Against a backdrop of economic volatility, the vast majority of young professional women believe they will have rewarding careers balanced with fulfilling personal lives, according to research released by Accenture in 2010.
At the same time, almost six in 10 (59 percent) report being at least somewhat negatively affected by the current economic downturn, and one-third (33 percent) are more concerned with keeping their jobs than achieving work/life balance.
Accenture’s Millennial Women in the Workplace Success Index is based on the results of an online survey of 1,000 millennial women ranging in age from 22 to 35 who are employed full-time in the United States. These women also identified two primary qualities as key to workplace success—the ability to balance personal and professional lives and a job where they can make a difference.
Ultimately, more than half of the respondents define success as doing meaningful work, while maintaining balance between their personal and professional lives (cited by 66 percent and 59 percent, respectively).
Similarly, when asked to list typical qualities of a successful female business leader, seven in 10 (70 percent) cited “maintains work/life balance,” followed by “is flexible” and “is able to make an impact” (reported by 66 percent and 64 percent, respectively).
Other factors of workplace success include stable employment that provides financial security, a positive work environment, open and honest communication with supervisors and opportunities to grow professionally.
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Accenture’s research study, “Millennial Women in the Workplace Success Index: Striving for Balance,” was conducted to help fuel the dialogue on key issues for working women. In the United States, women will soon comprise half the workforce, and millennials are now one-third of the working population. Areas of focus were:
Exploring how millennial women view the workplace and their role in it.
Examining how companies can best support and retain these future leaders.
Combining Professional and Personal Success
For these respondents, quality of life is often more important than their career growth. Seven in ten (70 percent) reported that they believe they will be successful, and fully one-third of these young female professionals said they believe they will reach the top of their professions.
However, they cited medical benefits and flexible hours (reported by 63 percent and 50 percent, respectively) as drivers of professional success, compared to classes and training for professional advancement (37 percent). Similarly, when asked about what is important to them, 66 percent cited family life, compared to 29 percent who cited career success.
While almost half of respondents (46 percent) reported that they currently have an equal balance of work and personal life, they were divided on whether they would give up personal time for more money or money for more personal time. On average, women seeking more time have somewhat higher incomes and are willing to forego 15 percent of their income, while respondents willing to sacrifice time want a 32 percent increase in salary.
Figure 1: Women are divided on whether they would give up personal time for more money or money for more personal time.
In considering factors that affect the decision to accept a job, they cited secure employment and encourages work/personal life balance (reported by 65 percent and 49 percent, respectively), compared to opportunities for bonus and investment opportunities, such as a 401K match or profit sharing (cited by 33 percent and 29 percent, respectively).
Figure 2: Millennial women choose quality of life over bottom-line perquisites.
Some Traditional Gender Barriers are Falling
When asked to rank barriers to their careers, just 12 percent cited marriage, and 19 percent mentioned maternity policies, compared to 30 percent who cited pay scale for women. According to respondents, ongoing gender obstacles include a corporate culture that favors men, general stereotypes/ preconceptions and sexism (reported by 28 percent, 26 percent and 22 percent, respectively).
In addition, approximately one-quarter of respondents reported that several workplace issues are major obstacles to success, notably a lack of motivation, being deceived by a co-worker and insufficient health care, each cited by 26 percent of respondents.
Figure 3: Perhaps fueling confidence in their future, respondents report that barriers to professional success are changing.
Respondents also reported that women are increasingly joining the ranks of senior executives. Fewer than one in 10 (7 percent) reported that fewer women are being appointed to C-suite positions and boards of directors than five years ago.
Almost half (46 percent) said that more women are being appointed than five years ago. Only one in five (20 percent) reported a lack of women in the C-Suite and on boards of directors.
When asked to identify what is most helpful in driving professional success, few cited “women in company leadership” (i.e., C-suite, boardroom) and “having female role models at my company” (reported by 16 percent and 18 percent, respectively), compared to more than half who cited “a good work atmosphere” and “open and honest communications with supervisors” (59 percent and 52 percent, respectively).
Figure 4: Additionally, female role models do not appear to be most important to respondents.
In pursuing both a satisfying career and personal life, millennial women will benefit from setting priorities and regularly monitoring the progress of both along the way. At the same time, to attract, develop and retain high-performing employees, leading companies will strengthen their counseling and mentoring programs and offer innovative training and flexible benefits to help these individuals achieve their goals.
Millennials and their employers should explore alternative ways to "move up the corporate ladder." Making a lateral move within an organization, for example, can be an effective way to satisfy the need to learn new skills and gain valuable experience, while continuing to work toward long-term advancement.