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How To Embrace Generational Diversity

By Julie Fasone Holder

Six years ago, I welcomed my niece, Toni McEwan to The Dow Chemical Company – my employer for the last three decades. While I have achieved some level of success in the company and now sit in the executive wing, I’ve found that even Aunt Julie has something to learn when it comes to leading through generational differences.

Toni joined Dow straight out of college and while we share the same family heritage, we are a model of differences. She came to Dow as an engineer, wanting to make the world a better place.

I came to Dow in the 70’s — in sales — excited to climb the corporate ladder. She is a Millennial, part of that mystifying 20-something generation born in the latter 21st Century. I am a Baby Boomer (okay, part of that 50-something generation) who grew up during the women’s movement, breaking ground in a man’s world and learning the hard way by being the only and first woman to do a variety of things.

Toni cut her teeth on instant messaging, multi tasking and the internet. I learned to use technology, and embrace it for its efficiencies, but grew up in an age where relationships and face-to-face communications “closed the deal.”

I know that in the work place, Millennials like Toni have big ideas. They prefer highly scheduled environments, are expert multi-taskers, and learned young how to be well organized. Case in point – my own children were issued daily planners at school by the age of 10. Balancing options and being flexible are already part of their vocabulary. Reliance on technology and being “connected” is a given.

Probably most importantly, this generation of women has more opportunities than ever. They are constantly on the go at work and after hours, and the chances to join and participate are limitless. They want it all and possibly for the first time ever they can have it.

As a leader, I am challenged to harness the great strengths these fantastic women bring to our company, while helping them fit into a well established culture at Dow — and let them help craft the future of the company. My goal is to channel their passion and talents so that the qualities that make these women unique allow them to grow individually while helping our company achieve its business objectives.

How do I do it? I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but my approach is to link generations through five guiding principles for women. I have shared these often and found they stand the test of time. They are:

1. Identify your true priorities and decide what can wait.

Women of all generations can be successful at home, at work and as an active part of the community. I often recognize a difficulty in saying no. I encourage women to evaluate what they believe in and how they will make a difference, and resist the urge to do everything.

2. Set goals and be patient about achieving them.

Younger employees have a great need for immediate gratification. With vast opportunities in front of them, women may get easily enamored by a chance to move overseas or take on a more demanding role, even if the transition is not a good fit. I urge women to have a plan, be patient, and wait for the opportunities that will surely come.

3. Identify what kind of help you need and get it. Our young people have more access to services than we Baby Boomers ever dreamed, but many are not yet accustomed to the idea that they don’t have to do it all. I remind them that it’s okay to ask for help – no matter what kind.

4. Realize that change is constant and make it work for you.

Even though Millennials seem to be hard-wired for change, it is still unsettling when it happens. I encourage women to be comfortable with it. Today’s global business environment absolutely requires flexibility. The more flexible an employee can be, the better an asset they are to any company.

5. Seek out a variety of coaches for specific situations.

When I entered the workforce, mentoring was uncommon. Our newer employees are fortunate that many companies see the value in providing professional coaches. As Toni’s mentor, I encourage her to seek experts in all areas where she needs support, and I am thankful she has the opportunity to learn from those with varied experiences.

I believe all of us as leaders can bridge the generational gap when we first try to understand the motivations of our Millennials. These are intelligent, savvy, creative women who will be our leaders of tomorrow. Our ability to integrate them effectively will reap great rewards in the future.

About the author

Julie Fasone Holder is a distinguished corporate leader, celebrated for empowering women in professional spheres. As the former Senior Vice President of Dow, she ascended from her early sales role to C-suite leadership in a Fortune 50 company, managing multi-billion dollar business portfolios along the way. She lastly oversaw Marketing and Sales, Reputation, Public and Government Affairs, and HR for Dow, underscoring her diverse expertise. Post-retirement, her passion for women’s success materialized into her entrepreneurial venture, JFH Insights, where she leverages her extensive corporate experience to guide women towards career and life success as an independent director and mentor.