Existing research portrays Gen Y as more open than the baby boomer generation to work-life balance and modern gender roles: stay-at-home-dads, flexible schedules, and at-home virtual teams. Research by the Families and Work Institute found that 50% of Gen Y place higher priority on family than work, 37% place the same priority on their work and family, and only 13% place higher priority on work than their family. According to a 2007 survey conducted by Robert Half International, nearly three-quarters (73%) of Gen Y professionals are worried about balancing a career with personal obligations. In addition, a 2011 survey completed by GfK Custom Research stated that more than 40% of young professionals are frequently stressed by a lack of work-life balance, the largest of all age groups surveyed.
Not surprisingly, Gen Y and Boomers also look differently at gender roles in the home. The Families and Work Institute Gender and Generation at Work study shows that only 37% of Gen Y-ers, versus 51% of Boomers, prefer traditional roles. Eighty-two percent of Gen Y employees, versus 60% of Boomers, agree that "a mother who works outside the home can have just as good a relationship with her children as a mother who is not employed."
And yet, surveying a group of Gen Y Harvard and MIT MBA candidates, I found that they hold more traditional attitudes about gender roles in the workplace than the rest of their Gen Y cohort. What's more, driving these traditional attitudes was a belief that career demands will limit their options for spending time with family in ten years. When family and work aspirations collide, the demands of career ambition — long hours and heavy workloads — may trump personal wishes
For my report "Busting Gen Y & Gender Myths — And Why Your Company Should Care," I surveyed both male and female first-year MBA candidates about their plans for managing family and work, posing hypothetical scenarios about family and work challenges, like dealing with sick children or dual career possibilities in different cities. The overall sample was half men and half women with an average age of 26.5 and an average work experience of four years. The random sample represented the distribution of job backgrounds among a typical MBA class: finance (40%), consulting (40%), and technology (20%). A total of 20 MBA students at Harvard Business School and MIT Sloan School of Management completed a 2-hour qualitative interview and quantitative survey. This work was sponsored by Professor Hannah Riley Bowles at Harvard's Center for Public Leadership and Professor Lotte Bailyn at MIT's Organization Studies Department. While this sample is small, my intention for this study was to compare, qualitatively, the work-life aspirations of Gen Y students in selective MBA programs with the mainstream views of Gen Y — which, as captured in earlier studies, are often more flexible than traditional Boomer attitudes regarding gender roles.
Here's what I found out.
1) At this point in their lives, work and life aspirations are high for MBA students, and there is little difference between men's and women's goals. When asked to describe their top two aspirations for the future, the two key categories that came up across the entire sample were marriage and starting a family, and running or leading a company. Women and men expected to work similar total years throughout their career, retiring in their 60s.
2) But differences popped up when we talked about the future. Women expect to have a greater amount of responsibility at home in 10 years, while men expect partners to give more on this front. As they enter the worlds of consulting, banking, and technology, the Gen Y-ers expect to work long hours in their thirties while building a family. While many voiced a personal desire to invest time in their families, most--and particularly the men--appeared to feel that career demands would limit their time spent with family.
3) Gen Y women are more prepared and much more specific about how they would manage work versus family when they project 10 years out. They cited strategies such as using choosing workplaces known for good work-life policies, having kids later to be more stable financially, living close to family members, and managing flex-time effectively (longer weekdays with weekends off). Surprisingly, none of the women mentioned a scenario in which their spouse stayed home with the children.
Gen Y men, in contrast, had vague strategies for balancing work and family. They did not assume their partner would have a heavy workload, nor did they mention the possibility that their partner would be the breadwinner in the family. Most envisioned spouses who would work part time, work at home, or simply be at home. Most of the men assumed that their spouses would take care of the children when a work conflict arises. One single male student, for example, said, "I think I'd be completely comfortable--and I hope this doesn't sound sexist--if my spouse is taking more of an at-home mom role, and to allow for a balance of time in that respect."
How do you plan to juggle work and family life? How have others managed, or not managed, this balance? What does this mean for companies hiring Gen Y-ers with high career ambitions? How can companies help their employees better manage the balance?