This article originally appeared in the World Economic Forum on March 14th, 2023.
International Women’s Day last week presented an occasion to look back on the progress made over the past few decades and imagine the possibility that bias and discrimination can be eliminated in our lifetime.
Despite numerous obstacles, most recently the setbacks women suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve never felt more hopeful that my children will grow up in a world that’s far more inclusive, equitable and diverse than it is today.
Why the optimism? Generation Z.
Born between 1997 and 2010, this cohort is the most diverse, educated and tech-savvy in human history. The pandemic has played a disproportionately large role in their short lives – but they are coming back strong, with more resilience and pragmatism than before and a steadfast insistence on finding careers that reflect their values, according to two years of research that included a study of 10,000 Gen Zers in the US and the UK by the Oliver Wyman Forum and The News Movement.
At the centre of those values is equality. Gen Zers expect fair pay, inclusive policies and transparency – and when those attributes don’t materialize, they leave. And unlike previous generations, Gen Zers openly discuss their mental health challenges, infertility and other once-taboo topics and demand the benefits they need to address them.
In short, Gen Z – and particularly the women – won’t be denied. Even though their oldest members are only turning 26 this year, they are already reshaping society, the economy and the workplace. Companies that ignore them do so at their peril.
“My generation is excited about change and is pushing equality in a lot of areas,” said a 24-year-old woman who works as an environmental consultant and photographer, and was interviewed for the study. “We are fed up with antiquated work standards. We want better rights and benefits, things that better protect us.”
Gen Zers: Taking A Stand
Gen Zers embrace gender fluidity and choose companies and brands that celebrate their differences and support their fight against climate change, sexism and income inequality. They are 92% more likely to attend rallies or protest specific companies than other generations – and are willing to take the fight to work. Almost 40% of Gen Zers said they would discuss sexism in the workplace, compared with 24% of older generations. And they expect their employers to join the conversation and to provide inclusive benefits. More than 20% of Gen Zers surveyed said they would consider other jobs if employers aren’t engaged in social issues.
The Gen Z environmental consultant said her company started offering transportation to reproductive health clinics in 2022. “In a world where capitalism kind of forces people and companies to be greedy, it’s really wonderful when they actually go out of their way to do things they are not obligated to do in order to support their workers,” she said.
Companies need to be proactive. They should know what they stand for and what workers prioritize, and engage with the board, employees and other stakeholders often to ensure everyone is aligned. Business also has an opportunity: Gen Zers are 39% more likely to trust their employers than the government. And they believe one of the biggest ways to make change is from the inside – so companies that get out in front will have more ability to shape outcomes.
Taking Control Of Their Paths
By 2025, Gen Zers will account for a third of the global population, and they’re unwilling to make the same career mistakes as their parents or struggle to balance work and family. More than six in 10 are actively or passively looking for other jobs because they want better pay, work-life balance, or career and growth opportunities.
Women, especially, aren’t waiting around. Almost 30% of Gen Z women cited better advancement and growth opportunities as a reason to leave a job, compared with 22% of men. And they are honing their skills to find those opportunities. Many said they learned interviewing, negotiating and career skills from the social-media influencers they follow on TikTok, YouTube and other platforms.
Gen Zers also want more control over their career paths with the option to speed up and slow down, whether it’s to accommodate a family, pursue something outside work or have less stress. And they don’t want a single career route.
Companies that let Gen Zers grow at their own pace are more likely to retain these workers. Many think they don’t have the same skills older colleagues learned in the office. Over 40% of those looking for new jobs want leadership, teamwork and management training. Gen Zers especially value learning from each other.
A Healthy Attitude
Gen Zers are more willing than older generations to discuss health topics and prioritize getting the care they need. They value companies that provide benefits that help with stress, such as recharge days and sabbaticals, and almost a third said they would visit the office more often if it had nap pods, meditation rooms and massage chairs.
Almost a third of Gen Z women said they are comfortable discussing menstrual cycles at work, compared with 19% of other generations. The topic is an important one for Gen Z women; 17% said they are interested in freezing their eggs, and 10% said they plan to undergo some fertility treatment.
Companies that provide stress-related perks, fertility benefits and other health offerings stand a better chance of attracting and retaining Gen Z workers.
“I feel really empowered by what my generation is doing, speaking out especially about mental health and well-being,” said a 25-year-old human resources professional. “People feel stressed. Gen Z is doing something about it, while other generations put their heads down.”
Many of these attributes – the proactive attitude, the tech savviness, the focus on health and well-being – were on full display last year when a young woman close to me was diagnosed with a chronic illness. Instead of wallowing, she sprung into warrior mode. First she used her tech skills to access complex medical information. Next, she created her own wellness regime, overhauling her diet, daily routine and even her personal habits. Now she’s in remission, amazing her doctors and inspiring me. Like others her age, this young woman simply wouldn’t be denied. I can’t wait to see what’s next from her and the rest of her generation.