Are Gen Y women different?

October 3, 2007, 10:21 PM UTC

It’s my birthday today (officially a grown-up at 27!), so I’ll be heading out on a little vacation. Look for The Gig to return October 16, and look forward to hearing all your thoughts on the summit and Yer women…


Much is made of Gen Yers’ gender-blindness, our unwillingness or inability to see and conform to gender stereotypes. And yet it’d be naive to say that Gen Y women are exactly the same as their male counterparts or as previous generations of women, so yesterday, exploring some of those differences became the focus of the Gen Y panel at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit here in Dana Point, Calif.

Gen Y women surprised Deborah Korb Maizner, who heads graduate marketing for JPMorgan, in their response to an ad campaign that played on the idea that investment banking was a career for men only. For older women, the ad’s acknowledgement of the unique challenges women can face in banking and its clever presentation — highlighting the word “men” in investment — and made it a hit. For Gen Y women, though, it was just the opposite. “They were insulted,”  Maizner told the audience, pointing out that many of these young women have never been told they couldn’t do anything.

And so perhaps the girl power approach mightn’t be ideal for companies trying to recruit Yer women. Not because those young women don’t value their girl power, but because they don’t think their gender should be of any consequence when it comes to choosing a career.

In her work as a professor of management at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, fellow panelist Catherine Tinsley says she’s been struck not just by Gen Yers’ apparent sophistication, but by the fact that, upon closer inspection, it all falls apart. “There’s still a vulnerability,” she says, and any prodding reveals it quickly. Which is precisely where mentoring comes in. Katie Connolly, an associate attorney at Halleland Lewis Nilan & Johnson (whom you may remember as one of the Yer profiles in our Gen Y story), stressed the need for feedback. And not just validation, but all constructive criticism. While this isn’t unique to young women, it does speak to the immense need for strong networks. Traditionally, not only are women’s networks more sparse, they don’t necessarily focus on building relationships with men. And since men are often in positions of power — not to mention a significant portion of most staffs — having them as mentors can only help women to succeed.

There’s only so much four women can fit into a 20-minute panel (no matter how fast we talked!), and the conversation about Yer women is only just beginning. Will we struggle with trying to do it all? Probably. Will we approach it the same way our mothers did? Almost certainly not. And studying the way it all goes down may turn out to be something of a researcher’s dream. They’re questions that’re dear to Tamara Erickson, the Workforce Crisis co-author who talked to us about Xer bosses last week. Erickson couldn’t make it out to the summit, but she’ll have a chance to add to the discussion in the coming months as the Concours Institute launches a new research project, “Solving the Workforce Crisis — Innovative Strategies for Recruiting and Retaining Talented Women.” Erickson has a few ideas of what they’ll find, especially when it comes to Yer women and some of the network issues we’ve already brought up, but for now, we’ll have to wait till the data’s in.

And in the meantime, I’d bet there’s a lot you guys — both men and women — could tell us about what it’s like for Yer women entering the workforce and navigating their careers. Do some of the gender issues of past generations persist in subtler forms, or are we really going to be the gender-blind generation?