Great Expectations: How to Attract, Retain and Manage the Female Millennial

Female millennials matter because they are more highly educated than previous generations (according to research) and are set to represent 25% of the global workforce by 2020. However, meeting their employer expectations is a challenge that requires deep insight into their behaviors and motivations.



“Generation Y will be more difficult to recruit, retain, motivate and manage than any other new generation to enter the workforce. But this will also be the more high-performing workforce in history for those who know how to manage them properly”, says Bruce Tulgan, author of “Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage Generation Y”.

They’ve been dubbed 'Generation Y', 'Generation Why', the 'Me Generatio'n and 'Trophy Kids', but millennials are generally identified as those born between 1980 and 2000 and exhibit distinctly different traits, values and behaviors from their Generation X and Baby Boomer counterparts. As employees, female millennials are apparently more highly educated, according to research (see infographic below) and more confident than any of their previous generations and are set to drive unprecedented work life organizational shifts. In order to capitalize on this generation’s talents, employers need to understand what makes them tick and commit to inclusive cultures and talent strategies that lean in to the confidence and ambition of the female millennial.

In an interview with eyeforpharma, Aoife Flood, Senior Manager of the Global Diversity & Inclusion Program Office for PWC International, highlighted the importance of understanding what makes the female millennial tick: “By 2016, 80% of our employees will be millennials so understanding this talent cohort is a business imperative for us, and we know we are not alone.  In 2013, we released our ‘PwC’s Next Generation Diversity: Developing tomorrow’s female leaders’ report. The report delved into the findings of our various millennial research studies conducted over the past six years with a laser focus on gender.Our aim was to provide some insight into the minds of female millennials and how to position your organization and talent strategies towards the attraction, retention and development of this significant talent pool”.

Highlights from Next Generation Diversity include:

  •  Work-Life Balance and Flexibility 

Work-life balance is important to nearly all millennials, and appears slightly more important to the female millennial with 97% identifying it as important to them (compared to 93% of men) and 74% saying it is very important. In addition, flexible working hours were preferred over financial benefits when millennials were asked which benefits they would most value from an employer.

  • Diversity – front of mind

The millennial generation tends to seek out employers with a strong record on equality and diversity. In particular, this is important to the female millennial, with 82% identifying an employer’s policy on diversity, equality and workforce inclusion as important when deciding whether or not to work for an organisation. However, their expectations are not always met in practice; 55% of millennials agree that organisations talk about diversity, but they don’t feel opportunities are really equal for all.

  • Feedback Culture

One of the strongest millennial traits is that they welcome and expect regular real time feedback on their job performance. 51% of female millennials said feedback should be given very frequently or continually on the job. Setting clear targets and providing regular and structured feedback is very important to the female millennial. Equally important is a more progressive approach to feedback, ultimately a focus on feedback that is future orientated and gears this talent pool towards future career progression, rather than feedback that is reactive and past orientated.

  • Reputation Matters

Millennials want their work to have a purpose, to contribute something to the world and to be proud of their employer. This holds true for both the male and the female millennial. Some companies and sectors including pharma will have to work harder and work harder earlier (aiming their efforts at second level students) to communicate the positive aspects of the employer brand and encourage a strong influx into their sector. 58% of millennials said they would avoid working in a particular sector solely because they believe it had a negative image. Image appears to be a stronger influencer of the female millennial with the image of 9 of 14 sectors less appealing to more women than men.

  • Global Careers

Millennials have a strong appetite for working abroad, with 71% keen to do so at some stage in their career. It is critical that international employers realize that this is not a male phenomenon. Female demand for mobility has never been higher with 69% of female millennials identifying they want to work outside their home country during their career. Despite the number of female assignees doubling in the past decade, women currently make up a meagre 20% of international assignees.

Research identifies that gaining international experience advances women’s and men’s career further and faster, yet the best and brightest female talent are overlooked for these opportunities compared to their male peers.To attract, retain and develop female millennials, international employers must adopt a modern mobility approach that provides a diversity of mobility solutions and fosters a mobility culture that does not over-identify international assignments with male candidates.

Cultivating an Inclusive Culture

With insight into the key traits, behaviors and values of millennial women, companies need to cultivate the right culture to attract key talent and allow them to thrive.

“Talented women need to feel they are operating in a culture where they can succeed and rise or they will look for those opportunities elsewhere. Clarity of expectations is vital to them so they can see what specifically they need to do to be successful in that organization. It’s crucial to develop plans to assist employees to deliver in those areas,  be that getting them in line for an international assignment, aligning them with a mentor or sponsor or putting them on a challenging project that will stretch them”, asserts Flood.

It’s vital that organizations focus on female talent pipelines from Day 1 to mitigate against shortages later on in their leadership pipeline. That comes down to cultivating an inclusive culture and talent processes so women can see demonstrably that they can progress within an organization".

Organizations must drive parallel efforts which tackle enhanced leadership diversity in conjunction with systemic change efforts targeting their workforce from day one.

“It’s vital that organizations focus on female talent pipelines from Day 1 to mitigate against shortages later on in their leadership pipeline. That comes down to cultivating an inclusive culture and talent processes so women can see demonstrably that they can progress within an organization. Where there are role models of women who have made it to the top, ensure female millennials have exposure to their stories and their journeys. Building in analytics and measures that look at the promotion ratios and performance ratings of male and females can flag any unconscious bias that exists.  Organizations may feel they are operating in a meritocracy, but until organizations put the data analytics in place to ensure this is the case it may well be the case that their promotions are disproportionate to the promotion pool from a gender perspective”, reiterates Flood.

Offering flexibility to new female parents only can reinforce stereotypes; to get this right organizations need to  ensure they are tackling flexibility and work-life balance as a talent-wide proposition".

Looking at retention, it’s important to demonstrate flexibility at critical milestones, but this should not be purely associated with female parents. “Offering flexibility to new female parents only can reinforce stereotypes; to get this right, organizations need to  ensure they are tackling flexibility and work-life balance as a talent-wide proposition.  Especially given our research tells us 93% of male millennials said work-life balance was important to them", advises Flood.

Flood also emphasizes the importance of a sponsorship culture. “Asking leaders in your organisation to identify top female talent at the right time in their career and sponsor them will also be critical.  Sponsorship goes beyond mentoring, a sponsor does more than provide career advice or show their sponsee how things are done.  A sponsor is a powerful backer who recognizes talented individuals and pushes them to achieve their full potential.  They advocate for their sponsee when they are not in the room, they create opportunities for them that they would not be able to achieve on their own; be that nominating them to lead a big strategic project, introducing them to a leader they would not get exposure to on their own, inviting them to a critical business event, or putting them forward for a leadership position. Creating this form of advocacy will be critical to the development and retention of talented female millennials.”

Engaging the Female Millennial

Given the unique motivations of the female millennial, how can companies best engage them to ensure they attract and retain key talent and elicit the best from this rising cohort?

Leadership and millennial expert, Dr. Mary Collins who is Senior Executive Development Expert at the Royal College of Surgeons Institute of Leadership weighs in with some expert advice on how to inspire millennial employees.

“I carried out my Doctoral Research on the millennial employee and I was fascinated to see that while this cohort scored high on pure challenge, they were scoring equally high on work-life balance, which are uncomfortable bedfellows. I interviewed over 500 millennials from engineers to accountants and lawyers and I developed a framework on how best to engage them and create the right work environment for millennials to flourish”, recounts Collins.

Highlights from Collin’s Framework include:

Meaning and Purpose

They are looking for meaning and impact in their work and to be engaged by work they are passionate about. They want to give back so Corporate Social Responsibility is a big factor for them. In order to entice them into the pharma world, it’s important to spell out how they will be making a difference in the lives of patients and market that to them early on".

“Millennials want their work to have a purpose, to contribute something to the world, as they are extremely socially conscious. They are looking for meaning and impact in their work and to be engaged by work they are passionate about. They want to give back so Corporate Social Responsibility is a big factor for them. In order to entice them into the pharma world, it’s important to spell out how they will be making a difference in the lives of patients and market that to them early on. Programs such as Pfizer’s Global Health Fellows Program (that places Pfizer colleagues and teams in short term volunteer assignments with leading international development organizations in key emerging markets) is an example of an initiative that allows millennials to give back”, says Collins.

Opportunity & Challenge

“Female millennials are hungry for challenge and embrace opportunities to travel as well as take on stretching assignments. Mentoring is another key strategy to afford opportunity and challenge to ambitious female millennials.   Interestingly, baby boomers are the preferred mentors as their wisdom and experience is valued by millennials.  Also, many of their parents are in this category and typically they have strong friendships with their parents.  Mentoring is a low-cost, high-impact development initiatives for organizations to roll out but it is critical that such initiatives are properly supported by the organization with appropriate training.  David Clutterbuck, international mentoring guru recommends the ‘chess move’ for the ideal mentoring pairing, the mentor should be a level above and in a functional area ‘across’ from the mentee".

Timely, Honest Communication

“Female millennials are feedback junkies, they are looking to expand and grow and want continuous feedback on their progression. Despite being the tech generation, they value face-to-face feedback and interaction. Feedback early and often is key and future forward, meaning couching feedback in terms of how they can improve going forward as opposed to criticising past performance”.

Interest in Personal Career Path

“Taking an interest in the employee’s personal career path is vitally important to maintain their motivation and performance levels.  It is about creating an environment where they feel ‘someone is looking out for me’. Development programs leave a strong impact on millennials, as they play into the notion of meaning and significance. Millennials are likely to take development-oriented assessment programs seriously, since they view such programs as opportunities for growth and future considerations. According to a 2012 survey by staffing agency Adecco, 68% of recent graduates identified good opportunities for growth and development as one of their top professional priorities”.

Values & Vision

“A company’s employer brand is very important to attracting millennials and the values of the company need to be closely aligned to the employee’s own personal values". According to Taylor & LaBarre (2006) in their book Mavericks at Work, companies should use values to help define a corporate purpose because 'high minded values can drive cutting edge corporate performance'. They went on to say that 'Great companies are built on genuine passion, plus a day to day commitment to great execution. Employees won't feel the passion, and can't maintain the operating discipline, unless they feel good about what the company sells and the values that it stands for'.

Attentive Management

“Remember, this is a generation that experienced helicopter parenting and they are used to high levels of involvement and engagement from their parents which feeds into their expectations at work. They want to be listened to, they want to be heard and having input is increasingly important to this cohort. They really appreciate the ‘personal touch’, a manager taking a genuine interest in them, in terms of their ambitions, values and in essence tapping into their value systems and understanding what is most important to them in life generally and in the workplace.  Managers who are success at this in my view will generate high loyalty and trust with their staff. Consider ‘personalised motivation’, a ‘method of profiling employees to determine how each individual prefers to be managed’.  This approach can enable employees to give managers information on the best ways to motivate them and therefore maximize their potential. Performance reviews every three months instead of annual reviews may prove to be a good motivational force and aim for frequent communication and interaction between the employee and manager will ensure candid communication and in turn generate feelings of security and appreciation”.

Terms & Conditions

“Money matters to millennials but not to the same degree as their Boomer counterparts. They understand there are tradeoffs and they will forego financial gain for meaningful work where they can make a difference or flexibility. The research shows that even though compensation is important, to retain top talent, employers need to pay more attention to issues such as job quality, flexibility, and individual differences (Lockwood 2007).  Money does remain a universal motivator but learning opportunities, personal growth, work variation, autonomy at work and intellectual stimulation must feature highly in the strategy to retain this workforce”.

Energy Management

“Millennials want to work with the ebb and flow of their energy levels, in HR circles it’s called “blending”, so at work they want access to social networks and at home they will check work emails at the same time as personal emails. If they want to log on at midnight and work until three in the morning, they see this as perfectly OK and they value flexibility in terms of time off. Concessions such as remote working are highly valued by them, not necessarily all the time, but once a week can be sufficient”.

Female millennials in Collins’s research reported that in the main, they were planning for the future and a core consideration was to work with an organization that was ‘family friendly’ i.e. good maternity benefits and the opportunity to work flexibly if required in the future.  In this regard, strong female role models are important  to attract and retain millennial talent.

Millennials are certainly a different generation from those past, sculpted by greater access to education, a nurturing parental environment and rapidly improving technology. For companies looking to attract female millennials, they need to ensure their employer value proposition fits in with the needs and values of this rising proportion of the talent pool. Attracting them early, retaining them by meeting their mobility, flexibility and continuous feedback demands and communicating an employee value proposition that appeals to their desire for collaboration, contribution and global altruism are key if employers wish to vie successfully for their attention.

Corporate social responsibility isn’t just talk for Gen Ys. They are seeking a tangible opportunity to make a difference through the workplace. Female millennials have great expectations – they want to work for organizations they believe in. A job is not just a job and they are willing to prioritize meaningful work over pay. By focusing on making a positive difference in the lives of others, rather than on more materialistic markers of success, they are setting themselves up for the meaningful life they yearn to have. Sounds like they are truly aiming to "have it all".


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