maybe I find myself networking with those younger than me as a function of the industry I’m in. With few exceptions, most of my marketing communications peers were my age or even older, especially among the managers and directors.
And when I transitioned to print journalism, the editor of the weekly paper I often reported for was also close to my age. But it was at that same paper that I ended up collaborating on a few stories with a much younger colleague who later became a friend, and someone who helped me see the value in multi-generational networking.
I marveled at my younger colleague’s tenacity and tireless approach to the stories we covered, though to be honest, we sometime clashed because I couldn’t pull all-nighters or work without the demands of motherhood needing my attention — and it wasn’t feasible for her to meet with me on the weekend after spending five days in the office during the week. Still, after sitting down to figure out a way to make our partnership work, my young colleague and I went on to do some great work together.
Then I transitioned into the world of tech and while some of the people in more traditional roles were my age, a good number of our developers and product managers were just out of college or grad school. They were often lauded as “fresh talent” at the expense of older workers, which had the potential to do more harm than good.
But rather than being adversarial, I sought to find commonalities instead — things that could help to bridge conversations and close the gaps between us so that we could work together and (hopefully) learn from each other, all while having a bit of fun.
There are myriad reasons that I have chosen to seek out networking opportunities with younger colleagues, but these three stand out as paramount:
In my work as a user experience-focused content strategist, we work with user personas, created from aggregating research from real user groups to form a single representative user of a digital product or service. Personas are given a name, occupation and even a face, and are referenced as we are developing new features to ensure we’re meeting the needs of that user group.
As it turns out, hearing the perspectives of my colleagues in younger age groups helps to “give life” to some of those personas. So, while those colleagues are not officially part of our aggregate research, they are better equipped to speak on and give context to some of the findings that may be unique to younger user groups. And as a bit of an “edge case” myself — as a technically-literate “Boomer" — I can offer a different point of view as well.
By traditional definitions, a mentor is often assumed to be an older, more seasoned person who comes alongside a younger person to help them reach goals and navigate life with an experienced guide.
However, as I continue to seek out opportunities to expand my knowledge and complementary skills in content strategy, I have enjoyed reciprocal mentorships with younger colleagues.
One of my dearest friends is a master of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and all things data, while more than a few others are masters at design tools including Photoshop and Adobe XD. I’ve sought out their expertise in these areas to increase my understanding and have reciprocated by sharing content strategy best practices with them to demonstrate its importance in the digital development and design process. In this way, we’re building both relationships and understanding, resulting in enhanced collaboration.
One of the best ways I’ve found to eliminate generational gaps (or really any relational gap) is empathy. Getting to know someone and learning how they view the world — and the workplace — elicits empathy. And that empathy can go a long way to eliminating assumptions and breaking stereotypes that we have about other generations (and other people in general).
When I learned that my newspaper colleague sometimes commuted over 100 miles one way to come into the office before she was brought on full time, I gained a better understanding of and appreciation for why she needed to make the most of our time together.
And she came to understand that as a parent, I didn’t always have an option to not show up for my son. Rather than throw our hands up in exasperation, we sat down and carved out a workable approach to collaboration, learning how to problem solve in new ways.
And when we (inevitably) invoked the ire of our editor, even if both of us weren’t present, ours was a united front and we always had each other’s backs.
These reasons and myriad others have had a positive impact on my work in technology, as well as in my yoga business as a private teacher. Both pursuits have benefitted from conversations around and instances of diversity and inclusion among those of different ages groups, as well as those of different races, genders and abilities.
And by actively seeking out opportunities to network with those younger than me, I find that I am constantly learning and growing, and I am eager to stay engaged as a relevant voice in the workplace and beyond.
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