What Everyone Gets Wrong About Why Millennial Women Quit Their Jobs

March 16, 2016, 7:16 PM UTC
US Tax Day
Photograph by Stelios Kirtselis—flickr Editorial/Getty Images

Why are young women leaving the workplace? Why don’t they want to be CEOs? Why aren’t they voting for Hillary?

Given the mountains of research on millennial women that have been released recently, you’d think there was something deeply mysterious about the way they think.

Take the first question: Why are young women ditching their jobs at higher rates than their male counterparts? One recent Fast Company piece on the subject asserts that female employees are simply more likely to become overwhelmed by the expectations of today’s uber-connected workplaces. As evidence, the story cites a 2015 University of Kansas study, which found that young female journalists burn out faster than their male colleagues.

It’s true that women leave the workforce at a more rapid pace than men do: Women hold 53% of entry-level jobs, 37% of mid-management roles, and 26% of senior management positions, according to a 2012 McKinsey study. This is what is commonly referred to as the “leaky pipeline.”

Yet to blame millennial women’s exit entirely on burnout is shortsighted, says Lauren Noël, the Director of Women’s Leadership Initiatives at the International Consortium for Executive Development Research (ICEDR). “I’m not convinced that it’s purely a women’s issue,” she says. And while it’s true that women tend to be more stressed than men, burnout is something that affects millennials overall—the most stressed out generation ever, according to the American Psychological Association.

Another common refrain is that women in their late twenties and early thirties drop out of the workforce to have kids. Indeed, a 2015 study by the ICEDR found that the prevailing belief among employers is that women of that age who leave their companies do so for family reasons. And yet only one in ten women leave the workplace to have children, according to 2014 study by the Harvard Business Review.

So if it’s not burnout or giving birth, what is it that’s driving millennial women out?

The same things that would drive any individual—male or female—to leave a company: Feeling underpaid, unmotivated, or disconnected. The ICEDR study found that the top reason women around age 30 left their firms was that they found a job that paid more, pure and simple. The other top two reasons were lack of development opportunities and a lack of meaningful work.

The kicker: Millennial men leave their jobs for the same exact reasons.

“There’s a lot more common ground” between why millennial men and women leave their jobs than employers think, says Noël. “It’s time to stop treating women as so starkly different.”

“Companies need to view women as full people,” she says. That means investing in them the same way they do in male employees: By providing them with opportunities to learn and grow, and to give their work meaning.

One surefire way to get millennial women to leave your firm is to assume that they will.

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