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Generation Y

The New Workforce: Young, Rich And Female

Picture a picnic blanket, laid out beautifully on the green grass set with a wooden picnic basket and plates, napkins, and delicious food on display.

Picture a picnic blanket, laid out beautifully on the green grass set with a wooden picnic basket and plates, napkins, and delicious food on display.

Now picture someone coming up to your glorious picnic and yanking the blanket out from underneath it all. You stand there, watching everything come crashing down in complete disarray.

Well folks, that’s exactly what’s happening to the workforce.

First it was a demographic shift. About 10 years ago, younger generations with very different values and approaches to work started to influence –and change– the way we work and do business.

By 2015, we will observe the largest turnover in human capital in history and Generation Y (currently ages 17-30) will outnumber the Baby Boomers in the workforce. This is a substantial change in and of itself considering the Boomer generation has been in power for more than 40 years.

But now another wave of change is occurring. For the first time in history, women now fill the majority of jobs in the U.S. and in many instances, they are out-earning their male counterparts.

In other words, not only is the workforce getting younger — it’s becoming more female.

There goes that picnic basket!

At XYZ University, our specialty is teaching organizations how to engage Generations X, Y, and Z. And right now you can’t really talk about generations without also talking about gender.

Throughout most of the history of the world, men have done the work that generated the family income while women did the work of having children, raising the family, and creating community. Older men held the power, and younger men were trained to follow in their footsteps.

This model lasted so long because it worked: One could make plans for their life with confidence that things would stay pretty much the same.  Everyone in society had a role to play.

But today, by most indicators, that model is now finished.

The media is buzzing over the gender shift, which has been a remarkable shift even in comparison to 10 years ago. 

  • BusinessWeek  reported on the househusbands to the rich and famous female CEOs.
  • The Washington Post reported on women making more money than their “recliner-king” husbands.
  • The Atlantic reported on the gender shift under the controversial title, The End of Men.
  • The Economist reported that girls and women are a better investment for the economy because they are better equipped for the new jobs of the 21st century, where brains will count more than brawn.
  • Time Magazine‘s cover story, The Richer Sex, revealed that the majority of working wives will out-earn their husbands in the next generation.

Some game-changing statistics shared in these articles:

  • Women now fill a majority of jobs in the U.S., including 51.4 percent of managerial and professional positions;
  • Women 30 and under make 8% more money, on average, than their male counterparts in all but three of the largest cities in the U.S.;
  • Young women (ages 18-34) value a high-paying career more than young men;
  • 23 percent of wives now out-earn their husbands;
  • During the recent recession, three men lost their jobs for every woman;
  • For every two men who will receive bachelor’s degrees this year, three women will do the same;
  • 60% of all Masters degrees are going to women;
  • Homes are now purchased twice as often by women than men.

No organization or industry is exempt from these demographic or gender-shifting trends. Regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman, a Baby Boomer or Gen Y, they will impact everyone from now on.

It’s fascinating, really. We are witnessing more socio-economic change than at any time in modern history.  However you see or experience the world, be prepared for a massive re-think.

Be prepared to start your picnic over.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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