Can today’s millennial women break through the barriers, stereotypes and inequities that have so plagued women in the past?
Respondents to Bentley’s Preparedness Study weren’t so sure. Because while the majority of both men and women, including business leaders and recruiters, thought women have better skills and are better prepared for success, majorities of both men and women thought men are better suited to succeed.
But a panel of women undergraduate and graduate students at Bentley doesn’t buy it — at least for themselves. And they have some thoughts and experience to share with other millennial women who are determined to succeed.
- Find your passion and let it fly. Authenticity is the key for millennial women, as a study by Susan Adams in Bentley’s Center for Women and Business confirmed. That means trying to find something you really love. Doing so will make it easier to achieve the level of excellence that can transcend boundaries, imposed by others or yourself. Don’t be afraid to take chances, especially early on, and try out things that don’t represent the traditional linear move up a career ladder.
- Set expectations early. When you start a new job, make it clear that you are dedicated, determined and driven. Use those skills you’ve honed in communication and listening to achieve your goals and to express concerns when your expectations aren’t being met.
- Find a mentor. It might be a woman and it might be a man. Do your homework and use your intuition to identify the right person. Be explicit in asking for the mentoring. Make it clear what you want to accomplish. Even better, find someone who can be both a mentor and a sponsor (as Hillary Clinton did). A mentor can guide you; a sponsor can actually advance you.
- Look for one or more teams to join. But not just any team. Look for a team that will foster your desire to continuously learn and develop the deeper knowledge base that you can build on. Work with great purpose and don’t spread yourself too thin. Stay focused and don’t fritter away time and energy on things that don’t matter. Look for a team that will give you all the encouragement you need (very important, according to the Preparedness Study) along with large doses of honesty and accountability. “You can do better — and here’s how,” coming from the right person, can be a huge gift.
- Realistically asses your own strengths and weaknesses. Do this constantly. Find those “aces,” the cards you can play to win the game. And adjust your continuing education and career-development plans accordingly. Understand that constant process improvement applies not only to systems within your organization, but to you personally. Your inventory includes an IQ and an EQ. Both need to be satisfied and protected. Both also need to be directed.
- Pay your dues, but make sure there’s a pay-off for you. Millennials are often slammed for not wanting to pay their dues. That’s probably more fact than fiction. So, again, look for a place that encourages its employees to learn and grow, and offers opportunity, variety and upward mobility to those who do.
- Work for an organization that actively promotes diversity and inclusion. The millennial generation is itself the most diverse in history. And the global economy is rapidly breaking down barriers of all types, whether defined by geography, gender, race, physical challenge or otherwise. You get it. Your organization better get it too.
- Be assertive when needed. Many studies have identified assertiveness as an issue for women. It’s the flip side of confidence, of course. If you don’t believe in yourself, you don’t think others will either. While it may seem ironic, one of the best ways to display confidence is to overcome the feeling that you have to do it all by yourself. Confidence can mean a willingness to share thoughts and ideas, admitting that you need help and welcoming input from others. And when you open up to others, they should open up to you — unless, of course, they’re the ones with the confidence issue.
- Build relationships everywhere. Having a mentor and being part of one or more teams that will challenge you are both very important. But it’s not the end of the story. Building relationships with as many people as you can is essential and personally rewarding as well. The Bentley Preparedness Study confirmed that business executives feel that skills relating to areas such as communication, interpersonal relationships, problem solving, and empathy are more important than technical skills for long-term success. So use those skills to leverage your technical or professional capabilities, creating a network of people who know you and what you can do.
- OK, it’s become trite, but learn when to lean in and when to lean out. Achieving work-life balance isn’t easy. The Preparedness Study confirmed how great a challenge it remains, more for women than men (not surprisingly) according to respondents. Maternity leave, family responsibilities, and other obligations shouldn’t make you feel guilty or stressed. Good companies know that. Sometimes good people don’t.
The PreparedU Project gratefully acknowledges the contributions of these outstanding millennial women: Natalie Brooks, Morgan Kruegle, Halle Prentice, Jade Scangarello and Angela Scott.