Today, in generational fear-mongering! The PR firm Zeno Group has released a study that suggests not a lot of millennial women want society’s “top jobs,” which this study has chosen to define as a position where you tell other people what to do within “a large or prominent organization.” Oh no.
Before we go any further, I’d like to point out the confusing language used here because “organization” suggests “non-profit organization” to me, but judging from the coverage this has received thus far and the types of people quoted, I’m pretty sure it’s actually referring to the hierarchical “organization” of people, money, and synergy that makes up a corporation.
Anyway, according to the study, only 15% of millennial women say they want to lead a “large and prominent organization” (i.e., corporation), and Zeno Group says they are worried about that. “We need to think about doing things differently when helping millennial women develop their careers and weigh the sacrifices that may or may not be required,” says Zeno Group CEO Barby Siegel. “We do not want to risk losing this talented generation of professionals.” It’s not totally clear whether the things he wants to do differently involve giving his employees more time and flexibility to have families and enjoy their lives or simply strengthening their incentives to focus on work, but I hope it’s the former.
This goes along with various other findings that suggest millennials are not as willing as their predecessors to sacrifice “work-life balance” in exchange for “success” in the form of money and power, even though jobs are scarce and it’s increasingly a buyer’s market where labor power is concerned. It stands to reason that millennial women (at least the ones who have the option of working less) would feel especially able to resist working all the time because it’s still more socially acceptable for women to focus on family life than it is for men. Throw in the realities of institutionalized sexism and the fact that not everyone is lucky enough to do what they love for a living, and the job of caring for tiny people who love you might suddenly seem much more appealing.
Of course, the study takes a narrow view of what “top jobs” means because that definition differs greatly from person to person. For some, it might mean leading a company. For others, it might mean getting up at lunchtime to write articles about pop culture while petting their cat. So maybe people don’t want success less; they just choose to define success differently.
This shift may have something to do with this generation’s politics, as millennials are more liberal and cooperative than previous generations and have even shown a radical streak via Occupy Wall Street, etc. Women also tend, on average, to espouse more liberal values than men, and an increasing amount seems to agree that equality among humans (half of whom are women) is more important than individual success, even if that individual is a woman. In this type of climate, then, it makes sense that fewer women would value attaining the top positions in corporate structures they view as essentially flawed. Depending on your point of view, that’s either very good or very bad news.