Guest column at the Baton Rouge Business Report

A Pricewaterhouse-Coopers report states that by 2020, millennial women will account for 25% of the global workforce. They are entering the workplace at bigger numbers than women in prior generations; they are highly educated with higher graduation percentages than men in their generation.

Millennial women are a crucial demographic for businesses to attract, but few realize this is a different era of women. Millennial women are more confident, career driven, and headstrong for a diverse and flexible work culture than any previous generation of women. To continue to attract, engage and retain them, employers must understand and adapt to what they value in the workplace.

Based on surveys conducted with consulting clients as well as coaching and leading hundreds of millennial women globally, I have noticed three main topics as it relates to their career:

1. Career progression and work-life balance

Millennial women want to advance in business. However, they do not feel their professional growth should be at the expense of their personal lives and see work-life balance as a necessity to success.

According to the PwC report, 97% of millennial women, across countries and industries, said work-life balance was important to them. More importantly, one of the top reasons a millennial would leave her employer is because her personal life is out of balance and wants more flexibility.

Millennial women are more confident, career driven, and headstrong for a diverse and flexible work culture than any previous generation of women.

In firms with a one traditional path upward, such as law firms, many female millennials find that they have only two main options for advancement: the path to partnership or the path out of the firm. The firm expects her to work through nights, weekends and vacations with an intense workload which makes millennial women question if the partnership path fits their lifestyle. Sadly, many end up leaving, even pursuing other careers.

Regardless of the industry, this generation values both career progression and a balanced lifestyle. They want to be a positive contributor to the organization, while at the same time wanting a work life that does not require from them to lose their personal life. These ideas don’t have to be at odds with new options for remote work and flexible work plans.

2. Real gender equality

Kelly, a banker who was next in line to be promoted to the vice president position, had the qualifications needed for this promotion that she has been prepared for. In the annual performance review with her manager, Kelly was pleased to receive a high evaluation. However, she was shocked to discover a male employee with fewer qualifications and less experience received the promotion to VP instead of her.

I hear similar stories from my coaching clients, especially the ones who work in male-dominated environments. Many work for employers who promote their brand externally as valuing workplace gender equality, but internally are slow to change and attain tangible results.

On a global scale, women still represent only 4.8% of Fortune 500 companies, and if we are still experiencing the gender bias across the organization, the 4.8% will most likely stay where it is.

Millennial women are observing what women senior to them have experienced, and many are realizing the gender bias’ negative impact on their own professional growth into leadership development. They want to work for an employer that is intentional about providing opportunities for professional growth regardless of gender. To attract and retain this generation of women talent, employers need to do more than “talk the talk” when it comes to gender diversity. They must commit to and track the internal progress for bridging the gender gaps in leadership in order to drive a real organizational change.

3. A feedback culture

While many companies offer annual performance reviews, millennial women are looking for a corporate culture that offers more frequent feedback about their current performance, including focused feedback addressing their skill development, seen as essential for career progression. The need for constant feedback may be surprising to the senior generations that are not used to this. However, when you think about it, millennials have grown up with social media and are used to—and thrive on—getting instant “feedback” of likes and comments online.

This sort of feedback does not have to be official or documented like the annual reviews, and can be far more casual discussions. It’s intended to give them a sense that they are on track with their current work and also reassure them of the their potential for future growth.

These three topics are being highlighted because they’re important to the engagement and retention of millennial women. However, when we’re looking at the bigger picture, these topics are important for improving employee engagement in general, regardless of gender or generation. By opening our minds and driving change that addresses these topics, we’re continuing to advance the corporate culture for the better.

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