Fe­male trou­ble

Mil­len­nial women are find­ing road­blocks re­main on their road to suc­cess

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NOTHWEST/TELEVISION - ALI­SON BOWEN

CHICAGO — When Court­ney Win­frey, 30, grad­u­ated in 2009, she knew she might not get a dream job right away.

Still, she hoped for more than what be­came her best of­fer af­ter ap­ply­ing and in­ter­view­ing dur­ing a re­ces­sion: an un­re­lated sales job without ben­e­fits. But she ac­cepted and was de­ter­mined to work her way up. The same for the next job and the next.

Win­frey, who has since found a ful­fill­ing job as a univer­sity re­cruiter, is one of many mil­len­nial women work­ing her way through jobs af­ter col­lege grad­u­a­tion. A new re­port by the Pop­u­la­tion Ref­er­ence Bureau found that many mil­len­nial women’s ca­reers are stalled.

Un­like gen­er­a­tions be­fore them, mil­len­nial women are not ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an im­prove­ment in well-be­ing, ac­cord­ing to “Progress in U.S. Women’s Well-Be­ing Stalled in Re­cent Gen­er­a­tions” from the bureau, a pri­vate, non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that spe­cial­izes in sta­tis­tics nec­es­sary for re­search and aca­demic pur­poses.

The June re­port states that to­day’s mil­len­nial women face per­sis­tent poverty, and although they are more likely to have col­lege de­grees, that isn’t trans­lat­ing to high-pay­ing jobs. The re­port notes that the poverty rate rose 37 per­cent be­tween Gen­er­a­tion X and mil­len­ni­als, a statis­tic that sur­prised even re­searchers.

“When we started, frankly, we ex­pected to see progress,” says Beth Jarosz, se­nior re­search as­so­ciate with the bureau and co-au­thor of the re­port. But en­ter­ing adult­hood dur­ing a se­ri­ous and pro­longed re­ces­sion, she says, “clearly has had an ef­fect on earn­ings and on poverty for a whole gen­er­a­tion.”

Mil­len­nial women face unique chal­lenges. Many grad­u­ated in a re­ces­sion-weary job mar­ket. Of­ten, women say, they ac­cepted jobs with lower salaries than ex­pected or were un­able to find a job at all. Some moved back in with their par­ents or jug­gled mul­ti­ple min­i­mum-wage jobs. At the same time, they face high stu­dent debt.

Men, too, have dealt with ef­fects of the re­ces­sion and stu­dent debt af­ter grad­u­a­tion. The ref­er­ence bureau’s re­port does not com­pare women’s well-be­ing to men’s, in­stead com­par­ing mil­len­nial women only to women from ear­lier gen­er­a­tions. But ex­perts all noted that when mil­len­nial women en­ter the work­force, they en­counter a stub­born wage gap and sex­ism.

“Women are so highly ed­u­cated to do all these won­der­ful things, but no­body tells them what the tricks are in order to suc­ceed at work,” says Andie Kramer, a lawyer who men­tors young women and co-au­thor of Break­ing Through Bias: Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Tech­niques for Women to Suc­ceed at Work.

When she grad­u­ated from law school five years ago, Bethany Whit­tles Har­ris, 32, like many of her peers, ac­cepted a salary lower than what she might have re­ceived in a dif­fer­ent econ­omy.

“A lot of peo­ple felt like they didn’t have a great bar­gain­ing po­si­tion,” she says.

Her ex­pe­ri­ences high­light the ar­ray of ob­sta­cles fac­ing mil­len­nial women. Told as a girl she could do any­thing a boy could, she and friends were sur­prised to find per­sis­tent sex­ism at var­i­ous work­places. Har­ris and her col­leagues have ex­pe­ri­enced ev­ery­thing from be­ing pur­sued by bosses to be­ing con­grat­u­lated for their looks in­stead of their work.

“There’s still peo­ple be­hav­ing in these ways, there’s still this wage gap, and re­al­iz­ing that was a rude awak­en­ing,” says Har­ris, who now works at a firm where she hasn’t en­coun­tered any of these is­sues. “There’s still so much to nav­i­gate through as a fe­male pro­fes­sional that men just don’t have to.”

Sex­ual bias, too, af­fects her earn­ing po­ten­tial, she says. “If you re­ally val­ued me as a lawyer, as an equal, as an in­tel­lec­tual, as an ad­vo­cate of our clients, then you wouldn’t be sub­ject­ing me to this be­hav­ior.”

Women are se­verely un­der­rep­re­sented in high-pay­ing jobs in science, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics. Mi­nor­ity women are par­tic­u­larly un­der­rep­re­sented among science, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics work­ers — in 2015, black women made up 7 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion of ages 25 to 34 but just 2 per­cent of high- earn­ing science, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics work­ers. His­panic women were 10 per­cent of that pop­u­la­tion but just 2 per­cent of those high earn­ers.

The dour data don’t sur­prise mil­len­nial Sarah Labadie, a se­nior pol­icy as­so­ciate at Women Em­ployed. Labadie, 33, says friends of hers strug­gled to find de­cent-

pay­ing jobs in their fields af­ter col­lege.

Like Labadie, who be­gan work at the non­profit af­ter grad­u­at­ing in 2006, the re­port notes fe­male mil­len­ni­als might pur­sue “do-gooder” jobs — ca­reers that make a dif­fer­ence.

Those jobs rarely carry salaries that af­ford a sky­line view from a down­town apart­ment.

Labadie adds that the gig econ­omy — the preva­lence of patch­work jobs with com­pa­nies such as Uber — con­trib­utes to lower earn­ings.

And debt just com­pounds the prob­lem. Ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Univer­sity Women, women hold nearly two- thirds of the out­stand­ing stu­dent debt in the United States.

“That kind of spi­rals out of con­trol into more women liv­ing in poverty be­cause they’re try­ing to jug­gle rent, stu­dent debt pay­ments, all the costs of liv­ing,” she says.

This stew of hur­dles sounds fa­mil­iar to Fo­ram Sheth, 27, co-founder of Chicago-based Ama La Vida, a coach­ing com­pany where she helps mil­len­ni­als who feel stuck.

Women have more op­por­tu­ni­ties than ever be­fore, she notes. But pur­su­ing de­grees can equate to loan debt, and mar­ry­ing later means build­ing a life on a sin­gle in­come.

“There are these con­se­quences that have never been faced be­fore,” she says.

Cook County Com­mis­sioner Bridget Gainer works with young Chicago women through pro­grams like her Off the Side­lines, which con­nects and sup­ports girls and women. Mil­len­nial women face stub­born ob­sta­cles, she says, but they are also forg­ing their own def­i­ni­tions of a ful­fill­ing, bal­anced life.

“The ques­tion is, are they worse off, or do they have a dif­fer­ent def­i­ni­tion of suc­cess?” she says.

The bureau re­port sug­gests women need so­cial and so­ci­etal struc­tures to ex­cel. Here is where Dorri McWhorter, YWCA Metropoli­tan Chicago’s chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, agrees. The YWCA coun­sels young women on skills like ne­go­ti­a­tion. It also started a Not That Com­pli­cated project push­ing for pay equal­ity.

As a mem­ber of the YWCA’s Fu­ture Lead­ers Coun­cil, those re­sources, and work­ing her way up and learn­ing from each new role, helped land Win­frey her job at ac­count­ing firm Grant Thorn­ton. She as­sists in re­cruit­ing a di­verse work­force, in­clud­ing women and mi­nori­ties.

Like many mil­len­ni­als, she jug­gles jobs and goals. Af­ter work, she main­tains a life­style blog, and she har­bors hopes of be­com­ing a mo­ti­va­tional speaker.

“As a mil­len­nial, I’m all about, make your own path,” Win­frey says.

Chicago Tri­bune/TNS/KRIS­TEN NOR­MAN

Ni­cole Wood (left) and Fo­ram Sheth are co-founders of Ama La Vida, a Chicago-based coach­ing com­pany for mil­len­ni­als.

Chicago Tri­bune/TNS/KRISTAN LIEB

Court­ney Win­frey works for a sum­mer lead­er­ship pro­gram that gives work ad­vice to mil­len­nial women.

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