Erika Diaz once waited for managers to tap her for career opportunities and pay raises. But in just the past three years, the 34-year-old vice president of accounts management has become her own best advocate, asking for salary bumps, work-life balance, and promotions—and she has gotten what she wanted. “I learned to be my own advocate,” she says.
Her story is emblematic of a generational shift happening in the workforce, where women are advocating, negotiating, and asking for more from work. While the more experienced women of the Gen X and baby boomer demographics may have been more timid, this younger crop of female workers doesn’t sit back and wait for its turn.
Millennial (born between 1981 and 1996) and Generation Z (1997 to 2012) workers are far more likely to ask for—and expect—pay raises and cost-of-living increases amid raging inflation, according to a global survey by HR firm Randstad. More than half of Gen Z and millennials expect governments or employers to help them manage the cost-of-living crisis. And they’re getting what they ask for: Two-thirds of Gen Z workers have received or expect to receive additional assistance from their employer, compared to only a quarter of baby boomers.
That generational divide underscores a power shift for younger women at work. “Women under 30 are more ambitious than ever and raising the bar on their expectations from their employer,” says McKinsey’s senior partner Alexis Krivkovich, who authored McKinsey’s 2022 Women in the Workplace Study. At least 66% of them want to be senior executives, and more than half say their advancement has become more important to them since COVID-19, she says.
They’re also leaving their jobs in unprecedented numbers if they don’t get what they want, according to the study. Among those demands: opportunity, flexibility, diversity, equity, and inclusion, which top the list for young women and are increasingly becoming part of their evaluation equation. Three-quarters of women under 30 say flexibility is more important to them now, and 68% say their company’s commitment to well-being matters more than ever before.
Women now outnumber men in the college-educated labor force in the U.S., accounting for more than half (50.7%), according to a September analysis by Pew Research Center. They’re also outpacing men in college graduation and enrollment rates. However, women are also more likely to disengage from exhaustion: The burnout gap between women and men has almost doubled since the previous year. As a result, women are demanding more from work—or else they’re willing to walk away.
Mikaela Kiner has witnessed that assertiveness firsthand, as founder and CEO of Seattle HR consulting firm Reverb. Three-quarters of Reverb’s 76-person workforce is either female or nonbinary, and she says every single one of those employees negotiated when offered the job. “You present yourself as better informed and valuing yourself more when you negotiate,” Kiner says.
Young workers are far more likely to place a high priority on personal hobbies and friends, and if pushed too hard at work, they quit—a different mentality from Kiner’s Generation X. “When I was growing up, you didn’t say no or ‘I’m too busy.’ It was work, work, work. And we, as women, were also never told or taught to negotiate, and we weren’t informed of systemic gender inequities about pay.”
Life experience also plays a part in the changing mindset. Older workers went through the dot-com bust and the 2008 recession, while Generation Z only knows a workplace in which employees have the upper hand. As immigration has declined, and baby boomers retire at accelerating rates, employers are left with a severe labor shortage that is not likely to change anytime soon, says Ira Wolfe, a longtime HR consultant, author, and speaker on the future of work. Says Wolfe: “Gen Z doesn’t know anything different. They recognize they have the power.”
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