Millennial Women Leading the (New) Way: Defining Leadership on Their Own Terms


By Bernadette Smith

Workplace dynamics are changing. Millennials have been in the workforce for about 10 years and continue to enter at a rapid rate. Through sheer volume, their values and attitudes have the power to create a shift in culture that has not seen since the Baby Boomer era.

Generation Confidence
What they have—even with little work experience—is the confidence to contribute innovative ideas about how we should work, leaving even the most experienced managers scratching their heads about how to ‘work’ them into the workplace.

This confidence extends across gender. Millennial women will rewrite the rules of management as they leave outdated gender perceptions behind, stepping up into leadership roles earned through demonstrated talent and achievements.

This shift is already well under way, as Millennials are the fastest growing segment in the Canadian workforce. By 2015, they will outnumber Baby Boomers in the workplace. The eldest of the millennial generation are in their early 30’s and are already rising into leadership positions.

Goal, Team and Achievement-Oriented
Their management style is a reflection of their personalities and their values, beliefs and attitudes formed from their life experiences to date. Females in this generation are goal, team and achievement-oriented, as well as confident and ambitious. They strive to make a meaningful difference in the workplace and have been bred to believe that they are special and can accomplish anything they want in life. As a result, these women have a lot to contribute to the workplace and will not be afraid to challenge traditional leadership practices that are no longer relevant.

This generational influence has prepared Millennial women to break through barriers—perceived and actual—in the workplace and to gain a sense of equality. They have been raised to be more confident and believe in themselves. Participation in traditionally male-dominated sports has demonstrated at an early age that girls can do anything that boys do.

Diversity as the Norm
These women have grown up with diversity as the norm, so they don’t feel at a disadvantage unlike their predecessors. They’ve been inspired by successful female role models that have broken through the glass ceiling and helped pave the way for their younger protégés. Many obstacles that have held other generations of women back have been removed, setting millennial women up for leadership success if they choose this path. These life experiences have given women a new sense of equality and have shaped their approach to work and career.

Millennial women leaders are not afraid to shake up traditional practices in the workplace, especially if they are outdated. In their book, Manager 3.0, Brad Karsh and Courtney Templin identify five core values that Millennials live by and are instilling in the workplace that challenge how things have been done in the past.

32-33-Leadership-Fall-14-chartThese young leaders are building a more rewarding work environment by creating a more collaborative, flexible, transparent, casual and balanced culture. Work isn’t just work to them—it is an extension of themselves. These values represent the guiding principles used in managing work and decision-making that lead to building great teams and solid relationships

Redefining Leadership and Ladders
This trend of change will impact existing cultures and transform the way people work. It will also create friction among the different generations that are comfortable with a hierarchical management style. It will not be an easy transition for some. Living these values will set this generation of female leaders apart from their more traditional colleagues; it will also help forge more forward thinking business futures.

Millennial women that choose a leadership path will do so on their own terms. This generation of women are goal-oriented and have the potential to be high-achievers. For many though, it is no longer just about climbing the corporate ladder in hopes of achieving happiness through accomplishment and earning more money.

Women of this generation want to do meaningful work, make a difference and be recognized for their achievements. This may mean transforming the career ladder, where the only way is up, into career scaffolding that enables them to move sideways into more meaningful or interesting work. Then, depending on their stage in life, they may choose to take a step down to reduce their level of responsibility to focus on other important things in life.

Supporting Tomorrow’s Leaders Today
Those of us in leadership positions and in the HR profession need to support and enable young high achieving women to move up in organizations. They are our future leaders and have a lot to offer. We need to recognize that, like it or not, the culture of many workplaces will be transformed by this influential up- and-coming generation of leaders. It’s important that we provide training to develop essential management skills that will set them up for career success early in their journey. This will also provide the tools to help them evolve their organizational cultures effectively to the more dynamic environment necessary to engage their peers while respecting traditional practices.

Millennial women on the leadership path are now in a position of strength. They have earned their position as equal contributors among their peers through their achievements and will pursue leadership roles with confidence if they so choose. They are wired to make a difference in their organizations and will be driven by their core values to create a more rewarding work environment for all involved.

Make no mistake, Millennial women will re-write the rules of management and we will all benefit from the fresh dynamic that they will bring to leadership. Achieving happiness through a fulfilling career is no longer an end-point. In the future-present, women will be able to achieve that at every point along their journey by choice.

Bernadette Smith is VP, talent management solutions with the Canadian Management Centre.

(PeopleTalk Fall 2014)

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