Millennial Women Confident At Work

Telecommuting and flexible schedules are the latest tools for establishing work-life balance. 'Generation Y' women are taking greater advantage of them. Host Michel Martin talks to Laura Sessions Stepp, who has written about the career choices of millennial women in this week's Washington Post Magazine.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now we want to take a look at another story of how the American workplace is changing. We found this one in The Washington Post Magazine this weekend. It takes a look at so-called millennials. These are adults age 21 to 34. There are some 60 million of them in America right now. Half are women, and I think it's fair to say that millennials are often derided by their baby boomer predecessors as insufficiently committed to work, or way too demanding - or both. But there's new research that suggests that millennials - it's not that they don't work hard, but that they work differently; and that millennial women, in particular, are at the forefront of changing how Americans work in a way that is opening up options for themselves and others.

Journalist Laura Sessions Stepp wrote about this in this week's Post Magazine. She's with us once again. Thanks for joining us.

LAURA SESSIONS STEPP: Happy to be here.

MARTIN: Your piece starts by saying, "Forget what you think you know about our newest generation of working women. They are not the fretting, overstressed women we've been reading about for 20 or 30 years." If they are not that, then what are they?

(LAUGHTER)

STEPP: They...

MARTIN: You laugh because you're talking about us, but - thank you, but I understand that.

STEPP: That's right. I am. I mean, yes. When we were professionals, all we did was work because we had to prove ourselves. I think these young women don't think they have to prove themselves. They have more confidence than we did. They also have technology at their fingertips, so that they can do different kinds of jobs. They have more flexibility, whether they want to be home; if they do ever have a baby, they can work from home. Many of them - many more companies do that every year. It - increases the number of mothers and dads who work at home, at least part time.

MARTIN: What is the other - what does the data suggest about their satisfaction with work? I mean, you talk about - as I mentioned - that there is a stereotype that there's these people - you know, perpetually demanding, perpetually disgruntled. You say that just isn't that at all. The data doesn't suggest that at all.

STEPP: No, no. I think that one could have said that about their generation, sort of in between yours and mine, which was a much smaller generation, where they were kind of trying to figure out who they were. But this generation, I think, really knows. First of all, they've had a lot of benefits. You know, we're talking essentially here about the middle and upper middle classes, obviously, but their parents gave them a lot of, you know, education, raising and I think they come out more confident and really think they can do anything that they want to do.

MARTIN: Well, you've touched on something I did want to ask you about. How much of this is a class story? You're talking - the people that you've focused on in this piece are well-educated, middle-class or upper middle-class professionals working in specific industries like technology or like consulting...

STEPP: Right.

MARTIN: ...where there is a lot of flexibility, which is one of the things that adds to their satisfaction. But you're not talking about police officers. You're not talking about firefighters, for example, or pediatricians, for example, who - people really want them to be there when they want them to be there.

STEPP: Right, right. Well, let's look at the working class; the firefighters, the construction workers. One of the big changes that has happened, actually, among that population is that men - women are getting more jobs than men now in those blue collar - what we used to call blue collar jobs. And there are more men staying at home.

And, in fact, about two years ago, I wrote another article for the Post about Lori and Bobby, and Bobby had lost his job in construction and so Lori went to work as a waitress, and she waitressed about 12 hours a day so that Bobby could stay home with their three kids. And so there's a role - the roles are changing here. They're realizing - yes - it's going to take two parents to support a family and each - the husband and the wife may take turns who works depending on who has the job and they may both work, but different shifts and they may get mom or grandmom to come in and, you know, take care of the kids.

So there's a lot of flexibility here that we didn't have before and I don't know quite how it's going to shake out.

MARTIN: But, before we let you go, I just wanted to ask in the minute or so that we have left, do you ever find yourself envious of this generation, in their sense of - and I don't mean entitlement in a negative way. I mean just entitlement to this flexibility, to changing the way that work is done to organizing their lives differently. Do you ever feel envious?

STEPP: Well, in a way, I do. And that's a very good question because I've thought a lot about that. I mean, when I was their age, all I wanted to do was have a great job. You know, I went to journalism school, got on the newspaper, you know, didn't look to the left or the right. I was going to have a career. And I think we had the boomer generation, of which I am one - felt like we had something to prove as women. We had to establish women, women's equality with men on any job level, and that was a mission for us and we didn't look to the right or the left.

You know, I didn't have any hobbies when I was their age, and I'm kind of jealous of them that they are able to, you know, do - take Zumba lessons or...

MARTIN: Teach Zumba?

STEPP: Yeah. Teach Zumba, whatever.

MARTIN: Yeah, interesting. Well, it'll be important to keep following this and I know that you - well, you've written a couple of books about the changing way that girls and women see themselves, so it'll be interesting to see what you come up with as you continue this work.

Laura Sessions Stepp wrote the article, "The Confident Generation: Millennial Women Are Changing What Work Looks Like," for this week's Washington Post magazine. She joined us once again in our Washington, D.C. studios. Always good to see you, Laura.

STEPP: Thanks, Michele.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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