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Catherine Colbert

Q&A: The Millennial Woman Employee

by Catherine Colbert | Dun & Bradstreet Editor

February 24, 2016 | No Comments »

Bigger and better-educated than the Boomers, Millennials have earned the honor of being the best-educated generation of young adults in American history.

Millennial women take the highest honors. They’re more educated than their mothers, grandmothers, and, somewhat surprisingly, Millennial men.

All that education has come at a price, of course, particularly for those earning degrees during the Great Recession. Millennials are burdened with record levels of student debt. Millennial women are among the two-thirds of recent bachelor’s degree recipients to have outstanding student loans averaging about $27,000.

This debt has dictated a certain lifestyle for these 20- and 30-somethings. They’ve delayed getting married, buying homes, having children, and even moving out on their own.

With some 8,000 Boomers reaching the retirement age of 65 each day, companies and industries are looking for ways to attract and serve these well-educated wunderkinds and quickly backfill longtime top talent.

Millennial workers, particularly women, are interested in work environments that offer security and flexibility. They’re more team-focused than previous generations and digitally and tech savvy. When they’re ready to start a family, Millennial women demand flexible work arrangements to have it all while continuing to develop their careers.

Millennials bring with them unique challenges as well. Because they’ve grown up communicating through email, text, and Facebook, face-to-face communication and reading nonverbal cues are new to them. Also, with regard to company privacy, certain safeguards need to be put in place for this tell-all generation.

Ann Fishman, author of Marketing to the Millennial Woman I was fortunate to spend some time with generational marketing expert Ann Fishman to dig deeper into the mindset and motivations of Millennial women specifically. As I mentioned in Q&A: The Most Coveted Millennial, Fishman recently published Marketing to the Millennial Woman, which enlightened me about the cohort’s better half.

I’ve asked her to share more of what she has discovered in her research, specifically about Millennial women as employees.

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What unique perspectives do Millennial women bring to the workforce that haven’t been seen before? What can we learn from them or how can we better ourselves by working alongside them?

Millennial women (and men) bring their legendary digital skills to the workforce. They can teach older generations digital manners such as how soon one is expected to respond to a text or an email. They can keep a company updated on what’s hot and what’s not. They can advise a company on which social media influencers are critical for spreading the word about products and services. They can critique their company’s website, write texts with punch, and teach older employees how to email, tweet, and blog effectively.

Millennials are multitaskers. They can use computers, cellphones, and tablets; watch TV or streaming video; listen to music; talk on the phone; vote for a contestant; and send out a tweet, usually all at the same time. That gives them invaluable multitasking skills that add to a workforce.

You mention in your book that Millennials, due to growing up in the digital age of smartphones and social media, lack social etiquette and are unable to read nonverbal cues from others even in casual conversations, much less job interviews. How can they catch up on these skills to improve their chances of success in the workplace and in social settings? Whose responsibility is it to teach Millennials these innate (in most people) skills?

It’s primarily their responsibility. Here’s what they need to do: put down digital devices for an hour, go talk with someone, read books on manners, take a course in social skills.

Corporate America could help by offering employees courses in social manners, business etiquette, public speaking, and win-win negotiating.

You refer to Millennial women as climbing the corporate ladder in flip-flops. What challenges do they face in the corporate world today and long-term?

The three biggest challenges Millennial women face in the corporate world are standing up to social pressure of their peers, overcoming the coddling they received from crib to college, and acquiring polished social skills. Global law firm Clifford Chance felt compelled to send a guide containing tips on behavior to its female employees in its New York and Washington offices. The guide listed 163 tips, such as don’t overuse “um,” “uh,” “you know,” and “like”; don’t wear party clothes to the office, wear a suit; if sitting on a dais, make sure no one can see up your skirt; and don’t show cleavage.

Is it going to be a tough transition when Boomers and Gen Xers step aside and “hand the baton” to younger, well-educated Millennials, particularly women?

Yes, it’s going to be a tough transition for Boomers because they are a generation with a great work ethic, but not a penchant for saving money. They will have a hard time leaving the workforce due to financial needs. They will retire later and could block Xers and Millennials from moving up the ladder. Xers are a practical, cynical generation that examines everything they are handed, keeping what is good, pitching out what doesn’t work. Transitions are logical for them. The younger the generation, the fewer issues companies seem to have with women.

Why is this?

The younger generations increasingly consider men and women equal. They are used to both parents working and they are used to men and women taking jobs formerly considered men’s or women’s work. Xers and Millennials see bosses as effective or ineffective, but not because of gender.

What do you mean by issues?

The younger the generation, the less gender is a factor in many aspects of business except for sexual harassment. In that area, mixed messages are being sent. When sexual barriers are broken down, it’s harder for the players to know what the rules of engagement are, so it’s easier for misunderstandings to arise.

Having researched other cohorts, do you have any advice for companies in making this a smooth transition?

The best way for a company to traverse from one generation to another is to know each generation’s values, attitudes, and lifestyles. If employers understand the strengths and weaknesses of their own generation, as well as the generation that follows, they will be able to work with younger leadership to prepare them. Just as businesses need to know its customers’ needs, they also need to know its employees’ needs.

What motivates Millennial career women?

Millennial women have been groomed to succeed. They want to move ahead quickly, perhaps too quickly at times. They have been encouraged to make a grand statement with their lives by their parents, media role models, and educational institutions.

You mentioned in the book that Millennials in the workforce — who’ve grown up making Facebook updates — will require more training than other generations of young people when it comes to issues of discretion. Employers must be tasked with guiding this generation from Day 1 on the job or face situations that erode their brand names. Has social media really desensitized them? Does Code of Conduct training work to allay an employer’s fears?

Yes, social media has desensitized them when it comes to privacy and discretion. They are the tell-all generation. They simply do not understand their responsibility to the company.

Here are a few examples that might allay an employer’s fears: Millennials should not have access to private information until it is clear they can be trusted; Millennials in sensitive positions must have thorough background checks; Millennials who represent your company must be trained in what is appropriate inside and outside the company.

Is this a loyalty issue?

No, this is neither a loyalty issue nor about being clueless. It’s a generational difference in how to define professional behavior.

Are Millennials less loyal than Boomers?

No, but they define discretion, privacy, and loyalty differently.

Take company loyalty. Many young Americans have seen their parents give their all to a company, then get laid off.

Take discretion and privacy. All young people have to be instructed in corporate discretion, but it’s a more difficult task for Millennials, the “tell-all-via-social-media” generation. All rules have to be spelled out and extra security has to be put in place until they “get it.” To Millennials, telling all has often been a way of life.

What about Millennial military personnel?

Being cautious applies to the military, to intelligence agencies, to new car designs, to many businesses.

In the military arena, why did Private Bradley Manning have access to hundreds of thousands of classified documents?

In the intelligence community, how was Edward Snowden able to walk out with NSA secrets on a USB flash drive.

Typical Millennials aren’t Manning and Snowden, but privacy and discretion must be considered lesson #1 for every business. Extra checks and balances must be put in place.

For example, think of it as running a bank. There are extra checks and balances. Or, at big stores often employees have to go through special screenings when they leave. Even in media, young reporters need to know they shouldn’t use curse words when they’re interviewing. This is a gifted, talented generation that has strengths and weaknesses like every generation. Disregard knowledge of each generation’s strengths and weaknesses at your own peril. A multigenerational workforce is the best — if you play to their strengths and counter their challenges.

Do you envision Millennial women will earn equal pay during their lifetime?

Yes and no. Equal pay for equal work, yes. But women should not expect equal pay simply because they are women. Often it’s performance that drives it.

How do you think Millennial women view the feminist movement? Many Millennials grew up with working moms. What do Millennial females want for themselves and for professional women who follow them?

Millennial females want to succeed and to help others less fortunate to succeed.

I don’t think the feminist movement is as big a deal to Millennial women as it has been to previous generations. Millennials are the recipients of the gains of that movement.

You mention that Millennials are “the first generation since 1943 that values the good of the group over the desires of the individual.” How do you see this playing out in the professional world?

Millennials are team players. They have been team taught, team graded, and given trophies for just participating, not for their achievement. To me, team players make good corporate members. For example, thinking of others in an office environment means checking with co-workers on a project if it includes them in any way. They want to be a part of a company’s vision. Millennials think in terms of the group.

Millennials have delayed getting married, buying homes, and having children. To raise children, maintain their aspirations of social consciousness and volunteering, and nurture a multidecade professional career, does the Millennial woman need to resign herself to part-time work to achieve her goals and find balance?

Millennial women don’t describe raising children, volunteering, and part-time work as resigning themselves to something lesser. Each of these activities provides her with some degree of satisfaction. She may start a blog, discover her inner entrepreneur, or decide on a different career path altogether. If fast tracking to becoming a senior partner is critical to her, she will choose that path, hire nannies, and give to others as part of her vacation.

Are more Millennial women transitioning to part-time status at work as they start having children? What do you think are the consequences long-term for working women if this happens?

Some are staying at home, some aren’t. There are many young women who feel staying at home with their children can make a difference. If they need the money, or want more stimulation, part-time work is a good option to keeping up their skills. Computers that connect anyone to anywhere in the world allow them to work from home if they so desire. These women have choices that generations before them did not have, and businesses will need to be flexible if they want to keep their best employees.

You’ve researched other generations extensively. How can a company successfully and elegantly serve several generations at once, as Millennials’ needs have given rise to instant messaging and the likes of Salesforce Chatter for cross-group communication?

Good communication in a workforce is vital. Respecting each generation’s preferred method of communication is important. Here’s where the young can mentor other generations in all things digital. And, as I’ve said before, there are people skills to be learned from face-to-face communications, from knowing how to write a proper letter, from shaking a hand, and telling your company’s story that can’t be found in a podcast. A multigenerational workforce covers all the communication bases if we understand the value of each generation’s input.

I was researching the veterinary industry and read about the feminization of the profession to be intriguing. Have you found too that as more women choose certain career paths that have been dominated by men — and women eventually rank as the majority — that fewer men consider the profession and turn to other more male-dominated ones?

Women as veterinarians, women as accountants, women as Army Rangers. It’s no longer a man’s world, but, then, it’s not a woman’s world either. America is about opportunity; feminism is about choices. You have it, now run with the ball. Men have been pushed to the back of the line for a while, giving women room to grow. Affirmative action now is on its way out. Men will choose occupations that fit in with their skills, their comfort level, their financial needs, and their happiness. There may be times when men don’t want to be forced into a feminine milieu that neither nurtures nor rewards them.

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Photo courtesy of Karolina Grabowska.

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