Oh Really?

I’ve been cleaning out files and came across some real gems among my papers from a supervisory workshop I attended several years ago. One document, included for its shock value, is an excerpt from a WWII-era article about “Getting More Efficiency Out of Women Employees.” Among the “helpful tips” are:

2. When you have to use older women, try to get ones who have worked outside the home… Older women who have never contacted the public have a hard time adapting themselves and are inclined to be cantankerous and fussy.

8. Give every girl an adequate number of rest periods during the day. You have to make some allowances for feminine psychology.

11. Get enough size variety in operator’s uniforms so that each girl can have a proper fit. This point can’t be stressed too much in keeping women happy.

As I recall, the piece was included for its outrageousness and its effect in breaking the proverbial ice. But clipped together with it is another list of tips, handed out with no apparent irony or second thought: “Management Tips for Generation Xers.”

3. They want jobs that are cool, fun and fulfilling.

6. Unlike baby boomers who tend to work independently, Generation Xers like to work in a team environment.

7. They prefer learning by doing and making mistakes as they go along.

Puh-leeze! Is it really a good idea to take an entire gender, generation, or other group and make generalizations about what does and does not float their boats in the work environment? I implied in an earlier post that everyone should just lighten up about librarian stereotypes, or at least realize that we’re hardly the only profession to suffer at the hands of the media, and I meant it. But observations of the sort above need to be taken with a very large grain of salt. Even if 95% of Gen Xers want a job that is “cool, fun and fulfilling,” a) that means entirely different things to different people and b) you may supervise someone in the 5% that doesn’t care about cool or fun, but likes routine. To me, fulfillment does not mean making mistakes as I go along if I can at all avoid it. That’s why I still can’t drive stick shift!

On a related note, I’ve heard many comments over the past few years, both in the workplace and out, that imply that anyone younger than a Gen Xer comes complete with a full set of technology skills. This is not the case. Technology skills are still add ons, like Barbie’s dream house, and they come in many flavors. The person who connects her iPod to her computer in order to listen to music is not necessarily a person who wants to take her iPod apart or understand how it works, no matter how old she is. People who grow up around something, e.g. a computer, may be more comfortable with it, but the best way to find out is to ask, and comfort does not equate to a career in technical support.

I believe that the best managers have an ability to assess an individual’s strengths and weaknesses without making the mental shortcuts exemplified by the above tip lists–and then, to the extent possible, match the job and the person, no matter what their age or gender!

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