We put a lot of pressure on aspiring Gen Z and millennial leaders.
That’s according to Kristen Soltis Anderson, the founding partner of the research institute Echelon Insights and author of The Selfie Vote: Where Millennials Are Leading America. Anderson spoke at a panel moderated by the Walton Family Foundation at luckThe Most Powerful Women: Next Gen conference in San Diego on Tuesday.
Along with panelists Shannon-Janean Currie, vice president of the Benenson Strategy Group, and Layla Zaidane, President and CEO of the Millennial Action Project, Anderson unpacks and redefines common narratives of women in industries. who face to do everything.
“The message we’re sending 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 may suggest there’s never been a better time to be a female leader breaking through glass ceilings, “we know women face incredible challenges,” added Anderson.
According to research from Benenson Strategy Group and Echelon Insights, presented by Anderson and Currie, 81% of women feel that childcare and household responsibilities come first. Naturally, that slows down their abilities to climb the corporate ladder. But they weren’t too worried. Only one in six female respondents to the study said they thought women were at a “great disadvantage” to men and would never rise to leadership roles.
In any case, women for generations have 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 stronger support system,” Currie said. “Gen Zers, more than millennials, Gen Xers, and boomers feel they have no community in their companies.” Research has found that nearly a third of Gen Z women feel unsupported by their peers. These are bad signs; as Currie points out, the higher you climb in your career, the more female peers you lose—you generally find fewer women at the top.
Women cannot trust the current systemic hierarchy to think in that inclusive and equitable way, she said, so it is up to women to actively make women’s empowerment part of their mission. As women leaders, “we have to be conscious of trying to create that space,” she added. “It is important, when you do not have companions at the table, that you make chairs for them and thus you have companions.”
This is especially important when considering the line between work life and personal life very blurry among young women, said Anderson, the founder of Echelon Partners.
“To be a company that allows flexibility and work-life balance, you have to understand that women don’t have to leave their entire lives at home,” she said. “Young women don’t compartmentalize things so much, so you have to give them the flexibility to be who they are.”
This is especially true for working mothers, Anderson, who has a ten-month-old baby. That’s why he always tries to model a good work-life balance at Echelon, even in small ways, like firmly leaving at 5 pm every day. “As a small business owner, I was the first person in my company to have a child while working, so I had to create a maternity leave policy with me as the first beneficiary,” he said.
He also proudly shifted his mindset of perfectionism to lead by example.
“I accept that I’m not going to be A-plus at everything, all the time,” he said. “I had to realize that maybe I’m type A-minus, and that’s okay. It’s okay not to get A-plus in everything all the time.