By Sandra Dowling
PwC’s most recent internationally-focused study of the millennial generation made one thing clear, when it comes to the female millennial we really are talking about a new era of female talent. These women, currently entering the workforce and moving into management positions are more confident and ambitious than ever before. The ambition of this generation of women is exemplified by the fact that they rank opportunities for career progression as the most attractive attribute in an employer. Nearly half believe they can reach the very top within their organisation, which attests to their confidence.
Power and potential
What particularly struck me about the findings was the earning power and wealth creating potential of this generation as when it comes to earning power and patterns, female millennials are very much trail blazers. Of the female millennials who are in a relationship, 86% are part of a dual career couple, with 42% earning equal salaries to their partner or spouse and almost a quarter (24%) are the primary earner in their relationship. This means that 66% earn as much or more than their partner or spouse. And as millennial women progress in their careers, the more likely they are to out-earn their other halves.
Women should be able to fulfil their potential without being impacted by any blindspots that may exist within the workplace. More than 70% of the women taking part in our millennial research felt that opportunities are not equal for all. Over 40% believed that employers are too male biased when it comes to promotion, a big jump from when we carried out a comparable survey of millennials internationally in 2011. Research on blindspots suggests that leaders still tend to promote people like themselves, and because so many leaders are men, talented and aspiring women may face increased challenges.
Focusing on the outcomes
As a single mother bringing up young twins, one of the key issues for me is flexibility. Half of the women in our survey say that flexibility and work-life balance programmes exist in their organisations, but aren’t readily available to them in practice. Worryingly, more than 40% believe taking advantage of flexibility and work-life balance programmes would actually have negative consequences for their careers. If key talent and wealth creators are lost because of this, it will inevitably damage the business and the economy. Employers need to make flexibility a real part of all staff’s working lives rather than a just a passive policy. The key to this is focusing on outcomes rather than presence in the office: if I want to take time out to go to my children’s sports day, for example, that will enhance rather than detract from my ability to deliver for the firm.
We are working hard at PwC UK to change things and what’s encouraging for me is that diversity and inclusion are seen as business imperatives rather than just nice-to-haves. And to get where we want to be and realise the benefits, we recognise the need to ask difficult questions and challenge assumptions that have persisted for generations. For those that invest in their female talent, the rewards of creating more wealth for the business will flow.
Overcoming the obstacles
Women clearly need to keep pushing against these barriers, but to remove them altogether requires real engagement from male colleagues. One of the ways that we at PwC UK are trying to identify and overcome potential unconscious biases is through our open mind training curriculum. The change programme is designed to help people become mindful of the potential blind spots in their thinking and the impact on their decisions. For example, “Am I making assumptions about people that don’t reflect their real talent and potential?” We back this up by setting and tracking gender and ethnicity targets for our different business units.
I have also been closely involved in our UK shadowing programme, in which students get a taste of what we do and how they can contribute. Firms like ours can appear daunting from the outside, so it’s great to see that more than 90% of the women who take part in this initiative choose to seek a career with us. Additionally, leaders like me can get a taste of what our younger colleagues are facing through our reverse mentoring programme, allowing us to shadow them on a typical day.
|Sandra Dowling is a partner in PwC UK’s Investment Management practice in London and leads the Real Estate Assurance group in the UK.
A version of this blog post was first published in the Women’s Executive Network (WXN) ‘The Opinion’ magazine, Spring 2016 issue.