We’re teaching the wrong things about leadership to young women: ‘Being a leader everywhere is not sustainable,’ says an expert on millennials

May 16, 2023

“We’re putting too much pressure on aspirational Gen Z and millennial leaders…” Layla Zaidane, CEO and President of Millennial Action Project…

We’re teaching the wrong things about leadership to young women: ‘Being a leader everywhere is not sustainable,’ says an expert on millennials


“We’re putting too much pressure on aspiring Gen Z and millennial leaders.”

That’s according to Kristen Soltis Anderson, founding partner of research institute Echelon Insights and author of The Selfie Vote: Where Millennials Are Leading America. Anderson spoke on a panel hosted by the Walton Family Foundation at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women: Next Gen conference in San Diego on Tuesday.

Alongside panelists Shannon-Janean Currie, vice president of Benenson Strategy Group, and Layla Zaidane, President and CEO of the Millennial Action Project, Anderson unpacked and redefined the common narrative women across industries face to do it all.

“The message we send to young women is that it’s great to be a leader, but leadership is hard,” Anderson said. “It’s a burden, and it requires a lot of work and support.”

While some might suggest that there’s never been a better time to be a woman leader breaking glass ceilings, “we know women are facing incredible challenges,” Anderson added.

According to research from Benenson Strategy Group and Echelon Insights, which Anderson and Currie presented, 81% of women feel that childcare and domestic responsibilities fall primarily to them. Naturally, this curtails their ability to climb the corporate ladder. But they are not too worried. Only one in six female respondents in the study said they felt women were at a “great disadvantage” to men and would never take on leadership roles.

In any case, women across generations agreed that the biggest thing holding them back from career success is gender bias and discrimination.

“The next generation of women in leadership needs a strong support system,” Curry said. “Gen Zers, Millennials far more than Gen Xers and Boomers feel that there is no community in their companies.” The research found that nearly a third of Gen Z women feel unsupported by their peers. These are ominous signs; As Curry pointed out, the higher you rise in your career, the more female peers you lose — you’ll generally find fewer women at the top.

She said that women cannot rely on the current systemic hierarchy to think in an inclusive and equal way, therefore it is up to women to actively make women empowerment a part of their mission. As women leaders, “we need to be conscious of trying to create that space,” she said. “It is important, when you do not have those colleagues at the table, that you make seats for them and thus you will have colleagues.”

This is especially important given that the line between work life and personal life is so blurred among young women, said Anderson, founder of Echelon Partners.

“To be a company that truly allows for flexibility and work-life balance, you need to understand that women are not able to leave their entire home lives at home,” she said. “Young women aren’t breaking things down as much, so you need to give them the flexibility to be who they are.”

This is especially true for working moms, says Anderson, who has a ten-month-old baby. That’s why she always tries to model good work-life balance at Sopanak, even in small ways, like leaving firmly at 5 p.m. every day. “As a small business owner, I was the first person to have a child while working at my company, so I had to set up a maternity leave policy of which I would be the first beneficiary,” she said.

She has also proudly shifted her mindset on perfectionism to set an example.

“I’ve accepted that I’m not going to be A-plus in everything, all the time,” she said. “I’ve had to realize that maybe I’m type A-minus, and that’s okay. It’s okay not to be an A-plus in everything all the time.”

Read the story on Fortune —>

Rep. Sara Jacobs


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