Jobs and the Future of Work

How young women are changing the workplace

Laura Cox Kaplan
Principal-in-Charge, US Government, Regulatory Affairs and Public Policy, PwC
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Millennials – loosely defined as those born between 1980 and 1995 – think and work differently. To be competitive, now and particularly in the future, organizations will need to create a culture and work environment that attracts and retains a new generation of workers. This is especially true as organizations work to attract, retain and promote women, who should one day occupy a higher number of senior positions. As a member of PwC’s executive management team, it is a goal on which I am very focused.

This year, PwC took a close look at the views and work preferences of millennial women. The study, Next generation diversity: developing tomorrow’s female leaders, revealed several findings about how Generation Y women around the world think about work. Perhaps most importantly, our study – and the research we have done on global megatrends – shed light on how organizations will need to adapt to recruit and retain this key segment of the workforce.

First, the millennial woman is more highly educated and more likely to be employed than previous generations, and she is more confident than generations of women before her.  Fifty-one percent of millennial women – compared to 61% of millennial men – say they feel they will be able to rise to the top of their respective organizations. Our study found that the Gen Y woman considers opportunities for career progression to be the most attractive employer trait. She also has more global acumen and is more technologically savvy than previous generations.  Finally, the Gen Y woman has a strong sense of egalitarianism and is likely to seek an employer with a strong record on equality and diversity.

Why is this significant? Millennial women will comprise about 25% of the global workforce by 2020. In an era of talent scarcity, attracting and retaining skilled millennial women will be crucial. Organizations will have to adapt in significant ways, including how they manage, coach and provide feedback to these employees.

At PwC, 50% of our workforce is female, and by 2016 more than 80% will be millennials. We recruit approximately 10,000 millennial women each year. As one of the largest professional services firms in the world, we took these facts to heart and carried out extensive research on the workplace preferences of millennials, and included the findings in our 2013 report, NextGen: A global generational study. Based on our research, we began to retool and transform our talent management processes. One goal was to use these important findings to design a system for coaching staff – particularly millennials – that would be more impactful and would have greater personal resonance with this new generation.

An important component of our revamped approach is frequent, in-the-moment feedback, valued by 51% of the millennial women and men we surveyed.  Despite their digital aptitude, 96% of millennials prefer to talk face-to-face about career plans and progress, just as 95% of non-millennials do.

In addition to addressing millennial preferences regarding frequent, face-to-face feedback, we believe these more frequent conversations foster more effective mentor and sponsor relationships. We hear a lot about how it is easier for men to forge these crucial ties. Our approach helps create an environment where informal discussion about career development and progression are systemic and will go a long way towards correcting that imbalance for aspiring women.

We also incorporated an approach designed to maximize employee strengths, while simultaneously closing or addressing gaps. We aim to support learning and improvement throughout the year, rather than forcing our people to wait several months to find out what they are doing well and how they can do better. Moreover, our feedback is future-focused and goal-oriented, attributes millennial women rank as extremely important.

By giving more frequent feedback, we believe we can establish a better, more effective platform for conversations that might not have happened as part of the annual evaluation process, particularly conversations about work-life priorities. We also think we’ll build a higher level of trust and a richer dialogue in the process.

As an example, each year, I welcome a team of future leaders (half of them women) from colleges and universities around the country to learn about PwC and to gain a deeper perspective on the importance of understanding the public policy process. Feedback and coaching for these talented millennials has always been an important component of the programme. The conversations my team and I have with them about their career strengths and areas for growth provide important gateways for broader discussions about longer-term career goals. And these conversations provide greater opportunities for discussing topics like work-life prioritization. Most importantly, these conversations give us a better chance of understanding how we can help these young leaders pursue and realize their dreams.

I attend many women’s leadership and networking events where we discuss the necessity for women at all career levels to speak up and engage in candid dialogue about what is important to them as they prioritize work, family and other demands. Reorienting organizational processes to reflect the need for and acceptability of these conversations is an important step in changing mindsets that can be particularly destructive to a woman’s career development.

Many organizations have not caught on to the importance of taking an interest in their millennial employees. Less than 2% of millennials identify a colleague, employer or supervisor as the person encouraging them to pursue their professional aspirations, according to a study conducted this year by Bentley University’s Center for Women & Business. The study concludes that many organizations are missing an important opportunity to retain millennial employees by failing to take a personal interest in their career ambitions. One success story cited in the study was a millennial woman who loved her summer job because her employer made an effort to communicate the value and impact of her work.  Each week, she was sent to other departments to see how the organization as a whole was using her work. As a result, she felt valued and motivated – and she developed a much deeper understanding of the entire organization in the process, a benefit to her and the employer.

Attracting and retaining millennial women is a business necessity for my organization and so many others. Building a culture where conversations about career development and flexibility are both frequent and constructive is an important, tangible step towards helping women reach their full potential in the workplace.

Author: Laura Cox Kaplan, Principal-in-Charge of US Government, Regulatory Affairs and Public Policy, PwC

Image: An operator of Swiss air traffic control firm Skyguide monitors airplanes at the Skyguide monitoring centre in Duebendorf, near Zurich. REUTERS/Michael Buholzer

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Related topics:
Jobs and the Future of WorkEconomic GrowthFinancial and Monetary SystemsEquity, Diversity and Inclusion
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