Women in Business: Career calling

How to thrive (and survive) the workforce at every age and stage of your career

Glorie Averbach

Six weeks before she was set to start law school at Montreal’s McGill University, Glorie Averbach balked. Being a lawyer was something her parents and peers encouraged, and thought she would be particularly good at, but Averbach decided to take a different career path. “I wanted to be in business. I wanted to be an entrepreneur,” says the 52-year-old, thinking back to that critical period in most people’s lives when they’re forced to decide what they want to do for a living.

She immediately moved from her hometown of Winnipeg to Toronto and started working in retail and later moved into the technology and entertainment sector – all with the goal of learning everything she could about running a business. “You’re always dealing with building blocks in careers and always learning,” she says. “The learning is what kept feeding me – and still does to this day.”

Over the years, Averbach has run and held ownership stakes in a handful of home entertainment system companies in Texas and Vancouver. Today, after selling her last company in 2016, Averbach consults and coaches other startups, helping the next generation of entrepreneurs get ahead.

Her career trajectory is similar to that of many women: start by figuring out what you want to do for a living (and not necessarily what others think you should) and then begin climbing that ladder. While there may be missteps along the way, it’s the experience and mentorship from others that help people gradually get closer to their career goals. Those goals can also change along the way. Later in their careers, many women look to give back by mentoring others. 

Women in Business talked to experts about the various stages of building a career with a focus on the four different generations in today’s workplace: generation Z, millennials (also known as generation Y), generation X and baby boomers. The mix of these four generations presents both challenges and opportunities for employees – and their managers.

“We’re unprecedented because there are so many different generations and we all have our ‘stuff’ that we bring with us,” says Terry VanQuickenborne, a Vancouver-based organization and leadership consultant. “There needs to be a great understanding of what motivates people, and what drives them towards success. We all want meaning in our work, since we spend so much time there, but what that means may differ from one generation to the next.”

Generation Z ■ This is the generation coming in as interns or starting their first full-time jobs. For many in this age group – and those at this age who came before them – the challenge is figuring out what you want to do for a living. “Find out what your core strengths are,” says VanQuickenborne. “It might not necessarily be what you’re good at – usually what you love you become good at. Find your own path and explore.”

Lisa Martin, a leadership author and executive coach, says it’s important for women at this age and career stage to understand what they value in a job and to enjoy what they do without putting too much pressure on themselves to immediately succeed. “Go easy on yourself and see how it unfolds,” says Martin. “Don’t be so worried about an end destination yet; just explore. You’re trying to figure out what you feel good in your skin pursuing.”

Millennials ■ About half of the global workforce consists of millennials. They’re a powerful force in many organizations and are shaping the future of how work is done, driven by technology including digital and social media. Still, some millennials have found it challenging to kick off their careers.

Millennials need to be patient but also proactive at work, says Ashleigh Brown, regional vice-president at the staffing and employment agency Robert Half in B.C. She recommends they actively seek out mentors and people to partner with on projects. “Remember that partnership is a two-way street,” Brown says.

Some millennials are also in a hurry to advance their careers or may be frustrated that they’re not further along by now. Martin recommends treating a career as a marathon, not a sprint. “If you’re lucky, it’s a long road,” Martin says. 

Generation X ■ Generation X doesn’t usually attract much attention. When they do, there are sometimes complaints about being tired and stressed out from years of having their head down at work.

Gen X has also seen a lot of change in their careers to date, driven largely by technology that has upended many industries. “They’ve had to be agile,” says VanQuickenborne.

She recommends embracing change and continuing to learn new skills. “If you can embrace the shifting landscape and roll with it, then I think Gen Xers will be fine,” VanQuickenborne says. It’s those that resist the change who will be challenged in their careers moving forward.

Baby Boomers ■ Women of this generation have reached a career stage where they often have a choice: retire or continue working to keep the mind active (and keep the money rolling in). Some are seeking out shorter workdays or more flexible arrangements, giving them more time to travel, get in shape or spend time with grandkids without giving up their careers entirely. “It’s about what engages you. It’s different for everybody,” says Martin.

At many companies, keeping baby boomers around and engaged is a way to provide mentorship and pass along institutional knowledge to the next generation. Baby boomers can also pick up some useful skills from the younger generations. “This is your chance to leave your legacy,” says VanQuickenborne. “Provide mentoring, and learn from the younger generation.”

Do what you love, no matter your age ■ What women want changes in each age and stage of their career. What shouldn’t is how work aligns with your values, Martin says. “While the workplace may change, your core values should remain the same.”

For Averbach, that means growing her new business, myCEO, which helps other entrepreneurs build their companies – and maybe avoid some of the mistakes she made in her career.

Averbach also wants to remain active in the community of  like-minded entrepreneurs looking to do business in a more positive and creative way. 

“I’m looking to work with others that, like me, want to truly embrace the concept of being human in the digital age,” says Averbach. “I had a lot of great mentors in my career to date, who treated me well and with respect. Paying it forward in that same way is what gets me out of bed every day.”