Gender Reversal

Back in the day men, the bearers of all that lovely testosterone, were the diehard breadwinners and the most ambitious gender out there. Men were primed and fired up to win in the career game, but the tide appears to be turning.

According to the Pew Research Center, now young women have more get up and go than young men. Some 66 percent of young women aged 18 to 34 say a high-paying career or profession is important in their lives, compared to 59 percent of young men. In a similar study conducted in 1997, those numbers were 56 percent and 58 percent respectively.

In a Life Inc. article, Kim Parker, associate director of Pew Social and Demographic Trends, said this reversal of opinion doesn’t indicate that there’s anything wrong with men. It may just be a sign of the times. The new data comes at a time when more women are getting college degrees than men, and women make up roughly half of the workforce.

Parker also said it’s not clear whether the young women in the survey will remain as ambitious as they get older. But that likely wouldn’t be certain for any gender on any issue. Life has a way of happening and causing people to change focus and move in directions they never could have anticipated.

Still, it seems like a golden opportunity for diversity and talent leaders to capitalize on the drive and ambition of a large, high-potential segment of the workforce. Employee engagement is a critical factor in nearly every facet of successful company life. Therefore, when career aspirations are high and well known, it’s up to the company to do something about it, or else run the risk of losing valuable talent to the competition.

There has been a subtle shift toward a more do-it-yourself learning approach in some circles as the performance support and enabling just-in-time development options at the point of need increases in importance and as a learning preference. But the current talent war — companies scrambling to find and keep the best, most skilled workers in a glut of candidates that may or may not have what it takes — has opened the door of opportunity for all go-getters, whichever side of the executive desk they happen to be sitting on.

It’s up to the powers that be, diversity leaders and their HR partners, to set things up so that these young women have the opportunities, coaching, sponsorship and development they need to step into the high-level careers they want.