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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Sebawit G. Bishu
July 8, 2016
As part of my dissertation work, I had the opportunity to interview several male and female city managers in the United States. This particular article reflects on my firsthand observation from how Generation Y female city managers value work and family. The article also finds specific interest to highlight my observation on clear generational differences on the meaning of work and family.
In spring of 2016, I wrote a review of Madinah F. Hamidullah’s Managing the Next Generation of Public Workers. In this book, Hamidullah summarizes how generational similarities and differences in work value and commitment can be recognized and integrated in order to manage diverse workforces. Beyond that, her book establishes a discussion on how such similarities and differences can be acknowledged and integrated in workforce recruitment, engagement and integration within the existing multiple generations workforce in the public and nonprofit sectors.
Hamidullah argues that different generations have their own distinct set of ideals, experiences, expectations and outlooks toward work, family and public service. Although investigating generational differences was not the center of my research, Hamidullah’s book has opened my eyes to the ways in which generational differences may be at play in defining work and outside of work responsibilities for my study population, city managers. Therefore, I intend to highlight some of the ways that Generation Y female city managers distinctly differ from female city managers from previous generations in the way they value work, family and the space in between.
Work: A means to an end
Susan Mitchell, in American Generations: Who They Are, How They Live, What They Think, argues that Generation Y tends to seek employment that would serve the kind of lifestyle that they intend to pursue. Such values clearly distinguish this generation from their predecessors as they tend to be bold and actively negotiate arrangements that fit their way of life.
In an interview with a female city manager in her mid-30s, she notes that:
“I will always make the choice that is best for me and my family. I am not married to any employer or organization. In the same way, if I felt that I was not a good fit for the management style or the culture of an organization I would leave. In any circumstances if there is a lack of alignment, I personally would not stick around and suffer.”
Mitchell again argues that younger people in the workforce, including those from Generation Y, are apt to have the mindset that is fixed on “work to live” as opposed to older generations that view work as an end by itself. I found the same line of attitude in my interviews with both male and female Generation Y city managers. They mostly sought work as a means to an end and portrayed a degree of confidence where they expressed work as a means that serves the type of lifestyle they want to pursue.
Negotiating the work-family space: Team effort and a clear plan
My observation from interviews with Generation Y city managers is that men in this generation are much more involved in family responsibilities including caring for their young children. Also, this group of men are equally evolved in negotiating the work-family space as their female counterparts. Most female city managers form this groups also have partners that take equal or more responsibilities in family care giving.
On another note, these group of male and female city managers are highly confident in their capabilities and stress on the fact that although they navigate work-family balance, they also ensure that their work gets done to the best of their abilities. One way they make the negotiation work is by increasing collaboration and delegation of work to their staff. They mostly emphasize team efforts and see themselves as a part of a bigger picture. Another female deputy city manager says,
“Personally, I insist on accommodations for caring for my infant child. However, I will also make sure that my work will not suffer because I am accommodating my needs to care for my child…When I had my child, I had it all planned out, then I went to my boss and said this is how much time I want to take off after having my child and this is how it is going to work. I laid out how responsibilities were going to be delegated and there was no way that it was not going to work. So my presentation of the request came with a clear action plan and I was able to take seven months leave to care for my child.”
My experience clearly shows me that Generation Y female city managers are forcefully and skillfully navigating their roles as managers while caring for their families. In addition, this group of women appear be to intentionally equipping themselves with financial investment along with necessary skills needed for the job. They also seem less attached to an organization and more committed to their passions and purposes for life. As a result, they appear to be less fixed to an organization, a location or an industry.
In addition, both men and women within this group appear to be comparably engaged in family responsibilities and actively pursuing their career as city managers. Perhaps, I argue, gender based workplace challenges may be redefined in the context of Generation Y.
Author: Sebawit G. Bishu is a doctoral candidate in public affairs at Florida International University in Miami, Florida. Sebawit conducts her research on issues related to equal employment opportunity and diversity in human resource management in the public sector and social justice and equity issues in urban transformation. Her dissertation addresses issues of gender and authority inequality in local government administration in the United States. Email: [email protected].