With the baby boomers set to retire in the next few years, the millennials (those born between 1980 and 1995) are starting to take over the labor force. Leading the pack are females, who are 6% more likely than their male counterparts to obtain a bachelor’s degree, a number that has gone up over the years. These women are highly educated and eager to move up the ranks in the corporate world. While this mindset going into the workforce is what drives them to find a job with a company that promotes career progression, once they obtain it their opinions start to change.

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A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study surveyed 9,000 female millennials on attraction and retention in the workplace. The respondents were placed into one of three categories: The career starter, the career developer, and the career establisher. The results from these three groups were quite surprising.

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When asked if they feel there are senior female role models that resonate with them at their current employer, 21% of the career starters disagreed, followed by 27% of the career developers and 35% of the career establishers. Additionally, although 49% of the career starters feel that they will be able to rise to the most senior levels with their current employer, this percentage drops to 39% when answered by the career establishers.

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Backing up these stats is a study from Randstad Canada. The 2014 Women Shaping Business: Challenges and Opportunities report revealed that 48% of women do not aspire to advance to senior or executive positions. Further supporting this argument is a recent study from Saba and WorkplaceTrends.com that states that only 36% of women aspire to C-suite level positions. When millennials were asked the same question, only 31% had C-suite aspirations. What this is suggesting is that as women progress in their careers they feel less connected with their female superiors than when they started and, not finding role models for the lives they want, are deciding against pursuing senior positions.

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While this information is disappointing, a leadership ambition gap and lack of role models do not seem to be the only roadblocks women face. Diversity is an issue more than ever. 71% of the PwC respondents agreed that although organizations talk about diversity, they do not feel opportunities are really equal at all, a number that has gone up 17% since the 2011 survey. The Saba study also found that women request the most development opportunities in their job, yet still feel that their managers do not support their attempts at progression. Since career progression was ranked the number one most attractive employer trait for 53% of the millennials surveyed by PwC, this perceived lack of support is troubling – especially since, according to the study, 30% of HR executives polled said they were struggling to find candidates to fill senior leadership roles.

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It is still to be determined if these insights are fully accurate, but in my opinion, these concerns play a fundamental role in what is holding millennial women back. It is more important than ever to have female role models in the workplace what with gender equity, feminism and the pay gap being discussed daily in the media. Young women need role models in their industry and within their organization to show them how to navigate the corporate world and help picture themselves in senior positions. Employers also need to support women by actively promoting diversity and learning & development in the workplace, implementing mentoring programs and ensuring this generation of workers are provided with the tools they need to succeed. That being said, I always believe a proactive approach is the best way to achieve your own goals. Taking courses, attending networking events, requesting feedback from superiors and colleagues, and engaging in LinkedIn groups and online communities are all ways that young women can take charge of their careers and and find the support and encouragement to take on executive roles.


About the author: Alex Schmaltz is a Toronto-based marketer who specializes in events, campaigns, promotions and social media. She is a strong supporter of gender equity and feminism and enjoys walking her dog, biking and baking.

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