Twenty years ago when I began my career, women entering the business world held a very different perspective about how to remain successfully at the companies in which they worked. I still remember when I was pregnant with my first son, a male colleague commented out loud that he wondered whether I was pregnant or had simply stopped working out. I, and many women of my generation, entered the workplace with the knowledge that we would have to work just a little harder, prove our worth just little more (especially after having children) and grow skin just a bit thicker than our male counterparts.
Over the years I have worn many hats – lawyer, adjunct law professor and mentor and coach to younger women – and have come to a realization: right or wrong, my generation entered the workplace with a certain expectation. Millennial women today have a very different one. The problem is, the business world millennial women are prepared and equipped to handle is not quite there – it still too closely resembles the one I entered all those years ago. Compounding that, they do not have the right, or enough, tools in their toolbox to improve their experience. As a consequence, a disconnect occurs between millennials and their employers, creating millennial discontent.
Organizations face two overarching problems when it comes to millennials today: one revolves around succession planning, while the other, more essential issue is attracting and retaining talent. In the current environment, millennial women still encounter obstacles when navigating gender bias, identifying realistic role models and expecting companies to invest in their careers without hesitation. So, how does an organization position itself to attract and retain younger women, and then build that pipeline to enable women to rise to leadership positions traditionally held by baby-boomer men? How does a company demonstrate to millennial women that it is, in fact, invested in their success?
The answers are complex and multi-faceted, but one way to give millennials the tools that they need to grow and thrive is through education. Research shows that one of the most important components to a millennial’s experience at work is the investment in continuous learning and training. In PwC’s “Millennials at Work ReShaping the Workplace,” 35% of millennials surveyed said they were attracted to employers who offered excellent training and development programs and saw it as the top benefit they wanted from an employer. Further, Levo, a network for millennials in the workplace, recently published an article entitled “The Rise of Millennial Intrepreneurs and Innovators” stating that the “key for retaining the [millennial] workforce is development, with 74% of millennials rating learning and skill development opportunities as crucial to job satisfaction.”
The millennial women I speak with want to develop their skills on a range of topics. They crave professional development training and education. They want to be happy and find meaning at work. They want to understand how to develop true mentor and sponsor relationships with women, and men, that they can relate to. They want to learn how to create a brand and utilize that brand to drive business development and career trajectory efforts. Millennial women also want to be more confident, to use their voice (without worrying if that voice is rising at the end of a sentence) and to be bold in their actions. They want to be able to discern the difference between a comment that is just simply inappropriate (like the pregnancy comment I encountered) versus one that is truly impacting their career.
Organizations can, and should, be providing this support to all of their millennial women. Many companies do try internally and believe they are doing all they can when, in fact, they just do not have the bandwidth to provide these women with what they really need. To bridge this gap, companies often need external professionals, who understand the broader landscape across industry lines, to provide specialized education, training and coaching. Talent acquisition and retention is key to an organization’s sustainability and relevance. Only companies and firms that invest in their future – this next generation – and develop best practices in this area – will survive. Helping younger women climb, achieve, lead and thrive through meaningful and applicable professional development and educational programs is essential to the career success of every company’s next generation of women leaders. And creating that next generation of women leaders is crucial to the longevity of every organization.