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Gen X Women, Stop Blending In

Gen X'ers can be seen as the blend generation, happily staying in the background, playing the workhorse but as Millennials are getting promoted and Baby Boomer are staying in organizations longer, we can't sit in the back row any longer.

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Dusan Petkovic / Shutterstock
Dusan Petkovic / Shutterstock

Tired of not getting promoted, its time to get uncomfortable and stand on the front line.

Try searching online for Gen X content and the results will be astonishing. Not because there are so many articles to navigate (no, that would be the results if you searched Millennials), instead you’ll find two common themes;

  • Articles about how Gen X is a financial mess.
  • Proof that Gen X is an afterthought in the minds of, well, everyone. 

I’m just a concerned Gen X’er. Who’s talking to this group of successful, self-reliant, results-oriented and There just isn’t enough support for all the issues Gen X women are facing. 

We are in the mid-stage of our life.  Where our spouses may have morphed more into our roommate than our lover, our worries about our children are growing and on top of that we are in the throes of perimenopause — hormones racing bodies raging. Oh, and let’s not forget our careers, where the doldrums of the work we have been doing for 20 years are finally taking over. We’re either stuck in middle-management as organizations flatten or our careers are soaring and we need to be all in, all the time, just to keep up — and we are exhausted.

A Silent Generation exists, the one prior to the Baby Boomers, so Gen Xers can’t claim that as what defines them, although it would be quite fitting. We could, however, define this generation as the Blend Generation.  

  • We are the workhorses in the office, head down quietly getting S%^T done.
  • Every day we try to maintain our have-it-all and suffer the exhaustion and overwhelm that comes along with it (in silence).
  • Complain, us? Nope, you won’t find us outwardly talking about what isn’t working and instead, we will strive to work harder and longer to keep all the juggling balls up in the air.
  • Bold colors, asking for raises and commanding a meeting are not second-nature at all.  We grew up trying to blend in with our male counterparts from the way we dressed to the language we used.

Gen X is being marginalized and feeling left out, because, well, we literally are left out, just like the unpopular kid in the schoolyard who no one picks to be on their kickball team. This month marks a year ago when the infamous CBS News chart outlining burnout by the generation where they conveniently left off Gen X.

Generation X is the smallest generation, by 10 million or more in either direction, smaller numbers, small voice. To add to our diminishing numbers, there’s talk of a new micro-generation, Xennials, born at the cusp of Gen X and Millennials. What going on?  How do we marginalize our generation further emphasizing our insignificance? Forget middle child, we are the stepchild that no one really wants but someone has to sort-of account for.

Changing a world view on the contributions of Generation X will take a lot of effort. I know one article, like this one, can’t do much. However, I’m tired of our generation blending, letting the chips fall as they may, and putting their head down, chugging away and doing the heavy lifting.

I feel compelled to encourage Gen X’ers to show up differently with a bigger voice and more confidence. We don’t need to stay the ‘Blend Generation.’

Autonomy is Great for the Organization, Not So Much for Your Career

We grew up as a fiercely independent generation, many of us were latch-key kids, coming home from school to an empty home, left having to take care of our needs until the arrival of our parents. 

Translate this in the workforce, and you have an employee who can manage themselves to success. As employees, we sit at our desks, highly focused and in productivity mode with little need for direction. We believe our work will speak for itself and have learned to sit respectfully awaiting our much-deserved trophy.   We haven’t separated ourselves enough from our school days where we studied hard, got good grades and then automatically made the Honor Roll. This doesn’t translate to corporate America. We are getting overlooked and held in workhorse positions because, let’s face it, no one wants to lose their workhorse. 

It’s time to get comfortable communicating up not just managing down. Give yourself credit. I believe it talking up your team. It’s an important part of being a great leader. Engagement goes up, morale stays high and you build an overall sense of team. What we need to understand is giving your team credit is not mutually exclusive to your contribution. Learn to get comfortable talking about the work you do and the successes you achieved.

Make your Presence Known, Not Just Your Productivity

When your boss needs a volunteer to run a new project, Gen Xers are those that take on tasks because they want to be a team player. While one would hope to have these actions translate to being considered for promotions, this isn’t always the case. The longer you are viewed as the workhorse, the harder it is to be seen as a leader. And let’s be frank, everyone needs a workhorse.

Your value in the office needs to go beyond tasks. Make sure you’re participating across the board. We’ve seen with our clients, those that who are comfortable taking on projects aren’t the same who speak up in meetings and share their ideas.

Don’t wait for others to talk first. You don’t have to gauge the room, analyze the players and share your thoughts based on strategy. Offer up your ideas and insights, show your multi-dimensional self and do it first. You’ve blended into the background for too long.

Color Your World

Enough of trying to be one of the boys, wearing dark pantsuits and black dresses. Introduce color into your wardrobe so everyone has no choice but to take note of who you are and so you can’t hide your personal zone of genius by being silent. Make it hard to be forgotten and passed over. Couple a bright orange shirt with your black skirt or carry a bold red bag and matching red heels. I promise, wearing color to the office doesn’t diminish your intelligence, this isn’t the movie Legally Blond. 

Think about it, we’re halfway through our incredible careers and I know I want my second chapter to be even greater than my first.  Stand up and stand tall so you can be recognized for all you do. Get comfortable in the spotlight, it’s your time to shine.

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