Three Generations of Female Perspective

March 7, 2017

Three Generations of Female Perspective

What better way to celebrate Women’s History Month than to pick the brains of women that have seen the world change at three entirely different points in history? I asked three of my favorite women to respond to a fixed set of questions in order to better understand the dreams, cultural norms, societal pressures and changes of their times.

Their answers offer a light look at what it means – and what it meant – to be a woman in the modern working world. Allow me to introduce my subjects:

  • Representing the Silent Generation, an 88-year-old former schoolteacher and farmhand who spent 40+ years on the farm, then worked full time at a Wal-Mart, well past retirement age, stocking shelves and unloading freight.
  • Representing the Baby Boomers, a 58-year-old sales executive once inspired by Mary Tyler Moore.
  • Representing the Millennials, a 31-year-old PR professional that first dreamed of opening a hair salon at O’Hare International Airport called O’Hair.

What did you first dream of being when you grew up?

Silent Generation: I wanted to be a nurse or a missionary, but my parents didn’t really think too much of it. I guess because I was so young.

Baby Boomer: I wanted to be a teacher and a mom.

Millennial: I had big dreams (even went as far as getting blueprints drawn up by a friend’s dad who was a contractor) of opening a hair salon in O’Hare airport called O’Hair. I actually still think it’s a pretty solid idea.

What trailblazing women do you recall learning about, or learning from, when you were growing up?

Silent Generation: There was a missionary family that visited our church every two years following their travels to Madagascar, and I can remember her [the matriarch]. They were lovely people, very nice and well educated. At the time, she was probably the most influential person in my life – I thought they were very important.

Baby Boomer: My girl scout leader was someone I looked up to, as well as my grandma. I also remember looking up to the TV versions of “successful” women:  Mary Tyler Moore, “That Girl” Marlo Thomas, Audrey Hepburn, and I adored Lucille Ball for her humor and wit, no matter what. On a more serious note, I looked to athletes like Billy Jean King.

Millennial: On a scale from one to ten, how embarrassing is it for my answer to be Kristi Yamaguchi? I LOVED her for a solid ten years of my childhood. She was energetic, friendly and always had the best skating outfits. How’s that for a role model? On a more serious note, my aunt was likely the most notable “trailblazer” in my life. She babysat me, taught me everything I needed to know about soap operas, how to spot the best bargain while shopping, and most importantly, how to not take anyone’s shit.

What events, social or cultural changes have had the biggest impact on your role as a businesswoman? 

Silent Generation: We really didn’t hear much [in the country]. I had a farmer’s life, I really did. I taught grade school for two years, grades 1-8, and then went to work to help [husband] on the farm. In those days, I sometimes thought to myself, “If I could just finish up school.” I really do wish I had the opportunity to do something else.

If any one event had an impact, it was the day John F. Kennedy was shot. His wife, Jackie, she was such a gem. Her perseverance was so great.

Baby Boomer: My parents never held me back, but they never encouraged me, either. I was lucky to have an internal drive that propelled me forward. I’ve always tried to associate with successful women – my friends worked while raising kids and I think that taught me how to juggle multiple jobs today.

Millennial: From a business perspective, the 2008 financial crisis was quite the blow to my ego, in the very best way possible. I graduated from college in 2008. The economy was tanking and my dreams (or should I say, expectations) as a 23-year-old were on pause. Looking back, that lack of certainty and frankly, that terror, lead me to work harder and smarter than I likely would have otherwise.

If you could tell your younger or future self something to remember, what would it be?

Baby Boomer: Things happen for a reason. Stay true to your heart and your head will follow.

Millennial: I would tell myself to not get so hung up on majors, double-majors and minors, and instead focus on experiences. Those are the things you can speak passionately about in interviews – not what you learned in your Communications Law course. I would tell my future self that it’s okay to be vulnerable and that it’s okay to not always have the right answer. Ask for help. People like to help. It builds connections and relationships that will last you a lifetime.

What do you dream for the future roles of women in business and society?

Silent Generation: I sincerely hope and pray that we are able to find a cure for cancer and Alzheimer’s. And someday, you know, I’d hope to see a woman president. We’re so capable of handling problems today. When you think of your families, who do you go to more often with problems, your mom or your dad?

Baby Boomer: That all women are given equal opportunities – at work, at home, and in school – and that women’s voices are heard in all arenas.

Millennial: One thing that I’ve come to learn is that women are not always kind to one another. I don’t know if it’s our competitive nature, or the fact that it took women so long to have a seat at the table and we feel like we need to fight to keep it, but it’s a reality. I’m lucky enough to work with women who build each other up and give each other shout-outs for our successes, and I hope exactly that for the future of all women. If we don’t build each other up and brag about how wonderful we all are, who will?