When it comes to rising in the business world, women have what it takes in spades, according to respondents to Bentley’s PreparedU research study. Indeed, the study is one indication among several that job-hunting millennial female college graduates may actually have a distinct edge over male peers. That’s because just about everyone Bentley surveyed, including employers, finds millennial women better prepared and able to offer superior organizational and interpersonal skills.
At the same time, we find female executives rising to the top of American corporations, including Mary Barra at General Motors, Virginia Rometty at IBM, and Marissa Mayer at Yahoo.
A closer look at the careers of these powerful role models, along with findings from the preparedness survey, tells us there’s reason for guarded optimism when it comes to assessing future opportunities for women.
Consider that we know inherently that women — just like men — need top-notch skills to make it big. The good news is that the PreparedU study shows that more than half of corporate recruiters believe women are better prepared than men for a first job. An even higher percentage — 61 percent — say women, once hired, do in fact prove themselves more prepared overall. And eight out of 10 business leaders say women score higher in two areas crucial for success: organization and communication/interpersonal skills.
The rising generation of millennial employees knows their worth. A full 92 percent of millennial women say women’s organizational skills are superior to those of men. And 84 percent claim women have better communication/ interpersonal skills, according to the study.
Yet women in business are also proving adept in a less discussed but crucial way. In order to succeed, they are casting aside gender-specific attitudes that continue to come at them from a surprising number of angles.
Bentley’s study reveals gender biases are being passed down to the next generation. More than half of men and women say female students and recent graduates lack necessary encouragement to pursue a business career. Two thirds of influential people in higher education believe the same — as do 62 percent of the decision makers in the business world.
This deflating attitude is also a family affair. More than 40 percent of male graduates with sisters say their aspirations are taken more seriously. One-third of female students with brothers say male siblings are more encouraged to go into business.
Yet women are keeping their eye on the prize.
As the first female CEO at General Motors, Barra inherited a colossal mess when it became known the corporation has sold cars with faulty ignitions for more than 10 years. Barra has met the crisis head on and taken direct and forceful action to correct safety issues. As leader of GM’s global brands, she is focused on building at least 500,000 vehicles with a form of electrification by 2017. She rarely, if ever, discusses her gender or the media hype surrounding it.
“She has a strong focus on results rather than personality celebrity,” says Susan Adams, Bentley management professor and senior director of the university’s Center for Women and Business. Barra has both deeply impressive technical skills and a talent for collaboration. This means she can take GM to the next level in terms of innovation and do it fast, says Adams.
Look at Mayer’s career at Yahoo. With a series of aggressive moves, she rapidly drove up Yahoo’s stock price and transformed a company largely viewed as a stodgy has-been into one that matters in Silicon Valley. Yet Mayer has taken a lot of flak — particularly from women — for getting rid of a work-from-home option for employees. But, Adams says, she has refused to pander to gender-based expectations and instead remained focused on getting the company up to par.
In 2012, Ginni Rometty became the first female chief of IBM. Soon Rometty’s status as a female CEO became the focus of massive media attention because the all-male Augusta National Golf Club, which has historically invited IBM’s CEO to join its ranks, did not invite her.
Yet Rometty avoided making the rejection a big deal and kept up a positive image of IBM. She knew how to take the gender-based situation and control it, says Adams.
“She has leveraged the media attention and not exploited it,” she says. “All three women are truly focused on results and what is best for their company.”
Women at all stages of their career are proving themselves highly skilled and ready to set aside social pressure and focus on the bottom line.
Ninety-five percent of men and women setting out in business strongly agree on a key point, shows the study. They all believe women are as ambitious as men.
It looks like they are right on the money.
Meg Murphy is a freelance writer.