by Francesca Fontana | Wall Street Journal
Recruiting manager Casey Miller noticed something different about the intern presentations at Enterprise Holdings Inc. this summer.
In previous years, the proceedings at the car-rental company followed a similar pattern: Male interns typically organized, delegated and spoke on behalf of the groups, says Ms. Miller.
This year, in many cases, female interns took the lead, and the men played supporting roles. “The male interns weren’t concerned or giving it another thought,” Ms. Miller says. “It was very natural.”
The recruiter was witness to what researchers say are changing attitudes and behaviors among the youngest entrants to the workforce. Young millennial women, those born from 1988 to 1995, are joining the workplace with significantly higher levels of ambition than older women. And though women still trail men in the desire to be a top executive, the gap in ambition appears to be narrowing.
More surprisingly, men and women under age 30 hold similar views on some issues concerning gender at work, according to a large study of women in the workplace conducted by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co.
Women’s growing assertiveness may stem from their formative years, which coincided with the 2008 recession, says Lisa Walden, a researcher and communications director at the research and consulting firm BridgeWorks.
Younger women “have seen how tipped the scales are and are showing up a little more guarded, but more ready to fight for that equality on day one, whereas the early millennial women had to readjust,” Ms. Walden says.
Shayla Owodunni, a 27-year-old finance manager at Expedia , was finishing high school in the Minneapolis suburbs when her father was laid off from his engineering job at Northwest Airlines. She originally wanted to study law in college and “fight for the underdog,” she says, but the recession prompted her to change course.
Taking her father’s advice to consider financial security in her career choices, she went into accounting. Her sights are now set on rising to chief financial officer of a company someday, she says.
Like Ms. Owodunni, other so-called recessionist millennial women are expressing more ambition than other age cohorts. The McKinsey and Lean In survey, which asked 70,000 men and women about their experiences at work, found that 60% of younger millennial women—those under 30—said they want to be a top executive, compared with 37% of older women. Those figures compare with 69% of young millennial men and 50% of older men.
Throughout the hiring process, “they ask questions like, ‘Show me how women within the company have the same opportunities to achieve that men do,’ ” Ms. Miller says. These women are also asking more questions about benefits like adoption assistance and maternity leave that they might want down the line, she says.
Younger millennial women are also speaking up more about discrimination and inappropriate behavior, says Becky Roth, senior product marketing manager at the online travel company Expedia Inc. Ms. Roth, 31, is what generational researchers call an “early millennial,” and works with many younger millennials.
Ms. Roth recalls having male colleagues at other companies early in her career who would rest their hands on her leg during meetings.
“I talked to older [female] mentors who started their careers when that stuff happened all the time, and they wouldn’t say anything,” Ms. Roth says. “They didn’t want to ruffle any feathers.”
Now, the younger women come into the workplace with the expectation that they will be heard, she says.
Young millennial men, meanwhile, show signs that their attitudes on some issues are converging with those of their female peers—even if they remain far apart in other areas.
The biggest divergence: Young millennial men are the least-likely workers to say that gender diversity is a top priority for them, while young millennial women are the most likely of all age groups to say it is important to them.
At the same time, young men share with women a skepticism about company efforts to support women. For example, the McKinsey and Lean In survey found that 29% of young men and 22% of young women think managers address biased language and behavior when it happens. The gap is much wider among older men and women—38% to 23%.
These younger women and men are also more likely to say they split home duties 50/50 with their partners, and young millennial men are far more likely than their fathers and brothers to take on a larger share of domestic work. The youngest millennial men are now asking about paternity leave and other work/life policies earlier than past job candidates have done, Ms. Miller says.
“I think that these recessionists saw that there wasn’t a gender divide between who was impacted by the recession,” Ms. Miller says. “They saw that their parents’ roles at home had to change…and began to see the importance of both genders” in sharing family responsibilities.
Appeared in the October 10, 2017, print edition as 'Voices of the Young' as a part of the annual Women in the Workplace package.