Flexibility is the New Leadership


Author: Maggie Walsh

It goes without saying that the career landscape for women has changed substantially from the generation of working baby boomers to working millennials. Our moms, and the women before them had to fight to crack that corporate glass ceiling with fewer options than we have, while battling even more societal restraints. By contrast, modern millennial women were more likely to have grown up with a working mom, have had a female hero or mentor, and were probably told repeatedly that they can do “anything they put their mind to.”

Millennial women are looking for careers that promote the elusive work-life balance. A study of 7,700 millennials commissioned by Deloitte found that “women place greater emphasis on flexible working opportunities and the ability to derive a sense of meaning from their work.” Being in the millennial category myself, I can attest that I and most of my friends and family, would gladly accept a flex schedule option, work-from-home-Fridays, or any non-traditional scheduling perk, over almost any reasonable monetary incentive an employer could offer.

Flexibility (of schedule, of location, of responsibilities) from an employer is worth more to us than the corner office, outstanding benefits or the extra cash on payday. Millennial women see our careers more as a means to enjoy our lives rather than the whole of our identity and worth.

What’s more, the women whose careers we admire aren’t necessarily the ones who land the CEO position of a Fortune 500 company (although women like Marissa Mayer kick ass). We envy the travel blogger who is able to make ends meet while living a full and interesting life; we look up to the consultants and freelancers who can schedule their work projects around important family events and long weekends; and we aspire to work in companies that allow us to dictate our time and invest our energy into projects we love outside of work.

Flexible careers, free from the restraints of the clock and the cubicle, are more realistic and more appealing than ever. Technology has changed literally everything about the working world - creating jobs that didn’t previously exist, increasing efficiency - thereby decreasing time invested, and not to mention establishing an environment where artistic efforts can be monetized with things like graphic design or an Etsy business. Modern life has proven that ‘Instagram influencer’ is an actual (lucrative) career, that it is possible to work from wherever there is Wi-Fi, and that you can cobble together a decent living by working in an office part-time and freelancing on the side.

Which is not to say that millennials are vapid plastics whose only dream is to become a Flat Tummy Tea peddler on Instagram (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). I think leadership means something different and manifests in different ways for our generation. Leadership is giving yourself a voice on social media, participating in important movements, marching with other women, or simply creating work and developing a life for ourselves in which ownership of our time and effort is in our own hands. We can do that by cultivating a career that leaves space for leadership in other ways, in other parts of our lives other than in the confines of the office.

Millennial women are just as ambitious as the generations before us, resulting in 40% of American households having the woman as the primary breadwinner, according to Pew Center analysis of U.S. Census data. And to date, 390 women are planning to run for the House of Representatives – a number that is higher than any previous time in history*. Millennial women are as invested in achievement and being #girlbosses (do we still say that?) as we ever were. But instead of being focused on climbing the corporate ladder, we’re working to do it on our own terms.