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Three Reasons Why Women Don’t Want To Be the Boss

by Alissa Henry on July 17, 2013

woman bossIf you’re a young woman, chances are “becoming CEO of [insert Fortune 500 company]” is not on your list of things to do.

At least that’s what the latest study from PR firm Zeno Group reports. Specifically, they found that a measly 15 percent of women between ages 21 and 33 would want to be the number one leader of a large or prominent organization. The other 85 percent aren’t interested.

When reporting these findings, Business Week Daily quoted Barby Siegel, CEO of Zeno Group, saying the data shows that companies must get smarter and more creative in the recruiting and retention of top Millennial talent.

“We need to think about doing things differently when helping Millennial women develop their careers and weigh the sacrifices that may or may not be required. We do not want to risk losing this talented generation of professionals.”

I agree with Siegel that companies may want to rethink their approach to young women. However, before we start ringing the alarm and panicking that women don’t want top jobs anymore, we should first understand why these positions may not be in high demand.

Women and Career: Do We Limit Ourselves?

Too many young women aren’t in a position to think that big when it comes to being the boss.

The watchdog group Generation Opportunity found that the unemployment rate for this group is more than 11%. And according to a recent poll from Reuters, nearly 40% of recent college graduates are underemployed–working in jobs that are neither in their field nor require a college degree.

Is it possible that the participants in this study are women who are simply managing their expectations? It’s hard enough to get a foot in the door at a major company in an entry-level position, much less make any real plans to run that business one day. It’s probable that these women are acutely aware that only a select few will end up becoming the CEO one day no matter what their aspirations are, so they’ve already begun seeking out alternatives professionally.

Work-Life Balance: Which is more important?

Some women believe life is far more important than work.

Famous high-level execs, Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg have made incredibly impressive strides in their respective careers, but going to work two short weeks after giving birth seems painful and making headlines for merely leaving work at 5:30pm is sad. Young women are delaying childbirth and marriage like never before, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they want to marry their job in the meantime. Nothing says work/life imbalance like building a nursery in your office.

The reality is, as young women know, you can commit your life to a company, work 80+ hours a week, compromise your health, abandon your marriage, forgo motherhood, and still be viewed as utterly dispensable to your employer. It just doesn’t seem worth it. As Jezebel writer Erin Gloria Ryan explains, [Millennial women] have witnessed generations of women who futilely aspired to “have it all” and ended up “having it up to here.”

Do You Even Want To Be the Boss?

Some women have no interest in heading a large company that isn’t their own.

Young women included in this study came of age in an era where Oprah was a self-made billionaire who regularly launched others’ careers and started her own television network. Sarah Blakely created the one-product wonder (that we now know as Spanx) and sold it out of her apartment. Jeni Britton Baeur quit art school to found one of the most popular ice cream shops in the country, Jeni’s Ice Cream. Youtube bloggers are routinely making thousands of dollars a month giving online tutorials about makeup and hair products. With success stories like those, young women know they can get to the “top” of their own field through entrepreneurship–and even if they never make millions, at least they can love what they do and manage how they spend their time.

Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that the “top job” can be defined in a myriad of ways beyond the label of “high-level executive.” Just because millions of women aren’t clawing their way up the same narrow ladder in pursuit of that evasive corner office doesn’t mean they won’t have successful careers. Times are certainly changing and young women know they can flourish, make great money and have satisfying careers with or without “executive” in their title.

What do you think? Are you surprised about the statistics? Do you aspire to the top leadership position at your job?

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