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What's next for Gen Y women?

Impatient. Well educated. Entitled. Globally minded. These are just a few of the traits that are commonly assigned to Generation Y. Born between the late '70s and late '90s, this generation―72 million strong―is entering the workforce in droves, and shaking things up along the way. While they're credited as being "technologically savvy with a social conscience," no other generation takes more heat for their work habits, due in part to "helicopter parents" and perceptions of continuous "career ADD."

But there's something unprecedented happening within this generation. It is Gen Y's female members that are breaking out in the work world with particular force, moving the needle more than before. Dan Kindlon, PhD, author of Alpha Girls, describes today's young women as having emancipated confidence, calling them "...the first generation that is reaping the full benefits of the women's movement." Kindlon goes on to say: "Today's American girl is maturing with a new sense of possibility...[she is] a born leader who is ready to explode into adulthood and make her mark on the world."

If preparedness can help them make their mark, Gen Y women have no lack of it. Young women are earning the majority of bachelors degrees today and in 2009, as reported by the Council of Graduate Schools, for the first time in history American women graduated with more doctoral degrees than men. A recent media blitz overemphasized a still notable trend: as a result of outpacing men in educational attainment, there are also geographic pockets, mostly in cities, where young women are out-earning their male peers on the job. Brimming with a high degree of confidence and independence, these women have as strong an appetite as men for jobs with responsibility.

Rearing may be partly to thank for the power Gen Y women bring to the workplace. Sure, Gen Y is known as the most "praised generation," having been told since infancy that they can do anything and reach any level. But when it comes to women, who have long been told otherwise, I have to wonder: why is that a bad thing?

As the business world continues to move toward leveraged relationships, Gen Y women's socialization may present an advantage. Sally Helgesen, author of numerous books on leadership, most recently The Female Vision: Women's Real Power at Work says, "Male children learn to put winning ahead of personal relationships or growth, to feel comfortable with rules, boundaries, and procedures...Females learn to value cooperation and relationships; to disdain complex rules and authoritarian structures, and to disregard abstract notions like the quest for victory if they threaten harmony in the group as a whole."

That the daughters of the feminist revolution are primed to balance the leadership ranks is an understatement. They represent a path to correcting women's low representation in top echelons of government. And what group, if not Gen Y women, is the answer to Fortune 500 boards and management teams becoming more gender balanced? Between their education and outlook, Gen Y women seem to be the answer.

There's only one problem: Gen Y women don't necessarily want top jobs. According to Willow Bay, Executive Producer of Lifetime's Spotlight 25 (a research initiative analyzing twenty-something women), "Today's young women value control and flexibility over climbing the corporate ladder." Given their inclination toward both personal life and career (how radical!), Gen Y women don't aspire to the all-or-nothing jobs common at the top of companies. Bay's research found that for this group, entrepreneurship is far more preferable than corporate leadership roles.

An equally rich insight can be found in Gen Y women's political beliefs. Said Bay: "Children of feminists overwhelmingly support the idea of a woman in the White House. But when asked if they would like to be president, this group of women―the best educated in history with the greatest amount of opportunity―gives the nation's top job a resounding thumbs down." Gen Y's rationale? Too much potential disruption to family life, the continued existence of gender discrimination and a flat-out lack of desire to work in politics.

While Gen Y women may indeed represent the "kinder, gentler Alpha," well suited as a modern leader, don't assume their brass ring is the same as yours. For this group, it's not a lack of drive or ambition squelching their desire for top roles, it's a lack of interest in conforming to the way it's always been done. And who can blame them? Example after example has shown them that the most coveted leadership roles result in a withering, near-dead personal life. For the youngest cohort, there simply must be a better way.

When I give talks about twenty somethings to groups of mixed generations, the conversation can easily devolve into one where people share their horror stories about Gen Y. The youngest generations will always be an easy target for criticism with their lack of experience and strange new ways of doing things. But between Gen Y women's quest for jobs with meaning, variety and true work/life balance, maybe the real question we have for them is: how dare you demand what I've always wanted, but never had the guts to ask for?

By Selena Rezvani

 |  September 17, 2010; 9:23 AM ET
Category:  Corporate leadership , Women in Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Illogicbuster, not all 20-somethings think they know everything and should get the top job within a year of working. I'm sorry your department has poor hiring standards if you're only getting the ones who can't handle the work pressure.

Personally, I'm working hard at my job and one day I know I'll get the reward for it; not because I'm a female, but because my job performance will show I can handle it. I don't go around asking for handouts or the best projects or to even be a project lead. I'm still in the learning stage of my career and that I don't know everything there is to know about my job, yet.

Don't lump us all together.

Posted by: tfisher1 | September 21, 2010 9:21 AM
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Right on target, illogicbuster.

"technologically savvy with a social conscience," - I keep reading that and LMAO when I do. If texting until their thumbs fall off and posting to FaceBook and tweeting about every inane f@art they emit is "savvy".... Please. Most are inept with basic business software and couldn't install a new hard drive if their life depended on it. Social conscience? In comparison to whom? Except for a handful of overachievers who think they should start at the top of a company because THEY are the idea people (overdeveloped self-esteem thanks to their moron parents), many others are taking forever to plod through college, if they even make it. They can't haul their buttocks out of bed at the crack of dawn to commute to a job but still want to start at the top. Lotsa luck. I have more faith in those born in the middle 1970s - they have a work ethic. But the 20 somethings..... whew.

Posted by: mooncusser | September 19, 2010 8:34 AM
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POSTED BY: WHITNEYUEVANS "I'm the 20 something woman doing your job better than you. If you'd pull your head out of your butt, maybe I'd be willing to show you how to do it better."

Hmm, I don't remember seeing you the last time I was briefing the CIA, NSA, DoD. Nor did I see you at the meeting with the Spanish P.M. What IS your job again?

This an excellent example of why these guys die on the job faster than flies. Here is a person that even if a gun were put to her head, couldn't fathom much less do the job that I do. They get frustrated at pay and position because they erroneously believe that they know it all.

Posted by: illogicbuster | September 18, 2010 10:53 PM
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When did having social skills become more important than being competent at what one does for a living? And, while it may be true that women may do better in white-collar jobs than men for personality or social reasons, that doesn't necessarily mean they're more competent or wouldn't make the same mistakes men have made, for example, in peddling securities with no chance of repayment or creating shell companies that generate their entire revenue through ponzi schemes. It's social networks that help enable these frauds in the first place, and women are just as susceptible as men to the pressures of easy money.

I would like to add, too, that it's mostly because the US economy has become dangerously lopsided in the service sector that women have seen the economic and social gains that they have seen in the last twenty or thirty years. It's an irrefutable economic truth that the US economy needs a healthy manufacturing and construction (i.e. blue collar) sector to recover from its current funk and remain vibrant in the long-run. The last time I checked Dept. of Labor stats, women were still an extreme minority in the jobs that give white-collar workers the roofs over their heads and the wheels to drive to the Starbucks to get their lattes on their way to their climate-controlled, Aeron-chair accoutred jobs.

While it's terrific more women are earning higher degrees than in the past, most of these women will never hold a blue-collar job and will in turn expect their male counterparts to do the dirty and dangerous but essential jobs of preparing meat for market or putting shingles on a roof in 100 degree weather. In short, the rising stock of the female is not a very good indicator of our future economic strength unless females do more to help their male counterparts reclaim the blue-collar jobs lost that have been outsourced to illegal immigrants and foreign subsidiaries with fewer labor and environmental protections.

Posted by: BrianSells | September 18, 2010 12:37 PM
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Men and women commit domestic violence at similar rates.

Posted by: moebius22 | September 18, 2010 1:17 AM
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Let me put forth one statistic to make a point: Men and women commit violence at similar rates.

This whole idea that women are kinder and gentler leaders than men is reverse old school 19th century sexism dressed up in the new trappings of 21st century Feminism. Anecdotal evidence would likely show that men and women both can be kind and gentle leaders, as well as ruthless and domineering dictators.

It's the person, not the gender.

Posted by: moebius22 | September 18, 2010 1:14 AM
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I, for one, think the accomplishment of women over the last few decades are incredible and I don't know any who don't deserve what they've earned.

Now you're running the show, or will be soon, can you PLEASE pay just a tiny little bit of attention to the "boy crisis" in our schools and do something about the massive numbers of functionally illiterate young men. It's in your own best interests unless you want to live in a nation full bored and probably violent ignorami.

Also, I always wonder why people speculate that women will be "kinder, gentler" leaders. We usually like to think of "women's empowerment" as a recent thing but this is because we're conditioned to think in terms of popular governments. MANY, MANY women have wielded autocratic power throughout history and, looking at their careers, I see absolutely no reason to belief that women in power really behave any differently then men. Some are good and competent like Artemisa of Ephesus, some are competent but not so good, like Isabella of Castille or Catherine the Great, some made the best of an impossible situation, like Cleopatra Ptolemy and others were just plain awful, like Cixi.

There's nothing wrong with hoping that women might be better, kinder and gentler leaders but I wouldn't hold my breath.

Posted by: andrew23boyle | September 17, 2010 2:13 PM
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Hi Illogic Bluster.

I'm the 20 something woman doing your job better than you.

If you'd pull your head out of your butt, maybe I'd be willing to show you how to do it better.

Posted by: whitneyuevans | September 17, 2010 1:33 PM
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My experience as an exec with Gen Y is that as a total % of the workforce, I have to fire them more often than employees from other age groups. Generally poor primary education, college grads that have no grasp of the 3 R's and a horrible work ethic.

I think most are the children of Boomers, having been born '75-85. Being raised by parents with a high incidence of drug abuse probably didn't help them.

Posted by: illogicbuster | September 17, 2010 11:11 AM
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