Julia Jia was the first girl from her small village in Shandong Province to go to university. Now 30, she works for Louis Vuitton China’s retail department and would like to have a career in luxury goods, perhaps in sales development or public relations. “Of course, I want to be in top management,” Jia says, echoing the high-flying aspirations that have catapulted so many Chinese women into the business elite. Then in a seeming contradiction, she adds that she worries about work/life balance. “I would feel frustrated working 60 to 70 hours a week,” she confesses. “If there were a conflict with taking care of my children or elders, I would give up my career.”
Jia’s attitude astonishes colleagues in their 40s and 50s. As the first university graduates to emerge from Communism to a newly developing China in the 1980s and 90s, those women didn’t hesitate to dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to their careers. But according to data from the Center for Talent Innovation (formerly the Center for Work-Life Policy), today’s younger generation is different. “The mindset has really changed,” notes an HR manager for a major multinational corporation. “Women now talk about facials and traveling and all the things that the older generation didn’t think about until they were more established.”
The next generation of global leaders will differ in fundamental ways from the people now heading up countries and corporations. Our research into female talent in emerging markets concludes that many will be women: Just as in the United States, where women college graduates now outnumber men, women are flooding into universities and graduate schools in Brazil, Russia, India, and China (the BRIC markets), accounting for 60% of students enrolled in tertiary education in Brazil, 57% in Russia, and 47% in China.
However, as the second generation of female college graduates enters the workforce, it’s becoming clear that no matter how qualified and ambitious, women professionals around the world aren’t all cut from the same cloth: Employers need to realize that there’s a wide variety among cultures and age cohorts. Our data show significant differences between geographies and generations, especially for those now beginning their careers (18 to 30 years old) and the next generation on (31 to 45 years old). For example:
- Aspiration. Although the majority of emerging markets women dream big, younger women in Brazil and Russia are more likely to aspire to the top job in their profession. In Brazil, the differences are striking: 87% of 18- to 30-year-olds versus 77% of 31- to 45-year-olds. In Russia, they’re even greater: 72% versus 57%.
- Engagement. Younger women in Brazil are more willing to “go the extra mile” for their company than their older colleagues — 64% versus 52%. In India, however, the tables are turned, with 91% of women in their 30s and early 40s willing to work harder, compared to 84% of their younger colleagues.
- Love for their work. Love of work peaks with women between 31 and 45 in China (80% versus 63%) and India (92% versus 79%), perhaps because that’s when the early hard work starts to pay off with plum assignments.
- Loyalty. Reflecting work satisfaction, loyalty, too, is also markedly stronger among Chinese and Indian women in their 30s and early 40s: 93% versus 85% in China, and 98% versus 90% in India.
Many companies have reaped the benefits of the extraordinary levels of engagement and loyalty demonstrated by the first broad-based generation of college-educated BRIC women. This cohort of 31- to 45-year-olds was and remains eager to use their degrees and they’re appreciative of the opportunity to spread their wings. However, that attitude is shifting with the next generation. Loyalty, especially, can’t be taken for granted. If organizations want to attract, retain, and fully leverage the talent of women in emerging markets, they will have to rethink what they offer and how they offer it.
Among both generations, the top three priorities in their work are job security, being highly compensated, and having the opportunity to work with high-quality colleagues. But there’s a growing drumbeat for something more: work/life balance.
Over 90% of women in Brazil, China, and India value flexible work arrangements as important. One would assume that women in their 30s and early 40s would feel this slightly more strongly, especially considering that this cohort is most likely to be juggling family and a demanding career. Surprisingly, though, that’s not the case, reflecting their super-strong work ethic and the fact that they have generally reached the stage of their careers where their hard work has begun to pay off.
But anecdotal evidence gleaned from interviews reveals that younger women not only want better work/life balance, like Jia in China, but are, in fact, demanding it. “I see that my daughters, who both work for multinational corporations, are more relaxed about telling their bosses what they want and don’t want to do,” says one of the first women to become a senior manager in a financial multinational in São Paulo. “The younger generation feels much more confident and women feel more comfortable saying no. It’s a major change.”
The bottom line: It’s critically important that employers pay heed to the generational and cultural differences among these women, to make sure that the tomorrow’s leaders get the skills and support they need today.
This post is part of the HBR Insight Center, The Next Generation of Global Leaders.
Sylvia Ann Hewlett is president of the Center for Talent Innovation and Sylvia Ann Hewlett Associates. She is the author of 11 books, including Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets. Follow her on Twitter at @sahewlett.