A leadership vacuum is brewing on the horizon as Baby Boomers retire, but Millennials forgo leadership roles. The “aspiration gap” as some call it, may be a generational shift in attitudes toward leadership.
According to a recent study from an HR group, only 11 percent of Millennials aspire to senior leadership positions at their companies. The reason young workers state is that “we don’t see the path up.” Only 15 percent feel the training they receive is preparing them for the next position.
Many young people are still moving into management roles in their companies. Eighty-five percent of millennial managers worldwide have moved into management in the past five years, according to a different study. In addition, 6 in 10 full-time Millennial employees worldwide are in jobs where they manage the work of others – almost the same share as the 65 percent of Generation X workers.
Why are Millennials not likely to make the jump from management to leadership? For one thing, this generation faces reduced opportunities. Experts point to companies focusing on recovery and growth and not offering ample opportunities for young workers. The survey found that all employees, particularly Millennials, want personalized career development programs enabled by technology.
Despite the lower level of opportunities available for them, many Millennials want personalized career development programs enabled by technology. In some instances they seem to believe that the job market should adjust to them rather than the other way around. They feel that companies that use generic, manual methods to track and evaluate performance and growth aren’t adjusting to their special needs or talents. It is great when companies do use innovative technology and the presence of Millennials can spur this. But Millennials should’t expect potential employers to pamper them quite as much as they sometimes do.
Millennials also view leadership differently. To us, leadership is not limited to a title based on a hierarchical approach but how in each role we are contributing to an organization, and how it helps the company. This can be positive for both the company and the employee.
Many young people are also not attracted to executive and leadership roles that consume their lives the way the C-suite does. A third of full-time workers say it has become more difficult to manage work-life balance over the past five years.
The effect of the Millennials is being felt in the hiring process for high-level jobs. Some 60 percent of HR executives polled said they struggled to find candidates to fill senior leadership positions.
Millennials "want to be able to work hard and have a life at the same time," said Karyn Twaronite, EY's global diversity and inclusiveness officer. "Flexibility really is a foundational item for them, not just a 'nice to have.'"
Millennials are coming into management and early parenthood with different experiences than other generations. Unlike baby boomers, many millennials finished college when the job market was bleak and were saddled with big student loans. They have also come of age at a time when women's rights in the workplace and elsewhere are better established. Some 78 percent of millennials and 73 percent of Gen X respondents in the EY survey said they had a spouse or partner working full time, compared with only 47 percent of boomers.
Certainly, both millennial men and women in the EY study indicated much more willingness than older generations to dial back on their careers to create work-life balance. Some 65 percent of millennials said they or their spouse would reduce work hours, compared with 49 percent of Gen X respondents and 32 percent of boomers. And 44 percent of millennials would take a pay cut to have flexibility, well above the 35 percent of Gen X and 31 percent of boomers who would take that step.
Perhaps one of the big takeaways here is that Millennials are making the choice that professional lives are not all there is. When Sheryl Sandberg’s best-selling book “Lean In” was published two years ago, it inspired women and touched off fierce debate about whether enough women are reaching for the C-suite. Perhaps more than in most previous generations, Millennials don’t look at achievement in professional terms and are likely to opt not to lean in.
Absent from much of that debate was choice. Too many feminists and big government advocates think government needs to step in and force us into the C-suite. They chase an ideal of parity whether in ratios of women to men or in wages but forget that tradeoffs can erode absolute parity.
This “aspiration gap” is here and we’ll see how the market adjusts to the next generation—and how this generation matures and adapts to the needs of the job market. Let’s just hope that government won’t distort the responses.