Will Gen Y Women in the Workplace be the Drivers of Corporate Change?

iStock_000002351861XSmallBy Michelle Hendelman, Editor-in-Chief

Generation Y – the group of young people born anywhere between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, have been the source of plenty of criticism recently from the generations before them who believe that the Millennial generation is single-handedly ruining the modern world as we know it. There are always two sides to every story, and the battle between the generations in the workplace, is no exception to that rule.

Boomers and Traditionals seem to agree on one thing. That is the millennial generation is not equipped to handle the challenges in front of them, namely a crippled economy that only recently has shown any hopeful sign of a lasting recovery. However, Millennials—as a whole—exude a confidence and an optimism that might be enough to make a significant impact in some key areas. One of these areas is women’s career advancement.

Will Gen Y women be effective change agents in the gender diversity space or will they continue to run up against the same challenges as women before them? A recent research study suggests that Gen Y women have what it takes.

The Research

According to a new research study, the fifth installation of the “Women, Power & Money” study, published by FleishmanHillard, Hearst magazines, and Ipsos MediaCT last month, Millennial women see themselves as confident, smart and independent women. What’s even more important to the discussion of gender diversity in the workplace is that approximately 40 percent Gen Y women interviewed for this study view men and women as equal in many areas, including business. These findings are encouraging and support the theory that Gen Y women will finally be the ones to shatter the glass ceiling.

However, when you take a closer look at perception versus reality, how the next generation of women perceives themselves does not necessarily reflect what is actually happening in the general corporate culture. Sure, there are recognizable pockets of change occurring, but we are far from achieving a truly equal playing ground in industries where men have traditionally dominated.

Is Perception Different from Reality?

The “Women, Power & Money” study states, “Many women and men see gender equality in strengths and opportunities, but few of either gender see true equality across the board.” While Gen Y women feel more equal to their male counterparts than older generations of women, there is still a very visible disconnect between what Gen Y women in business feel and their day-to-day reality in the workplace.

For instance, the same women surveyed who indicated that they feel a sense of progress in gender equality in business also stated that they feel like men earn more money, often for doing the same job. The wage gap is very real and the message being sent here is that regardless of how empowered and confident Gen Y women feel, they are not seeing tangible evidence of change when it comes to gender equity at work.

In addition to the gender wage gap, there is also plenty of evidence to support the fact that more men reach the C-suite than women. All you have to do is take a look at the percentage of female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies. Even though women, regardless of which generation they belong to, aspire to reach leadership positions, the data suggests that there is still a lot of progress to be made.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Studies like “Women, Money & Power” are powerful tools in helping to define and distinguish the Millennial generation of women from the generations that came before them, but unfortunately the lens is focused on the wrong subject. Gen Y women are ambitious, smart, capable, and ready for responsibility. They are prepared to change the status quo, and there are enough studies being produced that prove this very fact.

Prithvi Shergill, Chief Human Resources Officer at HCL Technologies, suggests that all Millennials, regardless of gender, are actually capable of bringing positive changes to the work environment. “There’s no doubt that talent is the primary engine that drives organisations forward, and that more progressive recruitment methods are being used to find people whose potential can be translated into high performance in diverse environments. However, what some businesses continue to struggle with is the challenge of accepting that this talent can actively influence the culture within a business, based on their own character, competencies, and countries of origin.”

In the gender diversity space, the catalyst for change may certainly be sparked among career-driven Gen Y females, but if they don’t receive adequate support from the corporate culture at large, we will find ourselves right back in the cycle of gender based bias at work.