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Strong Female Lead

4 Ways For Millennial Women To Prepare For Leadership Roles

Millennial women are set to take on unprecedented leadership positions. Here's how to prep for them.

[Photo: Izabela Habur/Getty Images]

Coming of age for working women in the "lean-in" era isn't easy. For millennial women (those born between 1980 and 1994), life and work are blended. The same technology that makes staying connected so easy makes staying "on" after working hours easy as well. Meanwhile, businesses expect more work for less pay, and parenting challenges are leading many women to take more time off work.

That helps explain why 34% of millennial women say they aren't interested in becoming a boss or top manager, according to a Pew Research Center study. Like their male counterparts, millennial women place a higher value on security and flexibility than on pay. But that doesn't mean they're satisfied with their working lives. In fact, 75% of millennial women say gender inequality in the workplace is an issue that needs addressing, compared with just 57% of millennial men. Here's a look at some of those obstacles and what millennial women can do to get past them.

No Shortage of Hurdles

Despite the presence of several high-profile women at the national level, women hold only 4.6% (or exactly 23) of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies. Median annual earnings for women for full-time work are still only 77% of what men earn.

In the meantime, occupational segregation persists. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, three in four workers in the health and education sectors are women, while more than three in four workers in the software industry are men.

What's more, parenthood still impacts working women disproportionately, as career interruptions lead them to take on more unpaid work at home. According to Pew researchers, 51% of women with children under 18 say that being a parent has held back their careers, compared with 16% of men who say the same.

Changing Trendlines

But the data paints a different picture for millennial women. With hourly earnings at 93% of their male counterparts, they're the first cohort of women in history to enter the workforce at near parity with men. They're already earning degrees at higher rates, with 38% of U.S. women doing so in 2013, compared to 31% of men. And, according to a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, millennial women are more likely than their male counterparts to work in managerial or professional roles—34% compared to 25%.

While there's no guarantee this momentum will be sustained, men have been participating less and less in the workforce with each generation, falling from 87% in 1948 to 78% in 1980 to 70% in 2015.

If these trends continue, it's likely the workplaces of the future will be staffed with many more female bosses. But millennial women will need to do more than just ride that demographic shift. Here are four strategies to position yourself for leadership roles in the future.

1. Develop Your Executive Presence

Being an effective manager isn't a skill you're born with. It comes down to a set of learned behaviors—how to deliver a presentation, command a room, and inspire respect and loyalty. Pay attention to the ways you connect with people at work and what things you do earn confidence. Those traits will all factor into your executive presence.

2. Manage Your Energy

Work-life balance is often a matter of integrating the two into a livable balance. Base your priorities around the goals and activities that motivate you both at home and work. Burnout isn't just the result of doing too much—it can also set in when you aren't doing what energizes you. If you’re an extrovert, find ways to collaborate with people at work. If you’re an introvert, seek out more independent projects.

3. Think Positively

Martin Seligman, psychologist and author, found that optimism is something we can actually learn. Much the way positive thinking is about finding the upsides to the bad things that happen, a technique called "positive framing" involves accepting tough realities and countering them with action. When things go badly at work, limit the experience to its specific impact and don’t take it personally. Talk to trusted colleagues, and find a way to improve next time.

4. Use Storytelling to Advance Your Career

Stories are usually more memorable than facts. Many of us fixate on where we're headed professionally and have lost sight of where we've been. Sometimes the best way to achieve our goals is to reflect on the past. Many of the most successful leaders excel because they control their own narratives. Keep a work journal. Write down what you’re doing and what's working. Be ready to tell your story come promotion time or when asking for a raise.

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