Millennials want to be the boss; boomers don’t
When General Motors GM this week named Mary Barra, 51, its next CEO, it cracked a century-old glass ceiling. Perhaps more surprising, however: Most workers of Barra’s generation claim they don’t want to be boss, a new survey finds.
By comparison, 70% of millennial men and 61% of millennial women — defined by the study as ages 18 to 32 — say they’d like to be boss. The members of Generation X — ages 33 to 48 — were somewhat more evenly split, with 58% of men and 41% of women saying they wanted the top job, the survey of more than 2,000 people found. “Boomers have been in the workforce long enough to see the downsides of being in charge,” says Steve Langerud, a workplace consultant based in Grinnell, Iowa.
Indeed, boomers may know something that millennials don’t. “Younger people think they know what it’s like to be the boss, so they want to do it, but more experienced workers know the reality,” says Tim Sackett, president of Human Resources Unlimited Technical Resources, an information technology and engineering staffing firm in Lansing, Mich. His theory: They’re put off by the longer hours and stress that comes with being solely responsible for company performance, strategic decisions and both hiring and firing, he says. Indeed, a 2010 survey for the book “The Secret of CEOs” — which interviewed 150 global heads of business — found that two-thirds often feel frustrated and overwhelmed.
But age, lifestyle and the years left to attain that goal also play a role in employees’ dreams of having the top job, according to the researchers at the Pew Research Center. “These attitudes are shaped in part by where people are in the life cycle,” the report states. “Young adults are more likely than middle-aged and older adults to say they’d like to be the boss someday, possibly because they have more time ahead of them to reach that goal.” Members of Generation X are among the most likely to have children under the age of 18, it adds, which may also be a factor in views about how much additional responsibility they would want to take on at work.
Baby boomers: More conservative and powerful
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Millennials may have unrealistically high expectations for their careers. Seeing the rise of young business leaders like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, 29, may have given them false hope that they’ll achieve the top job sooner rather than later, Sackett says. The vast majority of top executives are well past their 20s: The average age of an incoming CEO at an S&P 500 company hovers at 52, according to The Conference Board, a business-research group. Millennials’ ambitions may be partly realized, however: By 2020, more than 40% of the U.S. workforce — or 60 million people — will be freelancers or contractors, according to a recent study conducted by software company Intuit. “For many of those people, their desire to be autonomous and in charge will come true,” Langerud says, even if they don’t all have subordinates.
GM’s Barra is also in the minority among women. Less than half of women (44%) say they want to be the boss someday, while 60% of men say they want to be the boss — or already are. One contributing factor: Men and women in their 30s and 40s cited the tradeoffs that go with being a working parent as influencing their decision not to pursue top positions. And “it’s usually the woman who changes the trajectory of her career to manage the family,” says Julie Gebauer, managing director of the talent and rewards group at Towers Watson, a professional services company. Among working parents with children under 18, mothers are three times as likely as fathers to say that being a working parent has made it harder for them to advance in their job or career, according to Pew.
Meanwhile, the number of leadership roles held by women is growing — albeit slowly. Only 4% of CEO positions in Fortune 1,000 companies are held by women, versus 1.4% a decade ago, and 17% of Fortune 500 board seats are occupied by women, versus about 14% in 2003, according to a study released this week by Catalyst, a non-profit research group. Even relatively new social media companies are male-dominated at the top. Although that too could be changing: After a barrage of criticism online, Twitter last week announced that Marjorie Scardino, former CEO of U.K. publishing company Pearson PSO +0.41% , would become the company’s first female board member.
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