Give Gen Y Women a Break

There’s a lot of back and forth about Gen Y (defined in my mind primarily as people in their 20’s). In the media and the workplace, Gen Y is often portrayed as unmotivated and overindulged with unrealistic career expectations. A recent article in the New York Times asks why it seems to be taking so long for people in their 20’s to grow up and assesses the merit of an entirely new developmental stage called “emerging adulthood.”

It may be true that some Gen Yers may be delaying adulthood – putting off marriage, postponing  careers, living at home to save money or because they have been so hard hit in this economy. But, if given the chance, isn’t that what we 40-something women would advise our younger selves to do? To take our time and really choose a career rather than taking the job right in front of us, to worry less about finding the person we’re going to spend our lives with right now and to have different experiences to build a foundation for interesting lives and careers? Coming of age in the 80’s, my generation learned that sometimes the traditional way, or the most immediate, isn’t always the best way.

When my mom graduated from college 50 years ago, choices were limited and cultural expectations were well-defined.  When she married at 26, it was seen as late; now it’s the median age. Today’s women have more choices and the freedom to make their own way – to experiment, to make mistakes, to learn – but that all takes time.

We have been involved in five studies involving Gen Y women in the past 18 months, and my experience is based on that, along with employees we have had here at OYM. Most of the Gen Y women I have met are sincere, down to earth and funny. Gen Y is often criticized for overconfidence, but I believe optimism is one their best qualities, especially considering the obstacles they’re facing. In fact, their generation is the first in a century that is unlikely to end up better off financially than their parents, according to a recent report by Demos, a public policy research and advocacy think tank.

In our work, we’ve seen that this is a group on the verge of adulthood during a unique time with an exceptional amount of change. They must believe in themselves because they have learned not to rely on institutions. They ask questions because they are natural seekers who are highly connected and want to know where they fit in.

Now, it’s true that there are challenges that come with the new needs these “emerging adults” present. I admit that it’s sometimes been hard for me to adapt to concerns and suggestions that have come from our GenY employees. But we’re getting better at having those conversations and working together to explore the possibilities. What are you exploring with Gen Y?


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