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OPINION

Millennial women as agents of change in the workplace

As younger women enter the workforce, they’re making demands for family-friendly culture that benefit everyone.

Young women have arrived in the workforce presuming their employers will be not merely sources of income, but also forces for social progress.
Young women have arrived in the workforce presuming their employers will be not merely sources of income, but also forces for social progress.dglimages - stock.adobe.com

Just as young people are making their voices heard on important issues of the day, such as climate change and gun safety, young women are also changing the culture of the workplace.

We see it every day. One of us is a baby boomer, the other a millennial, and we share our work life as business colleagues and as volunteers on the board of Boston’s Main Streets Foundation.

As adopted daughters of Boston, we have the zeal of converts. We are passionate about making our city a welcoming sanctuary for all, and that includes our workplaces, which are laboratories for testing our ideals of equity and justice.

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In 2016, millennials became the largest population in the labor force, and it is not a coincidence that, at the same time, the literature of the corporate culture became saturated with a new, favorite word: purpose.

Young women have arrived in the workforce presuming their employers will be not merely sources of income, but also forces for social progress. One result is that, in order to attract and retain the talent of those born in the 1980’s and 1990’s, companies today are increasingly expected to go beyond simply offering programs to match charitable gifts or to grant the occasional morning off for an employee to volunteer at a homeless shelter.

“Purpose-driven-companies” are run by employers also willing to take public stands on civic issues. For example, Rothy’s sells shoes. But core to its brand is its commitment to ethical business practices and its use of recycled materials to craft a colorful array of stylish flats. Rothy’s website runs a ticker on the number of plastic bottles diverted from landfills and features employees who take pride in their contribution to a more sustainable planet.

If purpose is now a password in the lexicon of the workplace, its twin sister is authenticity. Young women are unapologetic about the priority of family needs, and they are not too timid to speak about them in the workplace. Unlike women of past generations who feared that acknowledgement of their children or home life might mean marginalization in the workplace, today’s working women are free to openly celebrate the milestones of their children and partners.

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This change has happened not simply through the sheer force of will exerted by millennials. In many places, those women who were once sidelined are now sympathetic managers who are helping change workplace culture. As a result, companies that accommodate job-sharing and work-from-home options enjoy competitive advantages.

Emboldened, in part, by role models in the public sector, young Black and brown women are speaking more candidly in the business community, providing a refreshing openness about issues that involve gender identity, mental health, sexual safety, and family dynamics. Today’s workplace is altered by an insistence on the part of employees that companies foster policies acknowledging that caring for children and aging parents is a responsibility shared by men as well as women. In our company, these conversations led to the adoption of family leave policies that provide all employees, regardless of gender or family composition, with equal parental leave and access to benefits.

It is far too early to declare victory. But as millennial women transition from outspoken employees to senior managers and business leaders who wield power, watch out America. The rising tide of change could well be upon us.

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Geri Denterlein is founder and CEO of Denterlein, a strategic communications firm based in Boston. Jayda Leder-Luis is an account director at Denterlein.