Much has been written about how Millennials are changing the way we work and do business. While the pace of that transition has been dramatic in some areas, we still lag in others. For example, many young women still feel they need to make more sacrifices than men to get to the top.
For many, it just isn’t worth the effort—and the result is that relatively few women want to be number one in their organization. But that might be about to change. Initiatives are being introduced to change that mindset for young women who are preparing to enter the world of work.
The Gender Ambition Gap
While many Millennial women want a fulfilling and diverse career, they don’t necessarily equate that to reaching a top job. Consider a 2013 survey by Zeno Group of 1,000 women—all Millennial post-secondary graduates in the U.S.—which explored their views on ambition in the workplace.
The survey revealed that:
- Nearly three-quarters (71 percent) had ambitions other than a leadership role.
- Just 15 percent aimed to “be the #1 leader of a large or prominent organization or startup.”
- Nine in ten respondents agreed that female leaders have to make more sacrifices than men.
- Nearly half (49 percent) felt those sacrifices aren’t worth it.
The study suggested that Millennial women see a career as something of a juggling act, with three-quarters expressing concern about their ability to balance personal and professional goals. It also showed that family responsibilities influence career goals; Millennial moms are six times more likely than those without children to say a career is not that important.
Many women also described lack of self-confidence, skills, or education as career blocks—despite completing a four-year university or college program.
This feeling is reflected in another more recent study: When recent post-secondary graduates were asked how well equipped they were when it comes to leadership skills and qualities, the 2015 Deloitte Millennial Survey revealed a gap between genders.
- Just 47 percent of women want to be number one in their current organization, compared to 59 percent of men.
- Women want to reach senior management (57 percent), but they’re still outnumbered by men with the same ambition (64 percent).
Respondents were also asked how well prepared they were to manage their careers upon graduation. As this chart from the study shows, women felt on par with men when it came to financial, economic, and general business knowledge—and, in fact, felt better prepared with general business skills. Leadership skills, however, proved to be an altogether different story: Just 21 percent of women rated their skills as strong, compared to 27 percent of men.
A Fresh Approach to Leadership
In an article for Huff Post Business, women’s rights advocate Tabby Biddle suggests leadership training has traditionally been designed for a male audience. For most of history, she points out, “There has been an assumption that leadership belongs to men and that leaders are men. If the leader was woman, she was expected to act like a man, but be ‘feminine enough’ to be likeable.” Whatever that means.
This is what Kathryn Kolbert, director of the Athena Center for Leadership at Barnard College in New York City, refers to as “the double bind.”
“The double bind is a real thing,” she told Biddle. “It’s absolutely what women face in many circumstances. Not all, but many. Certainly in those in which they are a minority in a room.”
That focus on leading like a man isn’t just ineffective. Kolbert said it also misses the strengths women bring to the table.
To rectify the imbalance in leadership education, the Athena Center has launched a new initiative: Athena CORE10. The program—a combination of on-campus seminars, webinars, and workplace workshops—is based on 10 key attributes the program designers say all leaders, male or female, need to cultivate.
These attributes include:
- Ambition: Owning and projecting power, expertise, and value.
- Vision: Finding, defining, and motivating others with purpose.
- Courage: Taking bold, strategic risks.
- Communication: Listening actively, as well as speaking persuasively and with authority.
- Entrepreneurial Spirit: Being imaginative, flexible, and persistent.
- Leverage: Optimizing the use of key resources.
- Collaboration: Sharing diverse strengths and perspectives, and building effective teams.
- Negotiation: Bridging differences to come to a beneficial agreement.
- Resilience: Learning and bouncing back from adversity and failure.
- Advocacy: Standing up for yourself and others.
In addition to the core program, Barnard College is encouraging organizations to think differently about their own culture of leadership. As Kolbert explained, “We talk a lot about changing the capacity of women to lead, and changing the culture of the organization. Both things have to happen simultaneously.”
To spur this, the college launched the Global Symposia series in 2009. This annual conference brings together female leaders from around the world to discuss issues that are important to them, and to inspire young women.
It’s past time to have more women in leadership positions. But to get there, we need to give young women stronger support at the beginning of their careers. It will be interesting to see if initiatives like Athena CORE10 help reset the balance, and adjust perceptions and expectations women have in the workplace.
Are you seeing more female leaders? Are they the younger Millennials? Or the older ones? Do you think GenZ women will be more aggressive when it comes to tackling leadership roles when they begin to enter the workforce en masse? I so want to hear your thoughts on this matter. I’d also love to hear about your own experiences—whether as a young woman starting your career, as an established female leader, or as an educator preparing young women for their careers.
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