Millennial women: How to woo a new generation of employees

Ambitious, educated, and tech-savvy, Millennial women make ideal employees. Win them over with flexibility and clear paths to advancement.
By Courtney L. Vien

Shaylynn Fuller, CPA
Shaylynn Fuller, CPA, a senior tax associate at Tanner LLC (Photo by Lance W. Clayton/AP Images)

If you want female Millennials to come to work for you—and stay—offer them flexibility.

That's one reason Shaylynn Fuller, CPA, chose regional firm Tanner LLC over the national firms that recruited her in college. Tanner, she said, was large enough to give her the training and development she sought, but not so hard-driving that she wouldn't have balance.

Fuller, a senior tax associate, knew she had made the right decision when the firm agreed to let her work part time after she had her first child last year. "I was nervous about meeting with my boss to ask if I could work fewer hours," she recalled. "But he told me I'd done great work and that they'd rather have some of my time than none of my time."

Though she recognizes that working part time means she may not advance as quickly as her peers, Fuller said her firm continues to challenge and develop her. "I'm constantly progressing," she said. "It's stressful sometimes, but it gives you a sense of accomplishment when you keep growing and attaining new goals."


In her desire for both balance and challenge, Fuller resembles many members of the Millennial generation. A recent PwC report, The Female Millennial: A New Era of Talent, showed that Millennial women are ambitious—53% of them name opportunities for advancement as one of the top traits they seek in an employer. The survey of more than 40,000 Millennials worldwide revealed that female Millennials also place a premium on flexibility: Flexible working arrangements are the third-most-common trait they value in a workplace. Millennial women, the survey found, also look for competitive wages, good benefits, and strong training and development programs.

Yet many employers are not creating the kinds of workplaces that attract Millennials or make them want to stick around. "Companies need to be nimble and adapt to change," said Doug Blizzard, vice president of membership at CAI. "I'm seeing companies that are in crisis because they're losing staffers to retirement and aren't able to hire enough new talent to replace them."

Millennials are too important a demographic to overlook. Ten thousand Baby Boomers reach retirement age every day, and the 75.3-million-strong Millennial cohort is poised to replace them. By 2020, Millennial women alone will account for 25% of the global workforce, the PwC report states.

"All women are an important demographic for CPA firms, but particularly Millennial women because they're independent and grew up in an age of computers, so they're unafraid of change and technology," said Sandra Wiley, shareholder and COO of Boomer Consulting. Moreover, according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, they're more highly educated than their male counterparts: 36% of them have college degrees versus 28% of male Millennials.

In terms of work ethic and temperament, Millennials have what it takes to succeed, said Jennifer Wilson, partner and co-founder of ­ConvergenceCoaching. "Millennials are sophisticated and strategic, and they come into the workforce with more information than any other generation," she said. "I tell firms all the time, 'Listen to what your Millennials are saying because they're really bright.' "


What can firms do to attract Millennial women? According to the PwC report, opportunity for career progression is the top trait Millennial women seek in an employer. As Kristin Howard, CPA, lead tax accountant at Palazzo & Co. in Biloxi, Miss., and an AICPA Leadership Academy graduate, said, "It's very important to me to feel like I'm on an upward trajectory in my career. I've worked very hard to get where I'm at. I don't want to feel stuck."

Companies that don't reward Millennials' hard work and talent with increasing responsibility and opportunities may lose them. The top reason Millennial women have left an employer, the PwC report found, was a lack of opportunities for advancement.

Millennials also want to know they have many ways to build a career at your firm, Wiley said. "They don't just want to climb the ladder to partnership. They'd like to be able to switch to different parts of the firm or off-board for a while and then come back," she said. "They want options other than up or out."

In fact, the desire for a clear career path was one reason Heather Husman, CPA, took her current job as corporate controller for The Granite Peak Group in Casper, Wyo. This growing company, she said, gives her a sense of ownership and the opportunity for faster career development. "My goal is to grow the company and make it a better-functioning and better-managed organization," Husman said.

Visibility and power are also important to this demographic, Wiley said. "Millennial women want a voice," she said. "They don't want to be backstage; they want to be on committees, to be decision-makers who develop processes and policies for their firms."

Many Millennial women also want their employers to value flexibility. Thirty-five percent of women in the PwC study named flexible working arrangements as one of the five most attractive traits an employer can have. "Millennial women combine desire to have a family life with the drive to be as successful as possible," said Lindsay Stevenson, CPA, a manager at Walker & Armstrong LLP. "We strive to combine traditional values like being a great mom with more progressive values like being the best in our office."

Work/life balance, employers should note, is not just a women's issue. "Millennial men and women want the same things," Wiley said. "They've grown up seeing both their moms and dads work. They believe spouses and partners should support each other to have work/life balance." In fact, 86% of Millennial women are part of dual-earner couples, according to the PwC survey, and 66% earn the same or more than their partners do.

Speaking during a student and young member panel discussion at the AICPA spring Council meeting in May, Millennial CPA Michael Elliott explained that he often takes time off during the middle of the week to attend his daughter's gymnastics classes. His clients, he said, care about the value he brings them—not about whether he's at the office during traditional business hours.

"I don't believe in the concept of work/life balance at all," Elliott said. "I just think it is a concept that is outdated. I believe in work/life integration."

Millennials may have broader expectations for flexibility than members of previous generations. As Wilson observed, "They want true flexibility, not just flex programs. They want to be able to choose the time and place where they work." For this much flexibility to succeed, she said, companies "have to come to an agreement with employees on how they will deliver results, and trust them to get it done."

Ultimately, attracting and retaining Millennials is about culture. According to Blizzard, Millennials are put off by more traditional workplaces where "there's a top-down hierarchy, and you keep your mouth shut and climb the ladder and retire in 40 years with a pension." Instead, they expect to work in a connected, networked environment that emphasizes technology, work/life balance, and a high degree of trust.

"We've been talking about all these changes in the workplace for the last 20 years," Blizzard said. "Generation Xers and some Boomers prefer a more flexible workplace, too. The difference with Millennials is that they demand it."


Many employers are likely pondering whether creating the kind of workplace Millennials crave will translate into healthy retention rates. Questions of loyalty hang over the Millennial generation, which came of age in an era in which job-hopping, layoffs, and unemployment have become more common fixtures of business culture. Aspiring accountant Gina Miani, a student at North Carolina State University, talked about her generation's changing attitudes toward institutional loyalty during the student and young member panel discussion at the AICPA spring Council meeting in May.

Miani told session attendees that she hopes to be able to "go in different directions" to pursue opportunities over the course of her career, explaining that she wants to go where she finds it best for her and her family, friends, and community.

Student panelist Roberto Rosas said, "It's not that we don't have loyalty, but we like to have options. It's important to have career mobility." Or as panelist Tanyeka Alexander, a recent college graduate, succinctly put it, "If you don't have what we want, someone does."

"The key to loyalty in your firms is engaging your young professionals," said Millennial Elizabeth Pittelkow, CPA/CITP, CGMA, whose career has included public accounting and business and industry roles. "If you give them a long-term path that they are excited about, that they can see where they're going, you're going to retain a lot more."

"If you want us to invest in you, we need to feel like you want to invest in us," added panelist Amy Cooper, CPA, who held roles in public accounting before accepting a position as a university accounting instructor.

Many members of her generation, Miani believes, share a similar opportunity-focused approach toward their career paths. "I don't know if there is a solution for that," she added. "I think it's a mindset ... I think that might be an adjustment that the profession needs to make."   

Pay is the top reason Millennial women would move on

According to research from PwC, these are the top five reasons Millennial women would leave their current employer:

  • I found a job that paid more elsewhere. (43%)
  • My work and personal life are out of balance. I want a role with more flexibility. (37%)
  • There is not a fair balance between how hard I work and the compensation I receive. (36%)
  • There are not enough opportunities for career progression. (32%)
  • The work is not as interesting and meaningful as I would like. (28%)

Millennial women want workplaces where they can advance

Research from PwC shows that female Millennials rank these as the five most attractive employer traits:

  • Opportunities for career progression: 53%
  • Competitive wages and other financial incentives: 52%
  • Flexible working arrangements available: 35%
  • Good benefits packages including pensions, health care, and other benefits: 33%
  • Excellent training and development programs: 27%

About the author

Courtney L. Vien is a JofA associate editor. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact her at or 919-402-4125.


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