The Three Keys to Retaining Millennial Women...and Men

Millennials are now the largest percentage of your workforce. 

In fact, in 2020, the oldest millennials are now turning 40. These are no longer “kids,” but the people sitting at the doorstep of Middle Management and Senior Leadership.

Is your company ready to retain and advance millennials?

The Three Keys to Retaining Millennial Women...and Men The 2019 McKinsey & Company Women in the Workplace study found that for every 100 men promoted or hired into their first management position, only 72 women are given the opportunity to take the same step. They estimate that closing that gap — a phenomenon called “the broken rung” on the career ladder — would add 1 million women to management over the next five years.

As a gender strategist who works with Fortune 200 organizations, I immediately thought about the effect the “broken rung” has had on the 52 million millennial women between the ages of 24-40 who are in the workforce. For insights, I spoke with Amanda Hammett, a generational strategist better known by her nickname, the Millennial Translator, to discuss the broken rung along with the retention and engagement of next-generation talent. Our conversation about workplace culture, gender equity and major shifts in workplace demographics led to an interview on Amanda’s Next Generation Rockstars podcast, a white paper on the Women + The Broken Rung and this article on retaining millennial women and men.

The “Broken Rung” isn’t the only thing your company needs to fix.

Amanda, I spend the majority of my time talking with senior business leaders and middle managers. As a Boomer myself, I understand your premise that the world has changed significantly since Boomers and Gen Xers grew up. Those different economic and political forces have shaped how millennials, and now Gen Z, see the world. In addition, these factors tend to create massive gaps in communication, values and skills. 

JTH: How do you help companies and leaders better understand next-generation talent, specifically millennials?

Amanda HammettAH: We must know and understand our audience to build bridges. For me, that means I need to get “buy-in” from executive leaders on the importance of understanding the next generation of talent. Then we can focus on building the bridges to address the gaps. To accomplish that, I speak to executive leaders in a language they understand — MONEY. I ask, what is NOT understanding and NOT building bridges to next-generation talent actually costing your bottom line? When they see those dollars missing, their perspectives immediately change from “this is a nice to have” to “this is a business imperative to ensure the long-term viability of our company.”

Once we have “buy-in,” we can look at the five major points where next-generation talent is making the decision to disengage and eventually leave their companies. Our data gathering allows us to isolate issues within the company and many times, those issues for our millennial and Gen Z women boil down to the broken rung. I have seen companies lose phenomenal women because their culture and perception of who will be successful leaders have not evolved. We live in a world where information is freely available. People in your industry know who the true rock stars are. If you aren’t willing to recognize these women, someone else will. It happens all the time!

Understanding these five major points creates a framework we call The Collision Course and is the focus of much of my work with corporate clients.

JTH: Millennials are often thought to be job hoppers. Could the “broken rung” be a contributing factor to why millennial women leave their first employers?

AH: I definitely think the “broken rung” is a contributing factor. Millennial and Gen Z women realize, more than the generations before them, that they have options. Lots and lots of options. Fortune 500s are no longer only competing with other Fortune 500s for top talent. They are now competing with start-ups, fast-growing Inc. 5000 companies and the gig economy.

JTH: Let’s dig into some of the myths about millennials in the workplace.

AH: I am not a fan of generational shaming, and I’m even more bothered when it’s based on incorrect information so I appreciate the opportunity to dispel some of the prevailing myths about millennials and replace them with facts about this often misunderstood generation.

Job hoppers. For instance, the idea that millennials are job hoppers, as we just mentioned, is one of the biggest myths out there. According to research done by the US Department of Labor, millennials actually did less job hopping than their Gen X colleagues at the same point in their careers. This dissemination of misinformation on job hopping helped create a bad reputation for millennials as a whole, which preceded them as individuals in the workplace.

Fickle. Millennials and Gen Z are always searching for ways to enhance their skill sets. Usually, around the 18-24 month mark, next-gen talent gets the “itch” where they feel they have mastered the skills needed for their roles and are looking to stretch and try something new. This doesn’t mean that they have to leave the role or position, however. Astute leaders can help them stretch and gain new skills while staying on the team.

Unwilling to wait their turn. Previous generations were concerned with climbing the corporate ladder and would wait until an opportunity came along. However, the dynamics have shifted now that Boomers are staying in the workforce longer than expected. Next-gen talent see their careers less as a strictly linear path and more as a “lily pad,” where they are more willing to make lateral moves to enhance certain skills or pick up new ones even if this means moving to another company. This strategy has been particularly helpful for millennial women to not only advance and take on new responsibilities but also to significantly increase their pay. This willingness to leave a company has made it difficult for many organizations to retain next-generation talent because they are not structured in a way that makes it possible to advance in this manner therefore, they lose their young talent to other organizations.

Hard to work with. I can’t tell you how many times I‘ve been approached by a Boomer or a Gen Xer who told me (usually in whispered tones) that they were shocked at how fantastic their millennial employees or colleagues turned out to be. These biases were based solely on information they had heard or read, but usually not on first-hand experience. In fact, I created my podcast, Next Generation Rockstars, to highlight these talented young employees. Each of the employees featured in the first season were nominated by a boss or a colleague who thought they were the type of employee a company would be devastated to lose. Interestingly, the vast majority — 93 out of 100 nominations — were women!

JTH: I have heard it said that millennial men are better at understanding and working with women. Do you find this to be the case? 

AH: We do see this to be a trend, but, obviously, not in every case. I attribute millennial men’s better understanding of women in the workplace to a few cultural shifts that happened in their childhoods. The first shift was a trend of more women entering the workforce, especially toward the middle and end of the Boomer generation. The second shift was the rise of single-parent households, which were and still are, predominantly headed up by moms. In both of these instances, millennial children had a front-row seat to their mothers’ frustrations and difficulties in the workplace. We saw our moms earn lower wages for the same jobs, which meant longer hours or needing multiple jobs to pay the bills. We also saw talented and ambitious women who watched their male counterparts pass them by, while they were blocked by the “glass ceiling.” Children are more intuitive than we realize, and even if their mothers never said a word, many millennial boys saw how hard their mothers were working. Now, as employees and leaders themselves, millennial men’s perspectives of women in the workplace are very different from those of the men of generations before them because they grew up in a very different world.

JTH: What are the secrets to retaining and engaging millennials at work?  

AH: I think there are three key secrets to retaining and engaging millennials:

  1. Agility. The worst thing you can say to a millennial is, “This is the way we’ve always done it.” We’re living in a world of corporate Darwinism, where those who adapt survive. Recognize that the outside world and culture have changed and strive to reflect those changes within current corporate cultures. This is not just about innovating new products and the buyer’s journey. This is about innovating our cultures and the employee’s journey, so that they can, in turn, innovate for your customers.
  2. Culture. Create a culture that is safe and supportive. Creating a sense of safety (physically, emotionally and mentally) is very important to millennials and Gen Z. This will be a major discussion among companies in the coming years, so start now. Get uncomfortable. Ask the questions that you may not really want to know the answer to. Listen and take action to reduce friction points.
  3. People. Focus resources on identifying and training frontline leaders to be people leaders and not managers (managers manage a process). When you have people leaders, your employees (of all ages) feel supported, empowered, more productive and will stay with your team/company longer.

JTH: Amanda, thank you again for sharing your insights on millennials.

We’ve heard it said time and time again, companies that thrive are those with progressive leadership that creates inclusive company cultures, which allow all employees to thrive and contribute to the bottom line. Today’s companies need leaders who are thinking boldly and broadly about both the marketplace and their organization.

Again, for a deeper dive into millennials and the broken rung, Amanda and I have co-authored a white paper on the topic. Additionally, I was recently a guest on Amanda’s Next Generation Rockstars podcast, and you can listen to our discussion about the business imperative to advance women and engage men in the process.

 

Jeffery Tobias Halter is president of YWomen, a strategic consulting company focused on engaging men in women’s leadership advancement. Founder of the Father of Daughter Initiative, creator of the Gender Conversation QuickStarters Newsletter and the Male Advocacy Profile, Jeffery is a former director of diversity strategy for The Coca-Cola Company and is the author of two books, WHY WOMEN, The Leadership Imperative to Advancing Women and Engaging Men and Selling to Men, Selling to Women.

 Amanda Hammett is the Co-Founder and CEO of Core Elevation, Inc., however, she is best known as “the Millennial Translator®” – a nickname she earned when she barnstormed North America delivering over 800 keynote speeches in 5 years to 1,000,000+ charged up Millennial and Gen Z’s ready to take on the business world. Amanda’s deep understanding and work in the trenches with Millennials and Gen Z’s led corporate executives and global leaders to pursue her as THE thought leader in helping them connect to the very audience they were struggling to understand and retain.