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Finding balance in your business

THE Australian workforce is currently comprised of four different generations who have grown up in entirely different social and cultural conditions.

The fundamental difference in the way these four generations work is most vividly illustrated when you discuss the challenges facing management

The attitudinal differences between a woman from Generation X and a man born in the Baby Boomer era are the subject of just one research projects Professor Leonie Still, director of the Centre for women and Business at the University of Western Australia, is heading up.

Today there is a mix of four generations in the workplace – the Matures, the Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y Professor Still said.

“The Matures and the Baby Boomers in many ways have been socialised in a very different era and they still see problems and they are facing problems because of their age,” she said.

“The younger generation don’t see the same issues or the same problems. That’s very clear. In fact they feel that they can do anything.”

The conflicts that arise in businesses related to the generation gap, or the “cultural dilemma” as Professor Still calls it, are supplemented by the fundamentally different ways men and women communicate.

Although we both speak the same language, men and women use language is very different ways.

“We don’t speak the same language, we do but with different meanings because of our upbringing and training and socialisation,” Professor Still said.

“I think this has an impact and I think that’s why women say ‘well I’ll go off and do my own thing and appoint people that I like and I feel comfortable with’. They want to do things a bit differently to the way they’re done in traditional organisations.”

Small business appeals to women because it allows them to create a more flexible working environment, which will enable them to meet the demands of outside interests or family.

Professor Still said her research work with women in small business had suggested women in small business were very customer focused, and were driven by quality rather than money.

“It’s not that women can’t mix it at the top, it’s just that somehow they’re not culturally accepted by men at that level and there are many reasons for that,” she said. “If you look at a lot of men there’s this same pattern and rhythm that tends to come out of their career. If you interpose a woman, where do you fit her in?”

The business world is far more accepting of women that it was when Professor Still entered the workplace and, in many ways, the attitude of the younger generation of managers reflects the relatively easy career paths they have followed.

Professor Still said she always wanted to succeed and be famous from when she was a very little girl.

“I was always time driven it was always in my head that I only had a certain amount of time to do what I wanted to do,” she said.

“When I started my career I thought I was one of those pioneering types who was at the forefront of management and I was in areas where no other women had moved in.

“I always wanted a woman to head BHP. If ever a woman was appointed managing director of BHP then women would have finally gained equality.”

The world and the workplace have both changed, with research such as that undertaken by Professor Still suggesting women can choose the more flexible working conditions of their own business or have a family and leave the workforce for a period.

“I think young women are very comfortable in saying ‘well, I’ve got my career at this stage and I’m now making a decision to go out and have a family’. I mean, I didn’t get married and have a family because I wanted a career as if it were some living thing that stood next to me.”

Professor Still said it still was difficult for women to balance family and a career, though not impossible.

While the large corporations may not embrace a worker who is absent from duties for a number of years, corporations are increasingly seeking women to fill management roles.

“Large organisations are trying desperately to find women to promote up the ladder,” Professor Still said.

“They want to get women into senior positions and they want to keep the women they’ve already got.”

Although the issues facing men and women in the workforce are constantly changing, Professor Still believes the Centre for Women and Business plays an important role in both a research capacity and for the further education and support of women in management and professional positions.

“You’ve got a generational change happening in the workforce and in management it’s becoming more obvious as people have to look at it,” she said.

“I think a lot has been achieved in the workplace and where ever you look now you see own in prominent positions, but there is still the need to help women further their careers and that’s why this centre is here to help women in the workplace and their careers.

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