What can be done to help millennial women advance their careers?

It is time for us to look ahead and think about what barriers are faced, and what is required to help women advance their careers.

While Coronavirus has had a devastating effect across the globe, it has also forced us all to slow down. In many cases, this considerable change of pace has had an unexpectedly positive impact. Global pollution levels have reduced, old friends have re-connected, and new projects have begun. Furthermore, the benefit of having female leaders has finally been recognised. Of nearly 200 countries, only 19 are led by women.

Yet these 19 countries have consistently performed better than the male-led countries of a similar size and geography. This has been proven in a study by development economists from Liverpool and Reading universities.

This study shows us that when women advance their careers and reach the upper levels of leadership, we all benefit. As we move into the new normal, we need to ask ourselves, what is the future we are moving towards? And crucially, how can millennial women advance their careers to reach these positions of leadership?

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What does the future hold?

Women currently make up 39% of the global workforce, 46% in the EU, US and Canada. Yet only 6.6% of CEOs in the Fortune 500 are women, and only 20% of board directors are women. Why? What is preventing women from accessing the higher-paid, more powerful, job spheres and positions that remain male-dominated?

It is undeniable that the workforce is changing. As of 2016, the Millennial generation replaced Gen X as the largest labour force in the workplace. A study by PWC in 2015 shows that no previous generation has entered the workforce with such high levels of female participation. Plus, female millennials are more highly educated than previous generations. High participation levels together with being highly educated means that there really shouldn’t be anything standing in the way of women achieving as much as men.

Given the more equal workforce participation of millennial women, here at 3Plus we want to research how female millennials, also known as “Gen Y” or “Echo Boomers,” are approaching the challenges of work-life. We are going to be doing surveys and interviews to find out what challenges millennial women face in their careers. But first, who are the millennials?

Source: PEW Reseach Center, 2018

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Who are millennials?

Millennials were born from 1981 through to 1996. I.e. they remember the turn of the millennium, but they were still children or teenagers. They are the hyper-connected “selfie generation”, but also more socially-conscious about their purchasing decisions. It is common to hear that they are entitled, narcissistic, will never own a home, and want a trophy for everything. Their arrival has undoubtedly changed the face of workplaces. Dress codes are out and bean bags are in.

But does their more relaxed attitude mean that they are lazy and under-achieving, or just have different values? Let’s get some perspective here.

Famous millennial women

Millennial women are taking the world by storm left, right and centre.

Sanna Marin, born in 1985, is the Prime Minister of Finland, second youngest state leader in the world, and  thought to have handled the epidemic better than almost any other world leader.

Sally Rooney, born in 1991, is the best-selling author of Conversations with Friends, and Normal People. And Cindy Mi, born in 1983, set-up VIPKID, which has over 500,000 paying students, 60,00 teachers, and over $800 million in funding.

Of course, that’s not even including the more well-known millennial celebrities, like Beyoncé, Serena Williams, and Emma Watson.

The millennial career-stage differential

PWC divides millennial women in the workplace into three categories: The Career Starter, The Career Developer, and The Career Establisher.

  • The Career Starter has an average age of 25, is predominantly single, and tends to have 0-3 years of work experience. 49% believe that they will reach the ‘very top levels’ with their current employer, and they are looking for opportunities for career progression.
  • The Career Developer has an average of 29, is predominantly living with a partner, and has 4-8 years of work experience. 45% believe that they will reach the ‘very top levels’ with their current employer, and their main concern is competitive wages.
  • The Career Establisher has an average age of 32, is predominantly married, 49% are mothers, and they have more than 9 years of work experience. 39% believe that they will reach the ‘very top levels’ with their current employer, and career progression is again their favoured employer trait.

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So what do millennial women need to succeed?


We are going to take a look at what barriers stand in the way as millennial women advance their careers, and if there is a difference depending on which career-stage they are currently in.

Career strategy

The first aspect we will investigate is career strategy. So many women plan out every aspect of their lives meticulously, from their weddings and holidays to their social lives or life-admin. But do they take the same care over their career plans? Do women set career goals and develop a clear strategy to reach them?

A previous 3Plus study found that only 16% of women had a clear mid-term plan, compared with 83% of men. Are millennial women the same? And are they even aware that they are falling behind in this?

Leadership skills

As we mentioned earlier, there is a glass-ceiling that still prevents women from reaching the upper echelons of business. There are more male CEOs with the name David than there are female CEOs in total.

No way is it just that men named David are destined for greatness. Something is holding women back, and we want to know what.

We want to know if companies are working towards gender equality in the higher levels of their companies. But we also want to know if companies are offering leadership skills training to help with career advancement. Are companies doing what they can to correct the great imbalance?

Male-coded culture

And then there is the good old-fashioned, male-coded culture. Social events are held that favour men. Feedback is delivered in a style that favours men. Skills that are typical of men are more highly valued. You get the picture.

Furthermore, at least one in four women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, and many reports put that number considerably higher.

Understandably, a workplace environment that excludes (and even harasses) women will often make them feel unwelcome.

But, is that still going on? Or are millennial women in workplaces that treat them as equals and cater for them if they have different needs or skills?

Professional Development

There are so many aspects that work together to achieve professional development.

If women don’t see other women in higher positions, it will be harder to imagine themselves reaching those jobs. And if women don’t have other women who can guide them, having had similar experiences or challenges, it will be harder for them to progress.

PWC found that 35% of female Career Establishers felt that they lacked senior female role models with their current employer. The benefit of a professional mentor or sponsor cannot be underestimated. Find out more about the 3Plus mentoring services HERE.

Plus, research by Catalyst suggests that women tend to take on around double the number of unpaid hours of work, compared to men. This can include both domestic work and caring duties, either of their own children, or of their ailing parents or relatives.

Sadly, the BBC found that this uneven distribution of invisible work hasn’t changed during the pandemic, despite both parents tending to be around more. This highlights that the problem is a systemic inequality within gender expectations. And it is for this reason that so many women tend to favour flexible hours, remote work and other job benefits.

But does this imbalance still exist amongst millennials, or are they achieving better household equality? And do they look for these additional benefits?

Our survey

From the results of our survey, we are expecting to find out which barriers the women of the largest labour force are facing in the workplace. We are also hoping to discover if there is a difference depending on the career-stage of the women. Identifying the barriers faced is the first step on the way to coming up with workable solutions on the path to equality.

We will let you know the results in two follow-up posts as part of this series.

What do you think? Have we missed out any key aspects?

We would love to hear which barriers you face in the workplace. So please do take part in our survey HERE:

Emma Frazer Editor
Emma Frazer is a feminist, footballer and Latin America aficionado. She works as a freelancer in Barcelona. Emma is the social media manager and editor for 3Plus International.

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