In an interview, Pritha Hariram discussed the critical importance of the cohort of professionals that have 15 to 25 year’s experience in the water sector. She identified a need to better support this often overlooked group of middle and senior managers and experienced practitioners.
These individuals are not always involved in setting policies but they are often the ones who implement policies on the ground. Public policy expert Michael Lipsky refers to this group of people as street-level bureaucrats. Although that term seems a bit ill-fitting, the principles of the term apply, as this group of people do indeed wield considerable influence in the day-to-day implementation of government policies to address critical social issues.
This article explores this group of individuals and some of the challenges of being sandwiched in between the ‘baby boomers’ and ‘millennials’, which represent two significant generational groups. This is a generation, ‘Generation X’ is less talked about, and less defined. Gen Xers often fly under the radar, compared to the concerns with aging boomers and fiery millennials but in fact, this generation holds a lot of power as the current cohort of middle and senior managers in the world.
Who is Generation X?
Generally, Gen Xers, are the children of the baby boomers, born in between 1961 and 1981. They come before millennials and are sometimes known as the lost generation, owing to the amount of attention paid to the generations before and after them. They also experienced a prevalence of divorce and latchkey households in their childhood years. This generation is now coming to the age where they are moving into middle and senior management roles.
Gen Xers are one of the best-educated generations with 29% obtaining a bachelor’s degree or higher, which is 6% higher than the previous cohort.
Why do Gen Xers matter in the workforce?
In an aptly named Fortune article, ‘Your next CEO is probably a Gen Xer’, author Anne Fisher refers to an Addison Group study showing that more than half of surveyed Gen Xers see themselves as ‘innovative’, ‘problem solvers’, and ‘team players’. This generation has been around long enough to take on a mentorship role to support millennials, says Fisher, and their experience qualifies them for the senior management roles that retiring boomers are leaving open.
How do Gen Xers contribute?
Pritha Hariram, International Water Association (IWA) program manager for the water and sanitation services program, says that a lot of water sector knowledge exists in senior management.
“Both young professionals and middle professionals are prominent in our specialist groups and in giving keynote addresses at some of our events… At the utility leader’s forums, we encourage CEOs to bring their emerging leaders along and many of these are middle professionals or senior management.”
Middle professionals are often prominent keynote speakers, she adds.
While the water sector is making way for young, millennial professionals and their new ideas and handle on technology and innovation, Gen Xer’s skills and experience also needs to be recognised.
Organisations like the IWA, which get the voice of middle and senior management out through mentorships and keynotes are working to bring professionals of all ages and experience levels together in partnership to best meet goals.
Harnessing the knowledge and experience of this group can catalyse momentum towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Middle and senior managers understand the technical complexities of managing teams, running projects, and whole-of-system operations. They stand behind the vision and values that drive international water policy: collaboration, equity, evidence-based decision-making, and good governance. This group knows what hard work is and how important it is to put in the hours and hard work necessary to tackle complex challenges in our sector and make progress.
Gen Xers found in middle and senior management are technologically adept — they were the first generation to grow up with computers. Having gone through tumultuous financial times in the 1980s, they understand risk and how to be flexible to make the most of resources. They are also ready to lead, eager to help mentor and be mentored, and happy to step into the shoes of the boomers who have done their work and are ready to retire.