Musings of a Riot Grrrl grown up: Feminism and the women of Generation X

In an earlier post on, I wrote about the impact that GenX women have had on society and the workplace. I was born in 1973, at the tail end of feminism’s Second Wave. As a young girl, I was raised to believe that men and women were equal, and that being female wouldn’t hold me back in any way from achieving my goals.


Credit courtesy of Fales Library, NYU

My own personal experience bore that out. I came of age with female superheroes, the Riot Grrrl movement, Lilith Fair and Girl Power. Today I’m a working mother who was never mommy tracked. I’m a breadwinner wife in an egalitarian relationship with fair division of labor. The men of my generation were raised by the same strong women who raised their daughters to believe that gender wouldn’t hold them back from any goal they had in life.

Signs of progress were all around me. The gender pay gap narrowed from 68 percent in the late 1970s to 82 percent in the early 2000s. Nearly 40 percent of women are their family’s primary breadwinner, and 32 percent of those are wives who are outearning their husbands.

I would tell anyone who listened that sexism was aging out and would not be a thing by the time my teenage daughter enters the adult working world. I’d explain that any sexism or harassment perpetrated or experienced by members of my generation was due to us getting absorbed into arcane corporate systems constructed by older generations to reinforce the patriarchy.

Then Susan Fowler blew the lid off the tech industry. In a February 2017 blog post, she outlined her experience as an engineer at Uber where she was sexually propositioned by a manager, blocked from switching teams and projects by male colleagues and then was warned that she could be fired for reporting incidents to HR. The post ignited a media firestorm.

Like dominoes, down went Uber, Google, Amazon along with a host of tech startup and tech-focused venture capital firms. A June 2017 New York Times article about sexism in Silicon Valley exposed a culture of systematic harassment, discrimination, and toxic bro-culture. I was confused. These were young women and men in young companies in a young industry. My convenient excuse for why sexism still exists evaporated. I was a disillusioned GenX-er once again.

2017 could go down in history as the year of the Sexual Harassment Bombshell. As allegations continue to be levied at prominent men across government, entertainment, media, and industry and dominate the news cycle, many wonder about the timing of the victims coming forward along with the sheer volume of complaints. “Is this a witch hunt?” people ask.

My inner Riot Grrrl answers: it’s a reckoning.

The women of Generation X remember other times when sexual harassment made front-page news. In 1991, George H.W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas for a seat on the Supreme Court. During the confirmation hearing, a former employee of Thomas’s, Anita Hill, came forward with allegations of sexual harassment from when she worked for him at the Equal Opportunities Employment Commission. Her testimony brought the subject of workplace sexual harassment into the collective consciousness, perhaps for the first time. The event was a reality TV goldmine as the nation watched, divided on whom to believe. Thomas was confirmed.

Later in the decade, scandal rocked the highest office in the land as President Bill Clinton was found to have had an inappropriate relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. (This was after Clinton had multiple women come forward previously with allegations of sexual harassment while he was governor of Arkansas.) Clinton was impeached but later acquitted of charges of perjury and obstruction of justice and served out the rest of his term as President; Lewinsky became the poster child for scandal and shame.

During this time (perhaps in response to the cultural temperature of the time) third wave feminism had taken hold. This GenX brand of feminism challenged female stereotypes, how media/entertainment portrayed women and the language used to define women. It was assertive, empowering and sex-positive. Pop culture, in the form of music (e.g., the Riot Grrrl movement), “zines” (short for magazine or fanzine, a small-circulation self-published periodical) and movies/television (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena, etc.) was the both medium and the message.

But all that was almost a quarter-century ago. So back to the question, why is this happening now?

 From my vantage point, it seems like today there exists accountability that many found lacking in the Clinton and Thomas situations. “Why did she wait so long to come forward?” Maybe because now, in 2017, she feels like she’s got a fighting chance at justice.

There is a broader network of communication and support. Feminism’s current fourth wave is more inclusive and sheds the misandry that third wave feminism was often criticized for. It is digitally driven, making use of technology platforms capable of creating community that can extend beyond hashtag activism and encourage real-life action.

What I’ve heard from many women my age over the course of the last few weeks: this sucks. Spoken like true GenX-ers. But I will break from that stereotype to say that I see a positive opportunity in this: the opportunity to reconstruct systems that facilitated this type of behavior. That will take a long time and the efforts of many.

So in the words of Riot Grrrl queen Kathleen Hanna, “Girls to the front.” Let’s get going.

A GenX Thanksgiving

Generation X, what are you thankful for? That was the question I posed to Generation X followers of the GenX Manager’s blog, Facebook page, and Twitter.

generation-xWe came of age in a time of great uncertainty, but it molded and shaped us into a generation of authentic, pragmatic and accepting people. We’re not the negative slackers anymore (and perhaps we never were). Our upbringing continues to influence us even today. Check what these GenX-ers are thankful for:

“Thankful to have been born during a time of independence. We weren’t hovered over. We took care of ourselves out of necessity. That made us problem solvers. We have the best innovators. We have real musicians that actually play music not computers. Our bands didn’t start out on the Disney Channel. We know how to pull our own weight and rely on no one else. Lastly, we are the kings of not giving a crap what anybody thinks of us either.” –Stacy S.

“80’s thrash metal!! \m/” –Lester W.

“I’m thankful there was not social media when I was a teen!!! But seriously, I think the timing of our upbringing made us a very creative and self-starting generation.” –David M. 

“I’m thankful for our communication skills. Not to sound like an old fart, but meaningful communication has gone down the toilet.” –Jim W.

“I’m thankful for the sense of independence I developed while growing up. It helped me tackle challenges and take initiative.”—Janet R.

“I’m thankful for my sense of adventure! My kids would rather stay home than be out. That also ties in with my independence. I’m also thankful for my ability to concentrate on things for a very long time. Is ADD an epidemic, or is it a condition of the brain being wired to respond to so many distractions? I worry about this.” –Sabra C.

“That I’m not a helicopter parent. We had to figure a lot out on our own growing up and I think we’re better for it. I am trying to raise my kids to have that same independence and problem-solving ability.” –Jennifer T.

“I’m thankful that social media wasn’t around when we were growing up!” –Tom H. (but a sentiment echoed by multiple respondents) 

“Growing up GenX made me aware of what’s really happening in the world. I don’t always accept what’s being told to us in the media and I try to verify reports that seem questionable. Maybe it’s a lack of trust, but our generation has been burned before.”–Brian B.

“I think Generation X doesn’t care as much what people think. People described us as negative, but I think it’s really just that we’re comfortable being ourselves and are less accepting of bullshit.” –Heather B.

“We have the best music.” –Joe R.

“I am thankful that growing up Generation X made us ‘doers’. We know how to get things done and aren’t afraid to take risks. I wish more people were like that, especially at work.” –Wendy D.

“That our kids are more like us than like Millennials. Yes, they might be addicted to technology but they’re also incredibly informed and tuned in to what’s happening in the world—more so that we were at their age. I think they’re going to be even more kick-ass than we were. “ –Debbie H.

“That we’re still badass. It’s just badass for a different life stage.” –Rob M.

It was so great to go through these and see how much that people of our generation appreciate how our coming-of-age positively influenced us. For me, I am thankful that there are so many people for whom the spirit of is resonating. That being said, I am also thankful that –like Rob says—we’re still badass, that Depeche Mode is still together and touring, and that motorcycle jackets and chokers are back in style (although—true confession—never stopped wearing them).

Care to add to the list? When it comes to being a part of your generation, what are you most thankful for? Leave your comments below. Baby Boomers and Millennials, we want to hear from you too.









Selling College to Generation Z

pexels-photo-267885Greetings from the American Marketing Association’s Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education in beautiful Atlanta. Thirteen hundred higher ed marketing and communications professionals have gathered to learn and share best practices for recruiting students to their institutions of higher learning. That’s a lot of people whose job it is to tell other people that they should go to college.

It was at this conference in 2012 that Donald Heller, who was Dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University at the time and our luncheon keynote speaker, had this to say:

“For the first time in your industry, you, as marketers, are being asked to do something you never had to do before—justify the value of a college education.”

Up to that point, it was widely accepted that a college degree—in anything—was a good investment that would pay out over time. But in 2012, with college costs out of control, a student loan debt crisis and an economy in a slow recovery with a very soft job market, he was right. It wasn’t enough to sell our own institutions. We had to sell college as a good idea.

Five years later, it hasn’t gotten easier. In response to the issue of the value of a college education, educational alternatives such as massive open online courses (MOOCs) and skills-based education (micro credentials and badging) have become increasingly popular. These disrupters, along with a renewed focus on the trades as viable paths to lucrative careers, have changed the conversation about what post-secondary pathways look like.

We also have a generation of high school students that are far more skeptical of the value of college than perhaps any generation that came before. Generation Z watched their Millennial counterparts graduate college and “boomerang” right back to Mom and Dad’s house with poor job prospects and a big student loan bill. They watch their Generation X parents—the most indebted generation–write their own student loan payment checks while trying to save for their children’s education.

As college became more accessible in the second half of the 20th century, each generation has been more educated than the one that came before. That trend could break with GenZ. They’re true digital natives who grew up with any information they wished to access literally at their fingertips, mostly for free. To them, the prospect of four years (or more) in a classroom seems unnecessary. The numbers bear it out: 75 percent of Generation Z believes there are other ways of getting a good education besides going to college.

It certainly presents a challenge for the people whose job it is to sell college, but it’s one we can rise to. As higher education responds to the needs, expectations, and demands of this generation (and it is responding, albeit at the speed of academia), there are messages that can resonate with Generation Z in the short term:

Affordability: GenZ is a pretty financially savvy generation. They’ve already started to save for retirement. They are price sensitive and have high expectations of price to value. Prospective GenZ students are heading straight to the net price calculator on college websites and cost is a major factor in their decision-making.

According to a 2017 study produced by the Center for Generational Kinetics, 24 percent of GenZ students plan to pay for college through personal savings in an effort to reduce their reliance on student loans. Additionally—nearly 40 percent of GenZ students intend to work while they go to college.

For higher ed marketers, this means emphasizing a value message. Highlighting flat or discounted tuition rates, scholarship information and on-campus employment hold sway with this generation.

Practical skills: Members of Generation Z are as pragmatic as their Generation X parents. They want to know that their college experience is going to be meaningful to their post-college life. According to a 2014 study by Northeastern University, 63 percent believe it’s important for colleges to teach entrepreneurship and 85 percent believe they should learn about financial literacy in college. There is also a high expectation of access to experiential learning opportunities as early as their first year of college.

Many institutions are responding to this demand and building these types of learning opportunities into the curriculum. For those that are, highlighting these elements can bring a competitive advantage in the recruitment of Generation Z.

The intangibles: I am not just a higher ed marketer, I am also the GenX parent of a GenZ high school junior who knows that the linear path of four-years-of-college-after-high-school-graduation didn’t work out so well for her old mom. As she herself questions the value of college, she’ll remind me that after I flamed out my third semester, I stopped out and worked part-time and full-time jobs for several years before I realized that a college degree was something that I wanted to attain. Then I’ll tell her about the things I learned in college that had nothing to do with classroom content: time management, navigating complex institutions and dealing with others who have perspectives and experiences different than my own. These are things I wished I learned much earlier than I did in the working world where the stakes were higher.

If that were a college course, it would be “Adulting 101”. For Generation Z students, college is a place to acquire these practical skills in an environment where it is okay to learn some lessons the hard way. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “learning outside the classroom”, a phrase that higher ed marketers are particularly fond of.

As a higher ed marketer for a community college (full disclosure) I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how well-positioned community colleges are to respond to these needs. Shorter times-to-completion, an emphasis on applied learning and lower tuition costs tick many of GenZ’s boxes.

In discussing such issues with colleagues from around the country from colleges and universities large and small, it was widely acknowledged that reaching students of this generation cannot depend on messaging alone. As an industry, higher education has an opportunity to reexamine if the model that has been in place for decades—centuries in some cases—is the one that can be sustained in an era of rapidly changing technology, globalization and increasingly specialized industry needs. The best viewbook in the world can’t be an effective substitute for a relevant offering—and Generation Z is savvy enough to understand that.


But Millennials want different things, right?

I love Jeopardy. Growing up, I would play along with my parents, always relishing the few times I was able to beat Mom or Dad. These days I still try to catch it whenever possible, and I—like so many others– was utterly charmed by recent champion Austin Rogers.


Millennials want what other generations want. It’s their response to not getting it that’s different.

The New York City bartender who wears secondhand clothes, doesn’t own a television and bikes to work embodied Millennial ethos as he proceeded to wipe the floor with his competition for 12 days to the tune of $411,000, bringing down lawyers, software engineers, journalists and project managers in his wake.


That’s how you do it, I thought as I watched. Tend bar. Host trivia nights. Play Jeopardy. That’s working to live, not living to work.

Over the weekend I came across “Adulting So far: Why I Quit My Software Engineering Job” by Jamelle Watson-Daniels. Expecting yet another Millennial quit-lit piece, I found it to be an astute examination of how organizations are failing at meeting the expectations of young, smart people. Watson-Daniels makes that point crystal clear:

“On some level, the outdated company cultures rely on people expecting the job to be a method of survival. But as we expand what it means to have a meaningful life and work to offer that same life standard to all people, this expectation is becoming null and void. I would rather get three roommates, not have children, and offer freelance tutoring than to be in this type of huge company culture.”

As a woman in her 40s with a family and a mortgage, I find it hard to relate to the last line—though I certainly understand it. But the part about having a meaningful life? That hits home for me, and probably does for many people.

We (GenX-ers and Boomers) love to talk about how different Millennials are from the older generations. But studies show that all three generations desire the same outcome: a sense of purpose, to feel that their work matters and that they are contributing to the greater good. A 2015 report from IBM’s Institute for Business Value showed that in a multigenerational study of 1,784 employees from companies across 12 countries and six industries, about the same percentage of Millennials (25%) want to make a positive impact on their organization as GenXers (21%) and Baby Boomers (23%).

Turns out we all want the same thing. It’s just the response to not getting it that is different. Boomers will actively disengage. Active disengagement means that not only are these folks unhappy at work, but they go out of their way to express that unhappiness through words, attitudes and actions.

GenXers will grind it out unhappily, doing what they can to bring about organizational culture shifts. Or, they’ll start a business. Generation X is the fastest growing demographic of entrepreneurs.

But Millennials will leave and not look back. They’ll tend bar and play Jeopardy. They’ll work side hustles to make ends meet.

For organizations, this has been a wake-up call. As more of the Boomer workforce continues to retire, they need to attract the next generation of workers, and quickly. And so the workplace is changing, with many organizations focusing on initiatives that foster greater work/life integration, flexibility and autonomy. While the expectations of Millennials generally get credit for the shift, all generations stand to benefit.

Policy changes are a good start, but it’s important for organizations to spend time connecting the dots to show employees how the work they do every day directly impacts the health and success of their workplace. If employees want purpose and meaning, build a compelling case as to how your organization—and their work—are contributing to the greater good.





The Side Hustle: Not Just for Millennials

Say hello to the side hustle.

Not to be confused with “a second job”, the side hustle is more than just a way to make some extra cash. It’s also a way for people to pursue a passion, stretch creative muscles or build new skills. Thanks to platforms like Freelancer, TaskRabbit, Uber, Lyft and Airbnb, the gig economy is here and thriving.

Depositphotos_69202269_s-2015Over 44 million Americans have some form of income to supplement their day-to-day earnings. Twenty-eight percent of people with side hustles are Millennials and for good reason. Millennials entered the workforce burdened by crushing student loan debt during a period of slow economic recovery and full-time employment was hard to come by. Another reason, perhaps even a stronger one, is that the modern American workplace was not meeting their expectations as a flexible, collaborative, purposeful environment in which Millennials could see the direct impact of their work, so they decided to take matters into their own hands.

This is catching the attention of older generations who have been in the workplace longer and who might feel like a cog in a corporate machine. With their heightened expertise and experience, GenX and even Baby Boomers are redirecting their well-honed skills towards enterprises that they themselves can control.

Certainly, the Millennial-as-entrepreneur narrative is a powerful one. The Zuckerbergs, Spiegels and Cheskys of the world make it seem like every 20-something whiz kid is building a global empire. The truth is that the number of people under 30 who own a business has fallen by 65 percent since the 1980s and is now at a 25 year low. According to the Kauffman Foundation, a think tank focused on education and entrepreneurship, the average age for a successful startup-founder is about 40 years old, and the 55-65 age group shows the largest increase in entrepreneurial activity in the last 20 years.

Why the shift? Increased entrepreneurism and the rise of companies built on the gig economy offer something that may be more important than money and that nearly all generations of workers seek: autonomy.

Whether it’s control over schedule, project prioritization or simply how the work gets done, higher levels of autonomy tend to result in improved job satisfaction.  When employees have greater responsibility for their work, it leads to increases in the quality of work, motivation and happiness, along with decreases in employee turnover.

Uber’s recent driver recruitment campaign capitalizes on that desire to have more control over our time and our lives. In the ‘Side Hustle: Earning’ spot, the driver moves effortlessly from her day job (working) to driving for Uber (earning) to a variety of leisure activities (chilling). The repetition of “work-earn-chill” shows a life lived on the driver’s own terms.

That’s a concept that transcends generations, and the growing number of entrepreneurs and those participating in the gig economy bear it out. Thirty percent of American workers were self-employed in 2014. In 2016, 34 percent of the American workforce were freelancers, and that number is projected to be 43 percent in 2020.

In my day job, I have worked with many freelancers and entrepreneurs, many of whom transitioned to their current roles from established corporate enterprises. They’ve been candid about the fact that the workload is much heavier—not only do they provide their specialized skills to the marketplace, but they also must spend time (and money) marketing, booking business, record-keeping and doing other work that takes them out of their area of expertise. But they’ve also shared that the freedom to work when they want, where they want and with whom is worth the extra time and effort.

That’s how important autonomy is to people, and that’s a lesson that Corporate America can learn in order to better attract and retain great people. Most organizations cannot offer complete autonomy to its employees, but even control over work schedule and location, or creating an environment that supports innovative ideas at all levels of the organizations—these are things that start to get at the heart of what’s missing for many workers these days, and why they’ll work harder and longer to find it.

Readers: do you have a side hustle, or have you thought about starting one? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

GenX Management In Action: Staying Motivated

MotivationI recently attended a leadership development session about leading high performing teams. During the session, the facilitator put up a slide with a wide variety of famous people known for being the best in their areas of expertise. The photos ranged from Michael Jordan to Mother Theresa to Brené Brown to Johnny Cash. His point was that great teams are a combination of people who each bring their unique strengths to the team. Pointing to the slide again, the facilitator asked, “And what do our employees expect from us?”

In one of those moments where the words that pop into your head are simultaneously spoken aloud, I said, “They expect us to be all of these.” The facilitator nodded in agreement.

In the moment, I understood how that kind of expectation is unfair and unrealistic, yet totally true. When we strive to do our very best and set an unattainable goal of perfection, it’s as disappointing for us as it is for our team. For GenX managers who might be in mid-level positions who are feeling this pressure from below in addition to the daily pressures from above, it can be difficult to stay motivated. However, there are simple actions that tap into those GenX superpowers that can keep Generation X managers’ heads (and hearts) in the game:

  • Control what you can control. We former latchkey kids were raised to be pretty self-sufficient, and as a generation we continue to value autonomy. Many workplace frustrations stem from the fact that there are many organizational decisions, policies and practices that are simply out of our control. Instead of dwelling on what can’t be controlled, spend time on what can be. Is there a new initiative that your team can take from start to finish? Can a process be improved? Enjoy autonomy where you have it.
  • Challenge yourself. That same GenX self-motivation has allowed us to build new skills throughout our careers, as we’ve had to keep pace with new technology, evolving industries and shifting market forces. Feeling stuck? Challenge yourself to learn something new or improve an existing skill. Rising to your own challenge—whether it’s directly work-related or not—is energizing. That energy has the potential to re-inspire you at work.
  • Remember your mission. When there are so many demands on your team’s time, skills and resources, it can be easy to lose sight of your original mission. Take a minute to get back to that. Pragmatic GenX managers can assess which of those competing demands help them deliver on their mission and which of those deviate. For the demands that digress, is there a way to get them to align?
  • Appreciate your team. Often, things move so quickly at work that there is little time to acknowledge team successes and appreciate the skills and attributes of individual team members. Don’t overlook this important step. Appreciation is a fundamental psychological need, and it’s been shown that employees who feel appreciated by their supervisor perform at a higher level. Give your people their props, and have gratitude for the unique strengths they bring to the table.
  • Get inspired. GenX as a generation has very strong internal motivation, but a little external motivation now and again only helps. Find out what inspires you. Go for a walk outside. Watch a TED talk. For me, listening to music is my favorite form of inspiration. The right music can power me through a workout, allow me to focus on detail-oriented work or simply improve my mood.

I acknowledge here that these are short-term solutions that might allow you to hit the ‘reset’ button on your actions and attitude—both things that give energy to your team members’ actions and attitudes. Staying motivated long term takes some deeper soul-searching as to what drives you and sustains you. Is it a sense of purpose? Making an impact? Rewards and recognition? Is there proof that you are getting those things in your current role?

Motivation ebbs and flows. Just as it’s unreasonable to embody every type of leadership style that your team expects, it’s impossible to stay 100 percent motivated 100 percent of the time. But for GenX managers in need of a motivation boost, these might rev the engine.

Readers: What do you do to stay motivated, short-term and long-term? Leave your answers in the comments below.

The Management in Action series covers a variety of practical management topics that can help GenX managers strengthen their leadership skills. Got a topic you’d like to see explored? Leave a suggestion in the comments. 


Looking to improve corporate culture? Get GenX involved.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

This oft-repeated pithy quote from business guru Peter Drucker might cause you to roll your eyes if it weren’t so damn true. Newsflash: in addition to strategy for breakfast, culture eats management for lunch, policy for dinner and tactics as a midnight snack. In other words, there is no stronger performance driver for an organization than its culture.

Corporate leaders know this. It’s why they spend money on surveys, consultants, courses and retreats trying to find ways to improve culture. In his book The Culture Cycle, James Haskett estimates that an effective culture can account for upwards of 30% of the differential in corporate performance compared to organizations that have culture issues.

You can find many differing definitions of corporate culture, but at its core, it’s the values and actions of employees that create an organization’s environment and define its practices. For organizations struggling with corporate culture issues, it’s often because those values and actions are not aligned. People aren’t walking the talk. The culture is not authentic.

Depositphotos_156857050_s-2015For leaders looking to improve organizational culture, I would encourage them to seek a perhaps yet untapped resource: your Generation X employees.

One of the most important aspects of a solid corporate culture is authenticity, and a hallmark characteristic of GenX-ers is how they value authenticity. They’ll be the first ones to point out when actions don’t align with values, or if certain initiatives feel forced or false. That’s a fine first step, but allow them to go deeper and they can help their organizations identify strengths that can drive values that employees can align behind and deliver on.

Pragmatism is another characteristic that is part of the GenX brand. It’s easy to mistake good old-fashioned GenX pragmatism for negativism in the workplace, especially when they are sandwiched in between two generations known for their idealism. Pragmatists focus on how to get things done. They can see the big picture but also potential barriers that could get in the way of success, and they tend to want to spend energy overcoming the roadblocks. Engaging GenX employees in culture improvement discussions and initiatives can lead to some “quick wins” as they can see possibilities within existing frameworks.

But what if your existing framework is what needs improvement? Generation X is an asset here too. Their influence on the modern workplace in regards to improved work/life integration, women at work and the use of technology was a paradigm shift. Pragmatic as they may be, a desire for change and improvement is as strong with X-ers as it is with other generations, including Millennials.

As an added bonus, involving Generation X employees in culture-shaping engages a generation of workers who—at this point in their career—have a significant amount of institutional and industry knowledge and experience yet may be stalled in their current roles. With Baby Boomer leaders staying in the workforce longer and Millennials quickly climbing corporate ladders, it can feel like GenX is the forgotten middle child of the workplace. Using GenX expertise for the purposes of improving workplace culture recognizes these employees as future organizational leaders who can successfully navigate an increasingly complex business environment.



Generation X and Finance: Generation X-pert Laurie Haelen (Part Two)

LaurieHaelenThis week is Part Two of our Generation X-pert conversation with Laurie Haelen, Sr. Vice President, Team Leader and Wealth Advisor for Canandaigua National Bank. (You can check out Part One here). Let’s jump right back in.

GenXManager: Generation X is kind of known for their precarious financial situation. They are the most indebted generation, their retirement savings took the biggest hit in the Great Recession, etc. As a Wealth Advisor, do you feel that Generation X has been somewhat overlooked by the finance industry?

LH: Absolutely. Baby Boomers are working longer so GenX-ers aren’t able to move up as fast. There they are again, stuck in the middle—maybe caring for aging parents as they take care of their kids. It’s really challenging for them.

GXM: From an advisor perspective, do you think there is opportunity with this group?

LH: I do, especially with financial planning. I never planned when I was younger—I was too cynical about it. But at this point GenX can really benefit from it.

GXM: What about Millennials? Is the financial industry doing things to try to develop them?

LH: With Millennials it’s very interesting. Many of them saw their parents burned by the financial crisis, and they don’t want that. They’re looking for something different. They may want to invest, but not for return alone. They may want to invest to make the world a better place.

They also tend to want to do it themselves as opposed to having somebody do it for them. You may have heard of robo-advisors. It’s a way to use technology to build a portfolio, continue to add to it and do all the things that traditional money managers do for a much lower cost. There’s been a big trend of Millennials moving in that direction. But they also like ad hoc advice. They like to have somebody checking in about different aspects of their financial life, and so the traditional money manager who just wants to charge a fee for a portfolio is struggling to figure out how they can service this generation. Frankly, many of them (money managers) are just saying, “I’m not even going to bother. I’m going to be retiring soon.” Right now, there are more financial advisors facing retirement than in any other time.

GXM: What does that mean for the industry as far as attracting new talent?

LH: It’s a huge challenge because many young people do not want to be in sales. Sales is an environment where they don’t feel comfortable, or they don’t want the rejection that comes along with sales. And currently, financial advisors do sell.

GXM: Do you see the model changing? Because you can look at financial advising in two ways: one is that it’s sales, which it absolutely is, but it’s also helping people, which could be very attractive to younger generations.

LH: I do. Some of the larger robo-advisors are adding Certified Financial Planners to their staffs, and so clients could have access to that advice when they need it. So staffing models are moving towards more of a salaried staffing model since those people advise and do not have to sell. It’s different than the traditional old school brokerage model or insurance model where everything that you did was commissioned.

GXM: What led you to a career in finance? I know that you got your degree in English Literature.

LH: Well, I graduated and then realized that there was nothing I could do with that degree at all. I think I had 40 jobs in my 20s. So I was drifting around in different jobs and playing in bands and a friend of mine worked for John Hancock Financial Services. Her mom worked there as a recruiter and really liked me (she was like this glamorous person and I was always impressed by her) and she said, “You know you’d be really good at selling insurance,” and I said, “Why would anybody to do that?” But I went and interviewed with her and I took a psychological profile test. And they called me to tell me I failed the psychological profile test because, basically, it measured how materialistic you were. And I wasn’t. But she fudged the results and I went into the training program, which involved calling lists of people in the morning, which I hated, and then going out to meet with people and helping them with their insurance issues, which I loved. I lasted about a year, then I went into banking.

I realized then that I really liked the ‘helping people’ piece of the industry. I am very good at explaining things to people—I think that’s the English Literature background. I could take a really tough concept and pare it down and communicate to people in a way they could understand. I moved away from insurance and toward investments, taking classes, getting licenses, etc. In 1995 I ended up in the trust side of the business, working with trusts, fee-based investment management and financial planning, and I’ve been there ever since.

GXM: What advice do you have for people starting out who want a career in finance?

LH: Get an advanced credential of some kind to help you specialize. A Certified Financial Planner designation is really well-regarded. If you’re on the investment side, a Chartered Financial Analyst is great. Internships are a great idea as they let you see if you really like the industry. Then I would say invest on your own—just a few dollars at a time so you can see how investing works from a hands-on perspective.

GXM: As a GenX manager, what do you think are the assets that GenX brings to the workplace and what are some attributes that might hold us back?

LH: I think being real is an asset. I love that part of Generation X. And reminiscing of course.

GXM: That’s how we bonded.

LH: Yes! I call it “fossiling”. I think GenX’s reliance on email can hold us back in the workplace. Sometimes it’s better to be in the same room. We like email because it’s quick and direct, but there are some cases where being face to face is the right thing for the situation.

GXM: Lessons you’ve learned along the way?

LH: I’m not as important as I think I am. No one is. Recognize people for great work. You can’t over-recognize someone. Recognize people who are in roles which maybe traditionally don’t get recognized very often, like a receptionist or the person who sits in the back just processing all day. Those people might fall through the cracks but they’re the ones that make the whole place run.

Another lesson: don’t only like people that are like you. When I was a new manager, I tended to “pick” people that thought like me, but that’s not where you get the best teamwork. You can learn from people who may have different talents and they can learn from you. And not to be afraid of conflict. I used to fear it, but I know now that conflict is not the end of the world. It can be healthy and it can solve problems.

GXM: That’s really good advice. The strength of a team comes from having a variety of styles and approaches. Laurie—thanks for being this month’s Generation X-pert.

You can connect with Laurie Haelen on LinkedIn at

Are you a Generation X-pert? We’re looking to interview GenX-ers about their career paths, their experience leading employees, and how their specific industry interacts with Boomers, GenX, Millennials and more as part of a series for Email for more information.



Generation X and Finance: Meet Generation X-pert Laurie Haelen

LaurieHaelenOur Generation X-pert series continues with Laurie Haelen, Sr. Vice President, Team Leader and Wealth Advisor for Canandaigua National Bank. I first met Laurie when I was a marketing manager for a financial services firm and Laurie joined the organization as SVP and Director of Investments. When our first official meeting evolved into an hour-long discussion about ’80s music, I knew she was my cup of tea. We have both since moved on from the firm but she remains one of my dearest friends. Her 25-year career in finance has given her a ton of experience in managing employees (and clients) from different generations. Part One of our conversation about her career path, the finance industry and of course Generation X follows, edited for clarity.

The GenX Manager: You and I talk all the time about being part of Generation X. What does that mean to you? What do you think of?

Laurie Haelen: When I think of Generation X, I think of coming of age in the ’80s, a time that celebrated a certain type of person, an “Alex P. Keaton,” if you will.

GXM: A yuppie.

LH: Yes, and if you weren’t a yuppie, then you were “somebody else.” And somebody else felt disenfranchised and distant from the consumerism that was happening. I remember feeling like there was all of this stuff going on in the world: the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the “just say no to drugs” campaign and the AIDS crisis. I felt like there was a divide between people moving forward in their yuppie way and the people who were cynical about it.

GXM: How do you feel about where GenX is today—in work and in life?

LH: I think that, in many ways, we’re lost a little in translation. I think the Baby Boomers have been such a defining generation in the workplace, with their work ethic and habits. Everybody knows what they stand for. And everyone seems to know what the Millennials stand for, but no one seems to be talking about Generation X. I remember taking a leadership class on dealing with the generations, and it’s interesting because all I remember is how to deal with Millennials and how to deal with Baby Boomers. I can’t remember what the plan was for us.

GXM: Fewer meetings?

LH: Right. And email them. Now I’m remembering. But I’m on the early edge of GenX, closer to the Baby Boomers, and I prefer in-person communication. What I see from Generation X, especially being in finance, is that education and credentials are not the most important things to them. There’s some cynicism around that. Having more of a real relationship is more important to them.

GXM: Authenticity.

LH: Exactly. That’s interesting because that’s very important to Baby Boomers. GenX-ers were also the first ones to view work as “doing work,” not a place or a time frame. So, if it takes a GenX-er five hours to complete an eight-hour project, they’re like, “I’m done.” To GenX, that’s OK, whereas to Baby Boomers it’s not OK; you’re going to sit there and get the eight hours in. So, that’s one thing I think is true. I hate the “bean counting.” And I, too, am less impressed with someone’s credentials than I am with how they treat people. I am impressed by the type of person they are. I don’t care about the letters after their name.

GXM: Do you remember from that leadership class what the advice was for managing Millennials?

LH: Oh, I do. It was to make them feel special. If you’re their boss, Millennials might want you to meet their parents. Communicate the way they want to communicate, texting, etc. And give them recognition—meaningful recognition.

In my experience managing Millennials, all of this has been true. And for us as their managers, we need to be very clear about what we expect from them and to let them know how they’re doing—where they’re at, where they’re going, what the path is and how to get there.

I’ve had lots of conversations with Millennial employees about money, about title, about status. They ask very early on, “How did you get where you are? How can I do what you do?” And in my head, I’m thinking, “It took me 20 years to get here!”

GXM: We did pay some dues, our generation. Certainly the Boomers did, and they value that. So, it is kind of new territory for us to see people who don’t know about paying dues or that there are no dues to pay anymore.

LH: And I’ve had some experiences with Millennials where I’ve given them more money, more schooling, or more opportunities and they took them without hesitation and then moved on very quickly. In my generation, and certainly in older generations, we tend to stick to things. But now as you know that loyalty between employer and employee is gone—on both sides. And so I can’t really blame them. That is a characteristic of our generation—trying to see things from both sides.

GXM: What do you feel you’ve learned from Millennials?

LH: They’re great at advocating for themselves. I did not advocate for myself at their age, and I did think it was kind of amazing and cool that they would have the audacity to tell me they need to make more money. The way they use technology, that’s something I try to stay on top of. There are tools that exist to improve efficiencies, and Millennials can many times do things faster than some other generations. But I respect the advocacy, and I respect the courage they have to advocate for themselves. I have also found that when criticism is dealt, they get over it quickly.

GXM: What about managing Baby Boomers as someone younger than them? What was it like for you to supervise people older than you early in your career?

LH: In my early career, it was like all these people are my dad. That made it very hard to say no to them or really give them any kind of negative feedback. It made it hard for me to finally stand up to them and say, “Wait a minute. You might have more years of experience, but I am in charge and this is my call.” That was hard. It took years for me to be able to do that. Confronting them felt like confronting a parent.

Now, it’s much different. It’s more, “I understand where you’re coming from, and I really value you.” That’s really meaningful to them. And I do everything in person with Baby Boomers, especially if I think it’s going to be particularly disruptive or violates their values. I am very mindful now of how I give feedback, and I’ll adjust my communication style based on generational considerations.

Tune in next week for Part 2 of my conversation with Laurie and get her take on how the financial industry is responding to generational needs, her career path and her advice for people interested in a career in finance. Catch the exciting conclusion right here!

Five GenX Business Leaders You’ve Never Heard Of (and at least three that you definitely have)

I like Mark Zuckerberg. I really do. He seems like a bright, thoughtful guy, and it’s because of him (and his college buds) that I can know what my retired mom in Florida is thinking about at almost any given moment. But as a GenX-er, I do grow weary of the Millennial/Genius/Entrepreneur narrative.

I get the whole Wunderkind thing that Zuck has going on. And with Millennials poised to be the most entrepreneurial generation in history, it’s easy to focus on the paradigm-shifters of that generation.

But Millennial business leaders aren’t the only ones who are changing the game. Some of today’s most well-known companies are being led by Generation X-ers. These are but a few, in no particular order as innovation is innovation, whether it’s applied to insurance, space travel or shoe selling.

  • Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos: What started as an online shoe store has grown into the gold standard of employee empowerment. Zappos brings the same kind of innovation that earned them the reputation of customer service mastery to their employee relations. Example: every (as in EVERY) new employee spends the first three weeks working in the Zappos call center to understand the business. When that time is up, the employee is offered $3,000 to leave the company.
  • Mary Callahan Erdoes, CEO, J.P. Morgan Asset Management: You don’t have to be a renegade CEO of a hi-tech business to be innovative. Erdoes, CEO of J.P. Morgan Asset Management since 2009, spearheaded several initiatives geared toward helping women in the male-dominated world of finance, including a program that recruits women who once worked in financial services but paused their careers to have children. She was #60 on Forbes’ “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” list in 2016.
  • Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and of Square: One of “the Twitter guys”, Dorsey co-founded Twitter, left in 2008 and came back as CEO in 2015. In between, he launched and continues to run online payment company Square. Dorsey joins Gates, Jobs and Zuck in the pantheon of billionaire tech college dropouts.
  • Sara Blakely, founder, Spanx: With $5,000, Blakely took antiquated undergarments, made them comfortable, called them “shapewear” and created a whole new category in the fashion industry. That kind of GenX ingenuity will get you on Forbes Billionaire list, where Blakely is one of the youngest women.
  • Elon Musk, CEO and Chairman, Tesla: Okay, if you don’t know this guy, I don’t know what to tell you. Electric cars, space exploration, model/actress girlfriends. He’s the rumored inspiration for Tony Stark.
  • David Wehner, Mike Shroepfer, Sheryl Sandberg: Also known as Facebook’s management team (CFO, CTO and COO respectively). I told you I thought Zuck was a bright guy—smart move stocking the C-suite with GenX talent.
  • Spencer Rascoff, CEO, Zillow group: Whether you’ve bought a house recently, tried to find out what your neighbors paid for their house, or you just enjoy perusing the local listings, you probably know the real estate marketplace Zillow, where Rascoff’s been the CEO since 2010. Thanks to their “zestimates”, you can find out what your home is worth at any given second.
  • Tricia Griffith, CEO, Progressive Insurance: If Flo is the only person you know from Progressive, take a closer look. Griffith was the driving force behind the decision to expand into home coverage in 2015. She built her career at Progressive, starting as a claims rep in 1988. She’s now on the list of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women.
  • Larry Page, CEO, Alphabet: You probably know Alphabet better as the parent company of Google, the company that Page co-founded with fellow GenX-er and current Alphabet President Sergey Brin in 1998. Known for his somewhat unorthodox management style, he is credited as the brains behind PageRank, the algorithm that determines search engine results and has marketers like me obsessing over them. And with Google consistently topping “Best Place to Work” lists everywhere, he and Brin are viewed as the standard-bearers for innovative 21-st century corporate culture.
  • Susan Wojcicki, CEO, YouTube: Wojcicki began her career at Google as their first marketing manager in 1999 (Page and Brin were already working out of her garage—sweet commute). Seven years later she convinced them the company should buy YouTube and the rest is television-killing history.

The hallmarks of successful leadership– pragmatism, empathy, loyalty, innovation—are the same characteristics that are attributed to Generation X. In a competitive global business environment where organizations must adapt quickly to market forces that shift beneath their feet, it’s easy to see how GenX leaders are blazing trails.

Readers: this list merely scratches the surface. Got a GenX leader you admire? Share your thoughts in the comments.