Contributed by Selena Rezvani, Author of The Next Generation of Women Leaders
While women are making collective strides in the workplace, their youngest members still have a ways to go. In the words of Kelly Picket, one of the women executives I interviewed for my book, “It doesn’t take much for people to look at a woman in her twenties and say ‘that girl has a lot of growing up to do.’”
On one hand, generation Y women have a high degree of confidence, earn the majority of bachelors and advanced degrees, and as evidenced in a recent Families and Work Institute survey, have a tremendous hunger for jobs with responsibility. On the other hand, this group is the least likely to fit the typical CEO mold, especially compared to the look and leadership style of the most common executive: a Caucasian male in his late 50s.
Here are my top five tips for businesses looking to leverage the talent of Gen Y women, the most ignored leadership pipeline.
- Give Them a Proper Induction: From the very moment a Gen Y woman signs an employment contract, you can be instrumental in seeing that she gets off to the right start. Make sure this group has a logistical orientation as well as the more overlooked kind – a culture orientation. Learning the culture of an organization proactively–rather than passively figuring it out as one goes along–can help a newcomer package their messages so that they’re embraced more often. Make leadership development a major priority for all new people entering the organization, rather than an exclusive benefit only for those that are well established.
- Steer Them Away From Support Roles: The longest that a young woman should serve in a support role– if she must at all–is one year. Time spent beyond that will require the average emerging leader to do some explaining. While support roles can be appealing to many college grads with very little leverage, such jobs are not a career destination. Harness Gen Y’s natural hunger for responsibility and variety by moving them to higher visibility, more important roles and projects. If a young woman is at the bottom of the totem pole, ask her where she wants to be in the future and encourage her to think big, beyond her current circumstances.
- Make Sure They’re Visible: Encourage Gen Y women to be strategic about the projects they accept. Those initiatives that are widely visible and allow for partnering across the organization are best for maximum exposure. Teach Gen Y women early in their careers that it’s okay to say “no” to dead-end projects and help them learn to take credit for their accomplishments. Remember, a little self promotion can go a long way. I often urge the women that I coach that hard work alone will not get them noticed—they must come prepared to meetings with something to say, volunteer for important taskforces, and actively participate in company functions. An emerging leader needs to meet as many people as possible within the organization, increasing her visibility and carefully building her brand.
- Provide Coaching: Because the majority of Gen Yers prefer to self-manage, they may underestimate the power of a coach. Proactively match-make young women with mentors as a means to advance. Use training opportunities, rotational programs, and job roles to see that they get the right boss. Some companies are even leveraging social media within their mentoring networks, allowing for relationships to be less rigid and formal. Xerox, home of famed woman CEO Ursula Burns, for example, helps women develop by giving them online access to mentors, matchmaking mentees and mentors for the best possible fit, and removing the need to be co-located in order to connect.
- Send Them Abroad: It’s well documented that those who take challenging job rotations or assignments abroad can get unique hands-on experience–often assuming responsibility they wouldn’t be given at home. In their book, Get Ahead by Going Abroad: A Woman’s Guide to Fast-Track Career Success, C. Perry Yeatman and Stacie Nevadomski Berdan make a compelling argument for taking assignments abroad. In a survey they conducted for the book, the authors found that 85% of those who “moved up by moving away” agreed international experience accelerated their careers, 78% agreed that it had a significant, positive impact on compensation, and 71% agreed they were given greater responsibility earlier on (Yeatman & Berdan, 2007). Remember to approach young women about international assignments that can build their cultural competence, providing hands-on opportunities and increased responsibility. At this year’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Muhtar Kent, Chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola pointed out how important international experience is for future leaders and asserted that women must have access to these opportunities.
If you employ these strategies with Gen Y women, you’ll proactively build a breadth of equipped leaders in your pipeline, greatly enhance your talent pool, and propel the careers of many Gen Y women.