Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

The Misuse of Patterns in the Workplace

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

The Misuse of Patterns in the Workplace

Article excerpt

Maybe you've seen the 1963 film Bye Bye Birdie? The musical opened on Broadway in 1960. And one of the show's most unforgettable songs begins, "Kids! I don't know what's wrong with these kids today!"

At backyard barbecues and holiday gatherings, the subject of generational differences is as popular now as it was when the hippies were rebelling in the 1960s. In fact, in businesses across the U.S., the typecasting of generations has exploded into a pseudo-science.

It's hard to find a self-respecting marketer or human resources manager who hasn't dived into these waters. And most would be chagrined to be caught flat-footed without their own well-articulated views on how the patterns of behavior of the so-called GI generation, the silents, the boomers, the X'ers and the millennials must be managed differently, whether it's in sales to consumers or keeping employees engaged.

Of course, identifying patterns in others in order to simplify human interactions isn't new. Historically, in war, countries typecast each other's people to make the fighting more palatable. A book by John Gray, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, is still embraced today, although at its heart, the book uses stereotypes to plow its message of how to get along with another gender.

These simplifications create more harm than good. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 disallowed discrimination in job advertising based on gender, as well as other categories like race, religion and national origin. But even with a legal prohibition in place, the notion of suitable jobs did not die easily. According to LEARN NC, a program of the University of North Carolina School of Education, the December 1, 1968, Raleigh News and Observer broke job ads down by gender into "Male Help Wanted," "Female Help Wanted," and "Male-Female Help Wanted." Within those categories, the ads themselves discriminated further: "Wanted, settled white lady to work nights in rest home," "White waitress needed," and "Ladies over 35 with car."

Today, many people find this overt discrimination appalling. Even so, in some quarters, the continuing gender pay gap is not sign for concern. And sizable segments of the population still cling to the gender divisions in self-help books and consumer messages. In August, Target came under fire from some customers when the retailer announced it would remove gender-biased signs in its toy and bedding departments.

The blunt instrument of generations, like gender, remains, for some, a socially acceptable way to identify patterns of behavior. …

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