In the Workplace, A Look at the Women of Gen Y

There has been a lot written lately about Gen Y women burning out early.  People seem confused by this.  Here’s a hint to figuring out why: ask Gen Y women!  Honestly, we’ll tell you why.  Everyone knows millennials feel entitled to more.  We want all the basic benefits from a job and then some.  Flexibility is important.  We want to do deal with personal things during the work day, but we don’t really define a work day the way baby boomers do.

What is really happening is the recognition that the world is changing but the workplace is not.  I know very few people my age, male or female, who don’t work more than 40 hours a week.  I also know very few women who aren’t involved with some kind of volunteer work that takes up more than a couple hours of their time a week.  I don’t remember the last time I worked just 40 hours in a week, but toss in everything I do with Fem2.0, two to four trips to the gym, happy hours, time with friends, meetings for other organizations I’m involved with, and suddenly my personal time becomes moments alone with my laundry.

This seems to affect women more than men.  For both sexes, there is a trend that runs in complete contract to baby boomers: we can work from anywhere, and have no problem responding to emails or phone calls outside of work hours.  Baby boomers prefer tasks are achieved within certain hours and within the office.  When doing work on the weekends, who in your office goes into the office and who works from home?

So where do women run into issues?  One place is the double edged sword of ageism and gender discrimination.  Yes, ageism is an issue for young people in the office.  As someone who has always looked like I’m not legal to drink, I’ve often run into issues.  Add to that general sexism, and young women are going to have a hard time moving up the corporate ladder.  Sometimes the best way to avoid both these issues is to follow your passion elsewhere.

Here are the facts: women hold 53% of entry level positions, 37% of middle management positions and 26% of senior management positions.  While women are less likely to ask for or else be given a promotion, we’re also more likely to strike out on our own when we don’t get that opportunity.

If 96% of Gen Y women surveyed in 2010 listed independence as their most important life goal, and 87% defined success as the ability to shape her own future, it is any wonder we end up shying away from the corporate structure?  But there is a way to fix it!  It’s not just about work-life balance.  Millennials look for a couple difference options: A) work-life balance that allows for time to do those personal life things during the day and work an alternate or truncated schedule, or B) allow for work-life blending by allowing for the fact that I may finish work in half the time, but if I can spend some of the day doing personal things, occasionally working from home, or giving me extra time off, I will actually be motivated to accomplish more work, and at a better pace.

In the world of smart phones, tablets and laptops, the workday doesn’t stop at 5pm.  And for millennials that has never really been the case.  It’s not that we’re amazing multi-taskers – in fact it might just be more of us have ADD or some other similar issue – but it’s that we all work at a different pace, allow and expect that work will happen outside of the office, and take that time during the day to check in with friends, or work on finding that new apartment.

Generation Y is said to be poised to be the most entrepreneurial generation ever.  It’s time we make sure women have an upper hand in making this happen.  With less access to capital, mentors, and business knowledge needed for a startup, young women need help!

The Business and Professional Women’s Foundation has completed a report on Gen Y women in the workplace as part of their Young Careerist Research project (which I will write about more in the coming weeks).  But the most important thing to come out of that report is the values young women have regarding work and family.  We are not like previous generations and we will not work or act like them.  It’s not about being entitled; it’s about changing the expectations.

While there are a great deal of similarities in the way Gen Y women and men approach their work lives, Gen Y women are different, and walk in with some different expectations, and we’re often looking for different outcomes.  Sooner rather than later, those differences needed to be addressed.  And preferably before we all burn out.

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