This is the second post in the JBC Generational Business IssuesSM blog series.

Defining generations in the workplace is sometimes easier said than done, especially now that five generations are coming together in the American workforce. Many of us are aware of where we fit in the continuum, and our generation’s shared reference points in society, politics, and media—from Michael Jackson to 9/11.

Yet as we dive into the demographics of generations and what differentiates each group, we must also examine what we call the “diversity within the diversity.” Generational differences within single communities and the intergenerational dynamics therein, if not managed proactively with the goal of inclusion, can cause a lack of understanding and compassion—or worse, hamper the unified voice so much advocacy work demands. Diversity without inclusion can rip communities apart.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer and/or questioning communities (LGBTQ) are an example of a specific subset of multiple generations whose cultural context has undergone vast changes in the past 20 years. Despite the use of the word “family” among certain generations in the LGBTQ community, the rapid pace of cultural change within the community has opened up significant generational gaps.

From Stonewall to AIDS to Prop 8 to the current every-day changing cultural and political landscapes, the LGBTQ community has gone through several upheavals, and has found itself with a similar generational challenge as so many communities: degrading soldiery as the younger generation expresses themselves according to the world they’ve known, which can be perceived as lacking concern for the context of the older generation.

When it comes to social justice and equality movements of all kinds, the fear of losing ground is felt most acutely by the generations who’ve experienced the struggle directly and historically understand the tenuous nature of progress in a divided world.

Addressing Generational Gaps

Almost 10 year ago, scholars Glenda Russell and Janis Bohan described the cross-generational communication challenges for LGBTQ communities in the influential article “The Gay Generation Gap: Communicating Across the LGBT Generational Divide.” It is common sense that LGBTQ communities aren’t and have never been monolithic, yet these communities have historically been able to share the binding experience of coming out. That experience has changed dramatically in the United States. Since the mid-1990’s, the average age of coming out has continued to drop.

According to Russell and Bohan, the average age for coming out is now around 15 years old, making the pivotal experience of coming out an adolescent occurrence, rather than an experience previously identified with young adults.

Since 2005, the LGBTQ community has also seen an unprecedented generational movement to upend gender roles beyond the binary of male and female. The steady call towards of authenticity among the younger generations, and the damages of gender labeling among those who express themselves more fluidly, have opened up new conversations for the next steps in LGBTQ advocacy.

Research and observations by the Jennifer Brown Consulting team reveal some commonly held feelings of Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1964) and even some Gen X’ers (born between 1965-1978) in the LGBTQ communities about their younger counterparts:

  • Ungrateful for the political and social gains we spent our youth striving to obtain
  • Entitled
  • Sexually careless
  • Disrespectful

In contrast, Gen Y/Millennials (born between 1979-1994) are less fearful of their authenticity and observe some of their older counterparts tending towards the following:

  • Negative
  • Obsessed with talking about AIDS
  • Uncomfortable, or even jealous, of their degree of authenticity about who they are
  • Not mainstream enough

In the last 10 years, as more Gen Y/Millennial workers join the workforce, the generation gap has continued to widen. If we hope to dissuade the “pervasive age-segregation” noted in Russell and Bohan’s research, we should also consider what they suggested as solutions 10 years ago:

“[Y]outh lack the resources and the wisdom of life experience to find and enact answers on their own. In this circumstance, adults must be prepared to follow the lead of youth, to learn from youth; youth must be prepared to rely on the mentoring of adults and on their experience with solving problems…”

Cultivating Common Ground

In the past several years, Jennifer Brown Consulting has worked with multiple clients to educate and advise on creative strategies for managing multiple generations in the workforce. Jennifer Brown recently moderated a panel hosted by Deutsche Bank and EY focused on the specific generational challenges of the LGBTQ and allies workplace community.

The company also works more broadly, developing and delivering “Generations in the Workplace” training for hundreds of managers, building the awareness and skillsets of leaders to identify opportunities and points of leverage for the bottom line.

> Download the Generations in the Workforce presentation.

To learn more about JBC or to reach out to one of our subject matter experts, visit jenniferbrownconsulting.com or email us at info@jenniferbrownconsulting.com.

This is the second in a series of blog posts about JBC Generational Business IssuesSM. The next blog post will feature specific workplace solutions for developing multigenerational allies and strengthening Employee Resource Groups (ERGs).

Sources: Russell, Glenda M. and Bohan, Janis. “The Gay Generation Gap: Communicating Across the LGBT Generational Divide.” The Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies: December 2005.