I remember being a playground mom — sharing tips on curing diaper rash, on finger foods and
all the exciting milestones that kids reach in the baby and toddler years. I remember those days
fondly, and will enjoy the replay version when my own kids have kids, if they do, one day.
Those playground-mom topics aren’t part of my life now. I’ve got five-to-fourteen-year-olds, a whole different cable channel. Our issues are band camp, sleepovers, Cosmo Girl, Facebook, piano lessons, PS 3, Rock Band, whether Iron Man or Hulk rules and under what conditions SuperSoakers may enter the house. (Answer: none.)
I love all kinds of diversity and I love to hang out with people in different life stages from me. But let’s face it -when we need to talk, we want to talk with people who can relate to us, people we can relate to.
I can chat for a few minutes about prom dresses, and then I want someone to sympathize with me over my disintegrating close-up vision and the gray that peeks through my supposedly permanent hair color in a few weeks, and the challenge of finding a stylish yet comfortable pair of shoes and the shock of being 30 years out of high school.
Generational diversity at work is typically viewed as a fuzzy “let's-hold-hands-and-sing-Kumabaya issue,” with an associated action plan that reads something like "We'll hire people from age 22 to age 70 and stick 'em together and it'll be wonderful, because they'll learn from one another." Could be. Or we could all be really polite in the face of what turn out to be really, really boring stories about things we don't care about.
Imagine you're sixteen years old and forced to ride on a long car trip with your mother and her
40-year-old gal pals. You might hear a spicy joke or two, or pick up a useful bit of life wisdom. But
most sixteen-year-olds would be bored to tears by the end of the ride. Can we expect people of any other age to react differently in the face of another generation's thrilling conversation? Why would we?
At age 35, with little kids at home sucking up all my energy, I worked in an office with 22- to 26-year-olds. I loved them as co-workers. As conversational partners, I tuned them out entirely. I got my pop music advice from them, but apart from that, we were worlds apart. Did the mutual exposure do us good? Undoubtedly it did. Had I had my druthers, would I have loved to have another person my age in the group? You bet.
Can we begin a more honest conversation about generational diversity by admitting that for many of us, the most interesting conversation is with our contemporaries? This minute, read through the list of a company's officers and leaders and see whether there's more than a ten-year gap between the oldest and youngest member. You almost never find that sort of thing. We like our generational peers - they get us. We need some of that reinforcement at work. Corporate Diversity managers should take note.
Tell the truth--who do you want to be with at work?