How The Millennial Mindframe Advances Gender Equality
“The Millennials Are Coming” could be the title of the next huge bestseller/blockbuster. Millennials are a hot topic, they are a serious disruptive force in an environment where disruption is coming to be identified as the best way to make progress — in business, in science, or in education. Disruption here means, put quite simply, a radical change in how something is done, leading to better, possibly cheaper, new products and services. And that’s just for the marketplace. Millennials disrupt the workforce as they join it in increasing numbers and they change business models and working processes in ways that are already transforming the whole face of work and work relationships, including gender inequality.
But let’s first define the millennials. Who are they and where do they come from? The Millennial generation, or Gen Y, loosely refers to people born the period from the beginning of the 1980s to the early 2000s. Millennials are more tech-savvy than previous generations, they are more focused on self-expression, for which they have means unknown to previous generations when those were in their 20s, such as social networks and instant messaging systems, and they want freedom and flexibility when it comes to work, and not just work. Does something strike a familiar chord? Freedom and flexibility, that’s right. This is the same thing working mothers want. Given that by 2025 millennials will constitute some 75% of the total workforce in the US and this year they will make up 36% of it (Schawbel, 2013), it’s safe to say that they will most probably get what they want. Like previous generations, Gen Yers are bringing their unique mindframe with them when they get on the career path, and this mindframe challenges a lot of traditional attitudes to work. For instance, millennials are not so concerned with fat paychecks, more important for them is to feel that what they do is meaningful, that it has a beneficial impact on the wider society. In other words, millennials are more caring by nature and they are more honest, requiring honesty and a more open culture at the companies they work for. And let’s not forget that today’s interns are tomorrow’s business leaders, and they will bring their values with them when they take the reins.
Equality is important for millennials, and so is collaboration. While many enterprises are still organized hierarchically, tomorrow’s companies are more likely than not to be much more levelled, with small teams working together toward some common goal. According to Dan Schawbel, an expert on millennials and founder of a research consultancy focused on how this generation is changing the professional world, one of the most important things that Gen Yers are introducing in the business world is remote work. A study which Schawbel did together with the world’s biggest freelance platform oDesk, showed that the huge majority of millennial respondents, a whole 92%, would prefer to be able to work outside an office, in a place of their own preference, be it at home or elsewhere. An almost equally impressive portion of 87% considered work hour flexibility very important and noted it as one of the reasons they have chosen the freelancing path. Another interesting outtake from this study was that 72% of millennials still in regular full-time employment said they are thinking about quitting their job in order to be completely independent, and 61% said they will quit within the next two years. So, it looks like freedom, independence and flexibility are highest on the agenda of millennials and they are not too inclined to sit around and wait for better times to come, to put it mildly.
This inspiring generation is also leading the way in the integration between work and personal life. This is part of the reason they prefer to work from home — among other things, it gives them the opportunity to spend more time with their families, unlike previous generations, mostly the Baby Boomers, for whom there was a strict separation between work and family. Let’s reiterate: one day, not too far in the future, millennials will be leading companies and chances are that they will give their employees the same flexibility and freedom they themselves value so much. Needless to say, this will be particularly welcome to working women and especially working mothers, many of whom are now struggling to combine career and family, since it is still women that do most of the work when it comes to house chores and kids. In fact, according to a 2009 survey by Advertising Age and JWT, stress for working moms was almost equally divided between work and family, while for dads the main source of stress was work. And it is here that millennials are making an even more significant contribution to women of previous, and future, generations: they don’t want to be perfect, and they don’t try to be superwomen.
Women born in the early 1980s and later have seen their mothers struggle to be perfect professionals, perfect moms and perfect wives and seeing the impossibility of this and the strain it puts on a person, they are unwilling to do the same (Miley and Mack, 2009). This is hardly surprising in light of the millennial agenda we outlined above. Today’s young mothers have no ambition to excel at everything they do, they are more pragmatic, more realistic than their predecessors. They don’t want to be perfect moms, they want to be real moms. They are also far less likely to see things in monochrome: kids or career. They are clear that having it all requires sacrifices both with work and with family life and are making the sacrifices that they can live with. At the same time, these women aim to make sure they remain their own person, taking care of their own interests, unwilling to be just a mother or a worker. Also, understandably, millennial women seem to be more aware of still persistent gender inequalities.
One study, commissioned by UK recruitment firm Robert Half, revealed that 42% of female employees in the 18-34 age group have had a personal experience of being discriminated against in the workplace based on their gender. More than a third of all who had been subjected to gender discrimination said they believed men at the same position as theirs are getting paid more and a bit less than a third said they were given work assignments below their level of expertise. This paints a gloomy picture, but also shows that millennial women are more sensitive to gender inequalities, given that, in the 35-54 age group, the ratio of those who had a personal experience of gender discrimination was 34%, and in the age group of 55+ the percentage was 26%. This is in tune with attitudes in the US, though only to a certain extent. A Pew Research Center study from December last year shows that there is a general belief that society still favors men over women, with 75% of millennial women sharing this belief, as well as 57% of millennial men. At the same time, however, it seems that when it comes to their personal experiences, millennials in the US are more likely to be of the opinion that they are being treated fair in terms of pay and career opportunities.
Millennials are the most connected generation today. The world is literally in their hands: in the smartphone or tablet or laptop that’s an inseparable part of their lives. This has made them much more open to different cultures, much more understanding and sensitive to various kinds of discrimination. Gender differences are largely irrelevant to this Generation Y, what is relevant to them is being free to do something meaningful and express themselves in a way that makes them happy and fulfilled. Although older generations are often annoyed by the totally different set of priorities Gen Yers follow, this annoyance is caused mainly by the sheer difference of those to the priorities they grew up with. But we should remember that the world we live in today is very different from the world thirty years ago. Millennials are in fact doing the best thing in a world where it’s no longer possible to rely on a lifelong career with the same company, a world where things are changing so fast, thanks to technology, that sometimes it’s breathtaking. It’s flexibility and innovation that are driving the world forward today and millennials are better prepared than previous generations to be flexible and innovative.
Millennials are more environmentally conscious than previous generations, they are generally more conscious about all kinds of injustices and are more engaged in fighting them. They will probably be one of the driving forces behind the emerging collaborative economy where partnership, rather than fierce competition, will shape how business is done and, hopefully, put an end to consumption for consumption’s sake as people begin to be more willing to share products and services and only use them for as long as they need them, rather than strive for ownership at all costs.
In light of all this, it’s only natural that millennials should be the new spearhead of the move toward gender equality.
1. Rachleff, Andy. “What “Disrupt” Really Means.” TechCrunch, February 2013. http://techcrunch.com/2013/02/16/the-truth-about-disruption
2. Miley, Marissa, Mack, Ann. “The New Female Consumer: The Rise of The Real Mom.” Advertising Age. 2009. http://adage.com/images/random/1109/aa-newfemale-whitepaper.pdf
3. Schawbel, Dan. “10 Ways Millennials Are Creating The Future Of Work.” Forbes, DEcember, 2013. http://www.forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2013/12/16/10-ways-millennials-are-creating-the-future-of-work/
4. “The Entrepreneurial Mindset”. Infographic. oDesk. https://www.odesk.com/info/Spring2013OnlineWorkSurvey/Infographic/
5. Henderson, J. Maureen. “When It Comes To Workplace Sexism, Millennial Women Suffer Most.” Forbes, March 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/jmaureenhenderson/2014/03/11/when-it-comes-to-workplace-sexism-millennial-women-suffer-most/
6. “More Than A Third Of UK Female Employees Have Faced Barriers During Their Career, While Nearly Half Of HR Directors Believe Progress Is Being Made.” Robert Half, March 2014. http://www.roberthalf.co.uk/id/PR-03852/women-still-facing-gender-barriers-in-uk-business
7. “On Pay Gap, Millennial Women Near Parity – For Now.” Pew Research Center, December 2013. http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/12/11/on-pay-gap-millennial-women-near-parity-for-now/
8. Ryan, Liz. “Why Millennials Annoy Their Elders.” Forbes, February 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/lizryan/2014/02/27/why-millennials-annoy-their-elders/