Career Advice/ Gender Equality/ Millennials/ Workplace

The Leadership Gap: Millennial Women in the Workplace

professional woman standing in office setting

I didn’t grow up amidst a women’s lib culture.

In fact, I had never even met a true “professional” woman until I was in my early twenties (welcome to the bible beating Deep South).

The closest thing I’d gotten to gender equality principles was watching The Oprah Winfrey Show on my grandmother’s 1970’s circa television set, complete with tin foil attached to rabbit ear antennae ends. I remember watching this now-famous fellow Mississippian and thinking, “If she can get out of this hell hole and be successful, maybe I can too.”

After years of dealing with the dark side of an overtly chauvinist and oppressive culture – domestic violence, gender-based discrimination, and sexual assault – I did indeed get “the hell out”. 

By the age of twenty-six, I’d achieved career, education, and income goals never before reached by any female in my family. In truth, just not being beaten black and blue by my significant other was a pioneering ancestral accomplishment.  A long legacy of gender based inequality had finally been broken, fueled by Oprah’s afternoon empowering inspiration, “Create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life, because you become what you believe.”

​A day in the life of a female professional.

The “vision” I had of professional pursuits didn’t include was many chauvinistic cultures deem as “acceptable women’s work”. Traditional female professions – homemaker, nursing, and teaching grade school- gave me the heebie jeebies. Acing biochemistry, making money, running cattle, and winning mock debates were more of what rocked my recently liberated world.

I don’t think it came as any surprise when I ended up making a splash in male-dominated academic sectors and industries. Being one of the “only girls” took a while to get used too. I (unsuccessfully) attempted to blend into the old school boys club – complete with memorizing sport’s stats, choking down stogies, and holding way more than my weight’s worth of hard liquor.  Despite being the white elephant sighting in traditionally male industries, I was able to consistently succeed, developing a niche specialty within the millennial market.

Working in male-dominated industries is daunting, frustrating, and downright painful at times.

“I am so tired of being the only woman in the boardroom!” I vented to a mentor.

She laughed and replied, “Aren’t we all!”

After years of being the only woman in the room, I was pretty tired of:

  • Repeatedly being mistaken for the receptionist, administrative assistant, or even “the consultant’s wife” instead the MARKETING DIRECTOR that I was.
  • Male professionals – especially those of a particular era – frequently employ gender-specific manipulation tactics and repeatedly downplay any and all professional “successes” I’ve achieved.
  • I’ve never been asked about my Business school performance, yet I consistently receive a line of questioning regarding “how [my] husband feels about [my] working like this” and “when [I am] having children”.

​Where are all the female leaders?

In celebration of Women’s History Month, the female empowerment campaign ActuallySheCan, asked millennial women what they think and how they feel about female leadership, and the survey results were quite revealing.

Although today’s women earn 58% of collegiate degrees, and hold most of the professional level jobs, women are still significantly under-represented in top leadership positions.

Is the next generation of millennials ready to close leadership’s gender gap?

According to the survey results, the answer is decidedly mixed.

While 80% of women believe that women and men are equally effective leaders—with 14% responding that women were, in fact, more effective leaders—they took a more critical eye when it came to describing themselves. Only 12% identified as influential amongst a group, only 17% felt they were charismatic personalities and only 11% felt they were admired for their ideas.

Do today’s women still feel “out of place” in leadership positions?

The survey’s top three responses to the question “how can we help millennial women become a better leader?” were as follows: 27% said more opportunities or promotions would help, while 25% said guidance and mentorship, and 24% said more guidance and training.

These findings pack a powerful message: It’s never been more important to empower women to be leaders—through professional opportunities, mentorship and dialogue that champions women’s ambitions and ability to lead. 
For additional survey findings, download the full survey:

​What’s a working girl to do?

Millennial women: You have so much to offer the modern workplace.

Yes (unfortunately) it’s still unusual for women to be at the forefront of many industries – agriculture, business, construction, defense, engineering, government, science, and technology are still awfully skewed along gender identification lines. And as our friends as ActuallySheCan reported, gender discrimination in regards to leadership roles is still very prevalent within the modern workplace.

But that doesn’t mean women don’t belong in traditionally male dominated industries or positions.

Think of the progress that’s been made by women who chose to trail blaze over just the past few decades – Harriet Beecher StoweEmmeline PankhurstRosalind FranklinAmelia EarhartRosa ParksBillie Jean KingBenazir Bhutto, just to name a few. The progress towards gender-equality we enjoy today is the direct result of women – just like you and me – who chose to challenge cultural norms and say, “We have something to contribute, and it’s a lot more than transcribing your meeting and refilling your coffee cup.”

Thoroughly enjoying Barsh and Cranston’s book entitled, How Remarkable Women LeadI shared my publication adoration with a WW2-era female professional.

Her response took me by surprise: “When I was your age, the phrase ‘women lead’ would have been considered an oxymoron. Take advantage of the possibilities you have today for they have not always been here.”

​Become tomorrow’s generation of leaders.

Want to join the ranks of glass ceiling smashers?

Here’s a few female-focused organizations and resources dedicated to ensuring equal representation within the workplace:

Did we miss a female leadership organization?

Share your favorite girl power initiatives in the comments below!

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