What Gen Y Women Want: Autonomy and Self-Direction

News Updates

Generation Y women (born 1978-1994) are concerned about the impact that family and child care decisions will have on their long-term careers, according to a report by the Business and Professional Women's (BPW) Foundation, Gen Y Women in the Workplace.

“In order for businesses to engage successfully with the workforce of tomorrow, it is imperative that they understand Gen Y—what challenges them, what inspires them, what motivates them,” said Deborah L. Frett, BPW Foundation CEO.

"Generation Y women want to be evaluated based on their productivity and the quality of the work they produce, not the number of hours they sit at their desks," she added.

According to focus groups conducted for the report by the BPW Foundation, the most important employer characteristics Generation Y women seek when looking for a job are:

  1. Opportunity for employees to self-manage.
  2. Emphasis on meeting goals, as opposed to how, when or where people do the work.
  3. Availability of and focus on career advancement opportunities.

Generation Y women perceived disconnects between rhetoric about being a results-oriented company and corporate practices, according to the report. For example, they said that at their workplaces:

  • Employees judge each other based on the number of hours worked and not results produced. Those who leave work at 5 p.m. risk being labeled as “slackers.”
  • Employees at the top have more freedom than employees at the bottom.

Not Just 'Flex Time'

Generation Y women who participated in the focus groups were uncertain whether or not their employers provide an enabling environment for working mothers. Some women reported that the lack of on-site day care options would make it difficult to continue full-time employment. Others want to know whether or not job-sharing and part-time options will be available to them.

Participants who expressed the least amount of concern worked for employers that provided on-site day care, on-site medical services and flexible work arrangements.

However, Generation Y women aren’t looking just for a corporate program with an on-site day care, casual Fridays and telecommuting options—all of which are welcome. Participants expressed a desire for autonomy, not just “flex time.” What they want is greater control and the freedom and tools to be self-directed.

"The problem with 'flex time' programs is that managers have the control," the report stated. "Managers can choose to dole out flexibility to workers they deem deserving or not at all."


Focus group participants recommended a multipronged approach to address flexibility issues at the corporate, management and individual levels:

  • Organizational level: Examine and adjust the prevailing mind-set of inputs (hours worked) over outputs (results produced). An environment that rewards a person’s presence is not conducive for encouraging people to apply tools (e.g., working remotely) that might improve their performance.
  • Management level: Managers need to be coached in and held accountable for the ways in which their practices enable or limit the effectiveness of their direct reports.
  • Individual level: Each individual should be encouraged to identify where and when they work best.

Once a woman identifies her best work style, she might need tools in order to adopt that work style. For example, several Generation Y women reported wanting to work from home occasionally but said they lacked the necessary tools (e.g., a laptop). However, work style is highly individualistic, and not all Generation Y women want to integrate work and life fully. "Work styles should be explored, not assumed," the report advised.