A survey has found that Generation Y women in New Zealand are less satisfied at work than their male counterparts.
The survey by talent management consulting firm Right Management also found that only 40 per cent of young Kiwi women feel they can reach their long-term career goals.
Right Management polled 277 New Zealand women under 30 in a range of industries and found that just 59 per cent were satisfied with their job, compared with 68 per cent of men
Principal consultant Kari Scrimshaw says ignoring the long-term career goals of young women comes at a cost and that the satisfaction gap is a wake-up call for employers as the country begins to climb out of recession. "To grow our economy we'll need to leverage as much of our skilled workforce as possible.
"Unfortunately, these results show we could be losing a significant pool of future talent. Currently, just four in 10 Gen Y females feel they can reach their long-term career goals at work.
That's 60 per cent who aren't nearly as engaged in their work as they could be."
Scrimshaw says the only way the satisfaction gap will close is for organisations to rethink how they attract and retain Gen Y females. "This is a generation with new values and priorities.
"Many of them grew up watching their mothers struggle for equality at work and are rejecting the stress and compromises they had to face. They're after a better balance between work and other commitments. Their career goals are likely to include the flexibility to take time off and work non-traditional hours, as well as the option of moving up the corporate ladder."
Employers should discuss with younger women employees their career expectations and be more open to flexible hiring practices such as job sharing, says Scrimshaw. "In a rebounding economy we want as many skilled people as possible in employment.
"Employers should be asking themselves if one fulltime worker is really more effective than two people who are happy sharing the role."
Despite the satisfaction gap, some major organisations that are helping to buck the trend. Scrimshaw says Coca-Cola Amatil (NZ) stands out as a employer that encourages all employees, including young women, to adopt a career mindset.
"They are constantly talking to their workforce about flexible work arrangements, and sending a clear message that it's possible for them to remain with the organisation long-term as well as balancing their life commitments," she says. "Coca-Cola Amatil is a great example of how simple it can be to make all employees, including Gen Y females, feel they have a long-term future with an organisation."
Coca-Cola Amatil general manager of human resources Martin King says the company is a signatory to the United Nations' women's empowerment principles. A key principle is setting and publishing its gender diversity targets. "This has set a clear agenda and message that attracting, developing, and retaining female talent is a top priority for senior leadership," King says.
The company's "women in transition" programme includes paid parental leave, paid parenting classes, pay reviews while on parental leave, medical insurance paid for while on leave, transition coaching for senior women, and flexible work arrangements on return to work.
Information packs, available for managers and employees before and during leave and on return have also helped with transparency on what is available. "It's about making it easy, taking away the hassle and sending a clear message that we want them to stay and that they are still employees while on leave," says King.
Scrimshaw says New Zealand employers in general will need to become a lot more innovative in how they foster and develop Gen Y women over the next few years. "We can debate the cost of paid parental leave all we like, but we should not forget that ignoring the long-term career goals of young Kiwi women could cost the country dearly."
One Gen Y women, 29-year-old Rebecca, who works for a bank, says women her age think differently about careers than those from previous generations. "In my mum's time a lot of women settled for lower-level work, stayed home until their kids were older and in effect put their careers on hold. I think younger women today are after a better balance. I want the option to raise a family, but I also plan to travel, get international work experience and progress up the career ladder. If you work for an organisation that recognises this you are more likely to be engaged and satisfied with what you're doing."
Rebecca says her workplace encourages women to discuss long-term options and supports flexible and non-traditional working arrangements.
"We have a networking group where women in leadership positions share their experiences and give advice to female employees. Some work full time, but others work from home, job-share or do part-time work while holding senior and leadership roles.
"It's reassuring to hear their stories and it makes me feel like I have good future opportunities here."
Rebecca says that without the flexibility and support extended to her at work it would be harder to imagine a long-term career in the organisation. "I have friends in more conservative workplaces who still feel as if they need to choose between a career and a family. They assume once they leave they'll miss out on opportunities and promotions in years to come. By contrast I'm not afraid of losing my career. My work is flexible enough to realise I can make a long-term contribution without sacrificing my other commitments and priorities."