It doesn’t take much to kick off a raging debate about the lives of working women. Consider how quickly, Lean In entered the lexicon, how author Sheryl Sandberg a name known well beyond her role as COO of Facebook, and how long the debate has raged. Like most popular examinations of women and work, the focus is on what’s wrong; in this case how women hold themselves back in their careers. It’s doubtful that a book on how well things are going for women would get you a spot on 60 Minutes. Add the parade of coverage about pressures of family, the biases of male-dominated cultures, the dearth of role models and other sinkholes on the path to career success, and it might appear that life for women in business is unbalanced, unfair and unrewarding. But looking at new studies – and digging deeper into some old ones – women at the younger end of the management spectrum, the future leaders of business, are happier, more challenged, and more confident about their futures than the tone of current discussions would indicate.
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A 2012 Accenture study called The Next Generation of Working Women found, compared to other generations, Millennials have “the most positive outlook for women in the workplace. Sixty five percent of women polled feel women were equal on the job. Sixty six percent see visible female role models in their companies. Only a third described their career path as “stagnant.” Slightly less than a third said that work-life balance is the most important career factor. The survey found less than half were dissatisfied with their career opportunities, but “most said they are taking a variety of steps to actively manage their careers – including taking different role or responsibility, receiving more education or training, and working longer hours.” All of that would indicate optimism that there is a payoff for their efforts. http://www.accenture.com/SiteCollectionDocuments/PDF/The-Next-Generation-of-the-Working-Woman.pdf
Young working women are also ambitious. A 2012 Pew Research Center study found that, for the first time, young women top young men in the value they place on a high-paying career. According to the findings, two thirds of women ages 18 to 34 rate career “high on their list of life priorities. That compares with just under 60 percent for young men. In 1997, those findings were reversed – 56 percent for young women and 58 percent for young men. While the percentages are lower, Pew reports that for the past 15 years, there has also been an increase in the percentage of middle aged and older women who say being successful in a high-paying career or profession is “one of the most important things” of “very important” in their lives. For both men and women ages 35 to 64, the percentages are virtually even at 42 and 43 percent. http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/files/2012/04/Women-in-the-Workplace.pdf
What then do we make of the findings of a McKinsey study that shows a steady drain of female management talent as they rise through the ranks? McKinsey reports that 53 percent of entry level jobs are going to women. But women hold only 37 percent of mid-management positions, and 26 percent in senior management. http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/organization/changing_companies_minds_about_women
Those numbers might set off alarms about talent being driven off to career obscurity. In fact, many are being lost to family choices and the desire to run their own business. the entrepreneurial trend will accelerate. A Kauffman Foundation poll indicates that 44 percent of Millennial women want to start their own business. http://www.kauffman.org/newsroom/millennials-want-to-start-companies-when-economy-rebounds-poll-says.aspx
As the hand wringing about the barriers to women in business continues, young women are busy knocking them down.