Dr Eliza Filby is a self-titled “Intergenerational Expert”. What started as a fascination with the 80s - the “identity-defining decade into which she was born and shaped her generation” - the decade just past has seen Eliza forge a unique career path and emerge as a leading voice in Generational Intelligence.
A writer, speaker and consultant, her recent work has focused on helping organisations create generational diversity in the workplace, a role which she describes as “bridge maker in the generational war”.
When we speak, Eliza is just a week away from the birth of her second child. She reflects on the passage of time, and how becoming a mother and losing her beloved father in the same year was a wake-up call in her understanding of generational shift. Our conversation centres on the ideas of openness and curiosity which are, in her eyes, the cornerstones to a rich and fulfilling life.
A historian with a PhD from Warwick University, Eliza started her career as an academic at King’s College London. She describes the financial crash in 2008 as a career turning point after she noticed a widening generational divide across politics and business.
“There was a huge divide emerging between Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), who were benefactors of post-war prosperity and the Thatcher boom, and Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996), who had started to enter the workplace at a time of global recession. There was a real feeling of intergenerational unfairness as Millennials couldn’t afford to get a foot onto the property ladder, wages were stagnating and they were struggling to find jobs at a time when the economy was at an all time low. At the same time they were prioritising different things in the workplace.”
She became aware that age was becoming as important a marker of identity as gender, race, religion and sexuality; and that far from being loose, ill-defined categories, generational differences were increasingly shaping us as citizens, workers, consumers and family members. As her interest grew she made the decision to leave academia and establish herself as an expert in generational change, setting out to help businesses, governments and non-profit organisations navigate generational differences. “So much of the societal disruption talked about in the 21st century is attributed to technology, whereas I study how disruption coming from people, specifically different generational cohorts challenging each other.”
Defining moments in her career
Passionate about using her research and knowledge to make a difference, Eliza describes giving evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Intergenerational Unfairness as a career highlight.
“I was speaking to a packed room of politicians sharing insights on how Millennials are making life-defining decisions much later than their parents. They don’t want the small metropolitan apartment, they want a house with a garden, because they already have kids by the time they’re ready to buy their first home, nor do they see the home as an investment project as previous generations have. It may seem obvious, but this kind of insight is crucial in shaping new policy.”
Helping generations understand each other, challenging ageist stereotypes and acting as a bridge maker between old and young is what, in a professional sense, Dr Eliza would most like to be remembered for. Reflecting on her personal life, being a good mother, daughter, wife and “laughing a lot” are most important.
On her career and motherhood
Motherhood has changed how she thinks about the future and has seen her professional research branch out in new directions. She is currently co-producing a documentary on the future of education, born out of her concern that the current education system is failing to equip children with the skills needed to thrive in the world we live in.
Becoming a mother has also made her realise that achieving work-life balance is impossible, so instead she has created a work-life blend, thanks in part to her transition to being self-employed which has given her flexibility around family life.
“Lockdown has taught me that kids just want our time. I’ve come to realise that we don’t need to constantly be entertaining them with activities and outings, it’s the small things - playing at home and eating together, that really matter.”
Her role models
Without hesitation, she describes her parents as her greatest inspiration. Her dad was an artist and stay-at-home dad. “I have such fond memories of him building dens and making castles for us at home. He was an amazing motivator and teacher.”
Her mother was the breadwinner - novel for the 1980’s. An interior designer starting her career at John Lewis, she worked her way up and eventually worked privately with a string of notable clients including the Queen Mother. “Seeing mum go out to work everyday and be so successful was very inspiring for me and my two sisters.”
On her daily rituals
“I’ve got quite good at doing breathwork and meditation exercises - partly in preparation for my home birth. I find meditation very calming and it helps me connect with my baby. I also try to exercise regularly - it’s not rocket science but it works!”
Defining “a richer life”
She equates a rich and successful life with two things; freedom and curiosity.
“It’s the ability to spend my time in the way that I want to. To work with interesting people, to say no when I don’t want to do something, to have time at home with my family, and to not build my life around my work.
“As we get older we tend to hanker for certainty. We assume that we know the answers and rarely ask questions. But it doesn’t have to be like that. I know people in their 70s that seem like they’re still 20 because they have a curious mindset; and people in their 30s who act like they are in their 60s because they just assume they know everything. That’s one thing I am grateful to my extended education for – the inclination, freedom and ability to keep questioning everything. For me, freedom and curiosity are the keys to leading a rich and rewarding life, rather than money or material things.”