Last week, our CEO wrote a compelling reaction to the 2003 New York Times Magazine article by Lisa Belkin. She notes that one commentary written by a successful professional in her early 30’s, who was beginning to think about starting a family, said that the Warner article “scared her to death.” As a single woman living and working in New York City, labeled a “millennial” by society, and coming up on the decision between family and career, I can certainly empathize with the feeling.
Opting-in and opting-out has become a mainstream thought in America. The decision to work or to focus on family has been a major issue since women left the home to join the workforce. Decades have been spent getting women on an equal playing field with men, career-wise and on the pay scale, and that push forward is not yet over.Yet while more and more women are similar to men in their desire to have it all at work, it is a bit more difficult when the potential role of mother mixes with that of a career woman.
Now comes the decision, what do we do? The choice to dedicate one’s full time to family or to continue working is not a decision to be made lightly. The time, attention, cost and strain on any couple when they first have a baby can be enormous. Added to this is that you have gone from two paychecks down to one, and you have to make do with more expenses and less income. The dream of having a family is now a lot more complicated with a lot more to consider.
Sounds pretty dreary, right? Well, let’s shift from the original discussion, started in the article in 2003, and flash forward to today. We are slowly, grinding-ly moving out of the greatest recession since the 1930’s. For those who recently went to college, expecting to graduate and join the workforce, those dreams were stunted in the face of the collapsing job market. We still haven’t pulled back out of this hiring slump. We now have a group of millennials known as the “lost generation.” Upon college graduation, the prospects for employment were dismal, and future earnings potential became severely stunted. Moving back in with mom and dad became the new norm, and underemployment became a common concern.
Now, this generation is slowing pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and making a life for themselves. Then, all of a sudden, the opt-out discussion is brought back into the national spotlight, full-force and there is another major decision to consider! As a young woman and business professional, I’m faced with the question of what do I do if I choose to opt-out of work in lieu of focusing on family?
What are millennials to do?
Millenialls will face the same decision, but with arguably very different circumstances and experiences influencing that decision. Ours will be pondered with a backdrop of knowledge that the financial industry can collapse, that there is no guarantee that a housing investment will provide security, and that there could be a prolonged period of sluggish job growth. Paradoxically I am wondering if that may have a positive impact on the gender gap in the next decade? If we are more cautious and do not feel comfortable opting-out then women will naturally rise to executive ranks in greater numbers. That would be good, but that alone will not be enough.
Business leaders still must address the issues of providing workers with options to move more easily through life changes. It may be that the confluence of the Millennial mindset around economic security and real actions finally taken by businesses to deal with the talent drain, ultimately is what will change the gender gap. If Millennial women are more risk averse and thus opt-in in large numbers, while businesses concurrently provide options we need – could that combination be the beginning of the end of the gender gap? What do you think Millennials?