Millennial Women Encouraged to Close the Leadership Gender Gap

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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.

2015 Deloitte Millennial Survey

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:

  1. Ambition: Owning and projecting power, expertise, and value.
  1.  Vision: Finding, defining, and motivating others with purpose.
  1.  Courage: Taking bold, strategic risks.
  1.  Communication: Listening actively, as well as speaking persuasively and with authority.
  1.  Entrepreneurial Spirit: Being imaginative, flexible, and persistent.
  1.  Leverage: Optimizing the use of key resources.
  1.  Collaboration: Sharing diverse strengths and perspectives, and building effective teams.
  1.  Negotiation: Bridging differences to come to a beneficial agreement.
  1.  Resilience: Learning and bouncing back from adversity and failure.
  1. 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.

Additional Resources on this Topic:

4 Ways for Millennial Women to Prepare for Leadership Roles
How Millennials Are Reshaping Work
The 4 Things Your Company Needs to Do to Advance Women — Lead!

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This article was originally published on MillennialCEO on 1/21/2016

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Shelly Kramer

Shelly Kramer

Shelly Kramer is a 20+ year marketing veteran and CEO of V3 Broadsuite, a marketing consultancy, and the President of Broadsuite Media Group. She’s a business strategist focused on B2B digital transformation, and delivering integrated marketing solutions for clients. She’s an expert at omnichannel marketing, content strategy and execution, connecting social media to business initiatives, and helping clients leverage the web for growth and profitability.

1 Comment

  1. When are women going to realize that they are not going to close the gender gap in leadership until they enlist male help.Why because it is mostly men that are in position to promote women. And your not going to get male help by continuously telling the one sin position to promote women that women have superior leadership traits such as Alexia Parks does in her book “Hardwired” how science has proved how A woman’s brain is hardwired to save the world”.

    Publishing data that proclaim studies that show women as having the leadership traits more so than males for the modern world is counter productive.Why? Because no one male or female is going to promote some one who is superior to their leadership for fear of loosing their job as leaders to the superior one they themselves promoted!

    Also men need convincing that women don’t think they are superior to men. We notice women talk about parity with males only when they are behind. Once women go ahead of males they stop talking about parity and start talking about wanting parity with males in a different field. A good example is that back in the 70’s boys were excelling over girls in education. At that time women claimed they wanted parity in education with men so they and a considerable number of their male supporters succeeded in reforming the educational system.Fast forward to today and we see that girls are excelling over boys.But where is the talk now about parity now that girls are on top.?

    Girls have moved on to talking about parity in the pay gap and in leadership. But males are aware of what happened in education. women proved by their silence about parity when they are on top that parity is not their true goal. We suspect male subjugation might be the real objective!Therefor a good way for women to prove to men they want parity is to revisit the educational system with a view towards helping our boys close the educational gender gap the way they did when boys were on top. Until then men will be reluctant to help women close the leadership gap.Men are all for helping women to catch up but we are not going to help women get ahead of us that is asking too much.

    In light of what has been written here go forth women and close the gender gap in education and then agitate a 50 50 parity in leadership.Men will support this quota system because the quota sets a gap on numbers of female leadership so there is no fear of women getting ahead of men in leadership the way they did in education.

    Notice the owl in the upper left hand Connor. I have commented here because i give a hoot

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