When Sheryl Sandberg addressed Harvard Business School’s 2012 graduating class, she said, “We need to acknowledge openly that gender remains an issue at the highest levels of leadership.” Yet, to close the gender gap, Sandberg remarked we need to close the professional ambition gap. “We need more women not just to sit at the table, but as President Obama said a few weeks ago at Barnard, to take their rightful seats at the head of the table.”
Research from Bentley University’s Center for Women and Business suggests millennial women aren’t listening to her, though.
Sixty-one percent of the females surveyed said they see themselves as ambitious, casting doubt on the “ambition gap” Sandberg referenced. What women are seeking now are ways for their professional aspirations and their personal values to co-exist, perhaps making them twice as ambitious. And although roughly 60 percent of women admire a fellow female leader, they admitted they’d rather take a different path to leadership.
But, these women are not alone. Men’s sentiments are similar. Despite women still not being equal to men, what the study suggests is “that the best path to advancing women in corporate America is to see the problem as a generational issue, not a woman’s issue, because both men and women are seeking the same type of workplace where they can be their true selves.”
And what their “true selves” boils down to appears to be family. When asked what they value most in a job besides making enough money to pay the bills, the top two responses for both men and women were: “ensures my family’s financial security for the long run/builds wealth” and “gives me the opportunity to learn and build my skills.” Ultimately, it’s not recognition millenials want, but rather to know they’re providing value and making a positive difference in both the workplace and their family’s life.
Considering more than 72 percent of the men and women surveyed said they’re interested in working in a big corporation someday, it’s clear millennials aren’t dismissing the corporate world. What the corporate world needs to do, however, is begin providing alternative paths to millennials as they try and climb up the leadership ladder.
Bentley’s research led me to think more about The Atlantic’s recent hot button piece, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” by Princeton professor and former Director of Policy Planning for the U.S. State Department Anne-Marie Slaughter. The article reflects an anecdote Sandberg also shared in her speech at HBS:
A couple of weeks ago, in an interview, I said that I leave the office at 5 p.m. to have dinner with my children, and I was shocked at the press coverage. One of my friends said I couldn’t get more headlines if I had murdered someone with an ax! This showed me this is an unresolved issue for all of us, men and women. Otherwise, why did everyone write so much about it?
Although Slaughter says she still strongly believes both women and men can “have it all,” they can’t “have it all at the same time.” At least not today. “Not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured.”
Too often are we battling to see who can stay in the office the latest, or get promoted the fastest in the shortest amount of time. As Susan Adams, senior director of Bentley’s Center for Women and Business, told Forbes:
These Millennials are very clear about what is important in their lives, which may indeed be different than what is important to their leaders. They want to find a different path to leadership that allows time for personal lives. Yes, they are rejecting the current paradigm of the corporate career path along with the way work is done. They will work hard and be loyal, but they want respect for their personal values in return.
Millenials know they have no choice but to work hard. As one writes, they’ve continued along in this rat race because they’re living in a generation “that knows hard work guarantees nothing.” At what point, however, do we recognize it’s not, perhaps, an issue of men and women, but rather an argument that we need to change the traditional way we think and the mode in which the corporate world operates?
Photo Courtesy of Poets & Quants