Passing the Torch: A Message to the Rising Workforce of Millennial Women
I must say that throughout my years navigating the workforce, I’ve never been prouder of the gains that women have made professionally. Today, we’re witnessing a wave of inspiring new gender equality campaigns like He for She and Lean In Together, which encourage both women and men to make their voices heard and work together in reaching equality.
Through the years, we’ve increasingly advocated, educated and collaborated, and our efforts have helped pave some of the largest potholes in history’s long road to gender equality.
At the heart of these efforts is the determination to help women understand the matchless value they bring to the workplace; to help them define leadership on their own terms and confidently determine their professional trajectory. However, just as importantly (perhaps even more), is the need to support our proceeding generation: the female millennials who will be contributing to the workforce long after us.
Despite the significant strides we’re making, the gender imbalance that continues to pervade the modern workplace has the potential to affect millions of millennial women. A 2016 Deloitte survey, for example, shows that millennial men are still more likely than millennial women to lead a department or become a member of senior management. Additionally, women are more likely than men to leave their current employer within the next five years. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, as things currently stand, the average college-educated woman will lose up to $800,000 throughout her life due to the gender wage gap.
While today’s workplace is nowhere near as unwelcoming or intimidating for women as it was 20 or 30 years ago (I could tell you quite a few stories about my journey from tradeshow demonstrator to executive), many organizations still fail to recognize and/or promote female leadership, career advancement, and personal growth and development.
As female leaders, it’s our responsibility to help pave the way for this new era of working women, even if that means simply sharing lessons we’ve learned in our years navigating the workplace. I believe that for as many inspiring female executives who have emerged from generations past—Adena Friedman, Mary Barra, Indra Nooyi—there are just as many, if not more, who can rise from this new generation. I know I’m not alone.
Encouraging the Next Era of Female Leaders
To the bright, ambitious, determined millennial woman, I’m sorry to say we don’t have all the answers just yet. Perhaps we never will. As a female executive who has spent her fair share of time swimming in these oft-murky waters, however, I can offer a couple of tips to help guide you as you reach for greatness:
Determine the kind of career you want (and know it doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s).
In today’s competitive world, it’s common for women to feel as though they need to have the same career aspirations and goals as their male counterparts. On the contrary, it’s perfectly fine for young women to determine the kind of career they want; in fact, it’s encouraged for success. In your hands right now is the truly rare opportunity to begin conceptualizing your career from the beginning; to boldly visualize the work environment of your dreams and make that a reality. Seize this opportunity.Just as importantly, remember that it’s fine for a young woman’s career aspirations to look different from her male colleagues’. One young woman, for example, may want her career to strike the perfect balance between work and family. For another woman, the ideal work environment may allow her to create quality relationships versus generate higher income (an accomplishment correlated with success by many males).
Understand others’ nuances (while embracing your own).
Millennials face an interesting quandary: although they have surpassed Gen Xers as the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, they must still work closely with many across the generational spectrum. To this end, millennial women should remember something very important: there’s a difference between adapting to others’ ways of thinking when necessary versus adopting those behaviors in hopes of succeeding.Ladies, I implore you to understand the immense value you bring to the workplace, just as you are. Confidently believe in your leadership skills and your ability to obtain whatever it is you desire (whether that’s a good work/life balance or a management role). Deloitte’s survey found that 27% of men rate their leadership skills as “strong,” compared to only 21% of women. Is this truly accurate or rather a perceived lack of skill by women fed to believe that success and leadership must look a certain way? I’ll leave that to you to decide.
No matter what you believe, remember there’s no wrong answer here. Everyone has a different way of measuring output and success. By embracing yours, you’ll be able to most effectively navigate your work environment and drive the most positive business outcomes for your organization.
In my opinion, this is a balancing act. You should adapt your own style in the office, while keeping in mind you may also have to change your expectations of how others naturally communicate and get work done. In the end, it all comes down to being nimble, smart and strategic. The goal is to deliver the outcomes your organization needs in a way that allows you to freely be yourself—a win-win.
In the End…
For as many ways the workforce has improved for women over the years, it has grown challenging in others. In today’s unique work environment, the millennial woman must be more nimble, quick-witted and strategic than ever. She must be able to quickly assess situations and recognize others’ ways of working—all while staying true to herself to authentically build trust, connections and, most importantly, to begin clearing the way for her own career advancement. It’s a delicate ecosystem that inevitably takes time to master, but it is achievable.
Millennial women: I know you’ll not only maintain the foundation that we’ve built, but make it bigger and better than ever.