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Catalyst Study Dispels Myths About Generation X Professionals and Sheds Light on What This New Generation of Leaders Seek At Work

Gender Gap Still Exists Between Men and Women at Work

People throughout North America say that the new generation of professionals lack commitment to their work. But in a study released by Catalyst of Generation X professionals in the United States and Canada, 47% say they would be happy spending the rest of their careers with their current organization, 85% care a great deal about the future of their organization, and 83% say they are willing to go beyond what is normally expected in order to ensure the success of that organization.

In a new study, The Next Generation: Today's Professionals, Tomorrow's Leaders, Catalyst surveyed over 1,200 professionals born between 1964 and 1975 from eight companies in the U.S. and two in Canada. Sponsored by General Electric and Ernst & Young, the goal of the study was to shed light on common assumptions about this new generation of professionals who will in future decades control the positions of power in executive suites and board rooms throughout North America.

"The goals and values of this rising generation of leaders are still unclear to America. Corporate leaders are continuously struggling to attract and retain the best and brightest, while building company loyalty among Generation X professionals," said Catalyst President Sheila Wellington. "We embarked on this study to shed light on these issues and provide guidance for corporate and professional America as we move into the job market of the 21st Century."

"Despite high levels of company loyalty, today's professional do expect more from their employers - but not in the form of unusual perks like gym membership and convenience services," said Wellington. "They want programs and policies to help them navigate their advancement and manage their work and personal commitments."

With the goal of clarifying expectations held by Generation X women and men, Catalyst questioned participants about career and personal expectations. While some of the stereotypes about work/life expectations hold true, many of this generation's values around corporate loyalty and job expectations are traditional:

Assumption: Today's professional have low organizational commitment.

Reality: Today's professionals are highly committed to their current employers.

  • 85% say they really care about the fate of their current organization. 
  • 83% say they are willing to put a great deal of effort beyond what is normally expected in order to help the organization succeed. 
  • 47% say they would be happy spending the rest of their careers with their current organization.

Assumption: Because men of this generation had mothers in the workforce, went to school with women and grew up with women in the workplace, they are more likely to understand and identify with women's career aspirations and experiences.

Reality: There is still a gender gap. Men are more likely than women to believe that there have been increases in advancement opportunities for women over the past ten years; less likely than women to see the barriers to women's advancement; and are less likely to buy into the business case for women's advancement.

  • Over half of the men Catalyst surveyed think advancement opportunities for white women have increased greatly compared to ten years ago. Only one-fourth of women agree. 
  • 37% of white men believe advancement opportunities for women of color have increased greatly over the last ten years. Only 9% of women of color agree.
  • 60% of dual career men say their career is the primary career, but women are more likely to report that neither career is primary. 
  • 62% of men believe that men and women are paid the same for similar work. Less than one-third of women agree. 
  • Almost half of women say they have to outperform men to get the same rewards. Only 11% of men agree.

"Contrary to what most people believe, Gen X men don't really get it when it comes to women in the workplace," said Wellington. "But I will note that the gender gap is more of a U.S. problem than a Canadian issue. A large majority of Canadian men and women report that neither career is primary compared to the U.S. where 60% of men say their career is primary."

Assumption: Generation X professionals bring different expectations to the workplace

Reality: These professionals are attracted to their companies for traditional reasons with a few notable exceptions:

  • 67% would like a compressed work week 
  • 59% would like to be able telecommute ü 54% want a casual dress code

Traditional expectations include:

  • 88% say perceived advancement opportunities were important in choosing their current employer. 
  • 78% say compensation offered was important in choosing their current employer. 
  • 77% say the organization's reputation was important in choosing their current employer.

"This generation of professionals is looking for flexible work arrangements to be able to juggle demanding jobs with the demands of a family," said Wellington. "Over half of both men and women would like to telecommute or work a compressed week, while only a small percentage are actually able to take advantage of these flexible work arrangements at their current organization."

The sponsors of this study were General Electric and Ernst & Young.

About Catalyst: Catalyst is a nonprofit research and advisory organization working to advance women in business and the professions, with offices in New York, California and Toronto. The leading source of information on women in business for the past four decades, Catalyst has the knowledge and tools that help employers and women maximize their potential. Our solutions-oriented approach-through research, Advisory Services, Corporate Board Placement, and the Catalyst Award-has earned the confidence of global business leaders. For additional information or to obtain a copy of this report, please visit our web site at or call 212-514-7600.