Direct From Jen: Generational Enlightenment

generational-womenRecently I was recruited by one of my favorite people in the world, Jane Pak, the new CEO of NAWBO LA, to join her Board of Directors.  This weekend was the first Board Retreat of my tenure.  Tucked away at the gorgeous Four Seasons hotel in Westlake Village, California, I had a special opportunity to spend 12 hours with a wonderful mix of leading business women representing all four of the different generations.

Now, just to set the context for you all, NAWBO stands for the National Association of Women Business Owners and the organization acts as the voice of America’s 10.4 million women own businesses.  So, as you can imagine, they attract an extraordinary group of entrepreneurs and business leaders.  To be in that kind of environment alone is a treat, but the unexpected surprise for me was how much I learned from listening, learning from, debating strategy and planning policies amongst the leaders of every generation.

The discussions and collaborations were nothing short of enlightening.  Did you know that only 30 years ago if a woman wanted to get a business loan, she had to promise not to have children until the loan was paid off!  Well, some of the women in that room were actually on the front lines of fighting for rules like that to be reformed.  When they took the floor, the rest of us were awestruck by what they’d accomplished to give us the opportunities we have today.  Especially Jane and I.  At 31, Jane has been passed the baton of this extraordinary organization, appointed CEO, and entrusted to take all of their hard work to the next level.  Even I, at 36, would never have had the opportunity to sit on boards like this, let alone own my own business as I do, without the trails that women like this, in their generation, blazed before we were even born.

The really fun conversations then were spawned by the more modern revolutions, like technology.  Twitter is always a fun topic to get a room full of different generations buzzing about!  Suddenly, everyone wanted to learn from us, to understand what all the hype was about, or hop on themselves and start leveraging the power of these new online phenomenons.  And we were so excited to help show them how to get on the latest trends to help them promote their companies and personal platforms.  Over dinner I even got to help one of the coolest and most successful restauranteurs in California, Madelyn Alfano of the Maria’s Italian Kitchen chain, how to optimize the Twitter presence her son had set up for her.  (Check out @mariaskitchenLA and say hi to Maddy yourself!) I’ve got to say the coolest part of the whole day was being able to teach something new and powerful to women who I’d learned and benefited so much from myself.

As I travel around the world speaking to groups about the next generation workforce, the issue of generations comes up a lot.  Frankly, most of the conversation is around how different Gen Y or Millennials are.  How they act, think, what they value, what they say, how they communicate, what they expect.  There’s a lot to talk about.  But I must say, the conversations become most interesting when you get the generations dialoguing together — when they stop talking about one another and start talking with one another about their differences.

Lay the foundation for these conversations with mutual respect and reverence and the things that fascinate us all about one another start to come to life in the most lively ways.  You just have to create a comfortable environment for everyone to start asking questions about each others quirks and curiosities.  That’s exactly what happened at the Board Retreat this weekend and it was a fantastic experience for us all!

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