Few Gen Y Women aspire to be business leaders? Not your kind of business leaders

A recent Canadian Zeno Group study that surveyed 1,000 Canadian female university graduates was reported widely in the media last week.

Its results showed that only 6% of female university graduates surveyed said they wanted to be a CEO at a corporation some day and 12% said they wanted to lead their own enterprise. It showed that twice as many women (38%) did not care about managing or leading others.

This Financial Post article tried to present the other side of the argument; that not everyone is convinced that today’s young women are less ambitious than those generations before them.

The article discusses Jean Twenge’s work which shows that young Millennial women are adopting leadership qualities more readily than those of previous generations (Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – And More Miserable Than Ever Before).

It also leaned on Pew Research Center data from 2011 that showed Millennial women in America more frequently cited the pursuit of a career as a high priority than young men in the same age category.

Why we shouldn’t discount Canadian Data

Something that we don’t discuss enough is the importance of distinguishing between American and Canadian research on Millennials. What happens in the United States can’t simply be applied to Canada.

American Millennials grew up in a different culture with different support systems, government policy and a different view of the job market. Unlike many Americans, most Canadians of the same age group did not have to watch their parents struggle to afford health care, avoid massive post-secondary student debt, and watch their neighbourhoods face the stress of an impending mortgage and housing crisis as they finished high school and walked out the door on their own. And the entrepreneurial culture of the United States is stronger than in Canada – we see it in our investor class.

Of course this isn’t to say that there is no merit to the article’s claim that the Zeno survey data comes to a startling conclusion given some of the Canadian female entrepreneurial success stories (one of our favourites is Ladies Learning Code).

As the article has done, it is important to bring up key case studies of strong and successful young female entrepreneurs and business leaders, as the FP article had done in sharing Lauren Friese’s story as the founder of TalentEgg.

We just mean to say that it is necessary to look at additional research that has been done in the Canadian context before discounting Canadian studies by piling them under American reports.

Our research study conducted in October 2012 asked Millennials to rank of a set of values, which were most important to them at work. The chart below shows the results of this survey, divided by gender.

Figure 1.0: Below are a number of values that someone might consider important in their workplace. Rank the top three values that are important to you at work. (Percentage ranked first)

women in the workplace

Most Millennials rank room for opportunity to grow, fairness and mentorship among the top priorities. Our survey found little difference between men and women between the ages of 18 and 29 when it comes to opportunities for growth and recognition. We did find that more males were interested in having a clear direction within the company whereas female employees tended to be slightly more interested in flexibility.

Millennial Team-leaders

While this is important to see, our most notable findings were that female Millennials more often ranked teamwork as their number one priority where male Millennials more often ranked mentorship.

In comparing these results to that of the Zeno study, we find that it is true that young women in Canada are less interested in top-down leadership in the traditional sense (direction, mentorship, CEO-status). Twice as many are not looking to manage or lead others, but they are still seeking opportunities for openness and teamwork at a much higher rate than men their age.

I wouldn’t discount these Gen Y women. With emerging capabilities for Gen Y to connect and accomplish a shared purpose through collaboration, teamwork is changing the face of the traditional work place and is changing the way we do business around the world.

Young women in Canada are well suited to succeed in this new type of leadership role.

While I  appreciate that media and women’s groups are trying to make the case that there is no difference or that women are even better than men in leadership roles, it seems there is something to this data that should be discussed.  To say that the survey is wrong about female leadership, might not really help. Instead we should look a little deeper into how the differences in workplace goals that Gen Y women bring to the table will benefit emerging female leaders and corporations.

It is important for employers and business leaders to understand the intricacies of the incoming Gen Y employee and to adapt to make the most of an emerging young workforce if they want to be successful over the long term.

Want to know more about this generation? Check out the Abacus Data Millennial Research Practice and our unique personality segmentation by checking out canadianmillennials.ca.

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Jaime is an Analyst at Abacus Data and a thought leader for its Canadian Millennials research practice.

Contact Jaime Morrison:

T: 613-232-2806

E: jaime@abacusdata.ca

W: http://www.abacusdata.ca

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