Millennial Women Struggle to Advance in the Workplace

Posted By Terri Williams on January 13, 2016 at 12:02 pm
Millennial Women Struggle to Advance in the Workplace

“Girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice,” may be more than just a harmless nursery rhyme. It would appear that some outdated gender characteristics might keep millennial women from succeeding in the workplace.

According to the Bentley Preparedness Survey, conducted by KRC Research for Bentley University, both short-term and long-term job success may be based on gender perceptions. Results of the survey, which includes 3,000 respondents, are as follows:

  • 59% consider women to be better prepared than men for success in their first jobs
  • 41% consider men to be better prepared than women for success in their first jobs

However, in the long run, men are perceived as being better prepared for success:

  • 53% believe men are better prepared for success over their entire careers
  • 47% believe women are better prepared for success over their entire careers

These perceptions may be based on the traits and skills that are assigned to each gender; for example:

  • 82% of respondents believe women are better suited for business success in terms of their communication and interpersonal skills
  • 86% of respondents rate women higher in terms of their organizational skills
  • 64% of respondents say men are better suited for business success in terms of their leadership abilities

Women are perceived to have better communication, interpersonal and organizational skills – and this makes them good workers. But men are perceived as more likely to have leadership skills, which is critical to career advancement.

So what can be done to change the perception of millennial women in the workplace?

Changing reality

Unfortunately, there may be a certain level of truth in these gender perceptions. Linda Henman, Ph.D., owner of Chesterfield, Missouri-based The Henman Group, has spent more than 30 years working with executives and boards of numerous Fortune 500 companies, and she tells GoodCall that these perceptions will not change until reality changes. “Women are graduating from college and graduate schools in large numbers, but they aren’t majoring in the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, math).”

As a result, Henman says her clients struggle to meet their diversity goals of hiring more women into high potential tracks like engineering and finance. “Most of the clients can’t even find a female CEO candidate from among their ranks or from outside the organization because not enough women have come into the workplace with a strong major, and many don’t stick around long enough to be promoted to the high echelons of the organization,” Henman explains.

But this is not the only obstacle millennial women face. Amelia Gandomi Lewis, M.S., CEC, Executive Coach, and founder and president of Advance Yourself in Chicago, Illinois, says, “I notice that millennial women seem to be more insecure than previous generations – not only because of the gender dynamics of power in the workplace, but also many of them were raised by parents who told them they could do anything and be anything they wanted.”

Lewis tells GoodCall that this led them to enter the workforce with high expectations and a tendency to internalize their disappointments and view them as personal failings. “Millennial women struggle with feelings of unworthiness and confidence because they see many of their male counterparts rising higher and faster than them.”

And Lewis says that gender bias in pay and position is very real, and creates the need for equalizing forces, such as:


Both female-to-female and also male-to-female. According to Lewis, “Anyone can be a mentor, but it is extremely powerful in this generation, which has a psychological need for a parent in the workplace to help steer them.” She explains that a mentor can help them access their strengths and abilities, and also manage their insecurities appropriately.


While Lewis says it’s too late to re-parent millennial adults, we can choose to send different messages about leadership and power to upcoming generations. “When a girl takes control, she is often reprimanded as bossy, while a boy will receive a ‘Boys – what can you do?’ approach.” She says the societal pressure that females receive to be less assertive starts in childhood, so the changes must start in childhood.


At every level, Lewis says educators must teach girls how to make their voices heard. “How can girls make requests, suggestions, and contribute ideas without being dismissed as bossy, opinionated and “bitchy?” Those who are in control in the classrooms have a powerful impact on how classmates are receiving females who do show leadership ability,” concludes Lewis.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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