The Confidence Gap, Part 2: Mentoring Millennials

The media attention surrounding The Confidence Code — a popular book written by journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman –has raised awareness around how working women may be holding themselves back from leadership positions due to their own lack of self-confidence.

But where do Millennials fit in?

Known for their ambition, self-awareness and high-education, do Millennial women (born between 1982 and 1994) fall prey to the confidence gap too?

Baby Boomers Lean Back, Millennials Lean In
According to Trang Chu at The Guardian, “While this may be true for a generation of Baby Boomers where women were taught to speak apologetically and lean back from their careers, we could argue this is not the case with the Millennial generation.”

According to Randstad’s most recent Engagement Study, Millennials and Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) have differing views when it comes to the future of women in the workplace, with Millennials having a more favorable outlook. CNBC projects that Millennials will comprise 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025, so the younger generation’s shifting perceptions of women and leadership could mean positive changes ahead for working women.

For example, both men and women respondents answered the three questions below as part of our Engagement Study. Notice the contrasting view among Millennials and Baby Boomers:

  • My company provides an encouraging environment for women to pursue positions of leadership — Gen Y: 80 percent | Baby Boomers: 74 percent
  • Women and men are rewarded equally at my company —  Gen Y: 79 percent | Baby Boomers: 74 percent 
  • By 2020, I expect there to be many more women in leadership positions in my company/ organization — Gen Y: 70 percent | Baby Boomers: 61 percent

Sidestepping the Confidence Gap
Although Millennials appear to have a more favorable view of women in the workplace, they still encounter roadblocks when it comes to showing confidence, especially overcoming the stereotype of being “too assertive.”

In a recent Forbes article, Forbes contributor J. Maureen Henderson noted that Millennial women generally don’t suffer from lack of confidence – but they are aware that “women are penalized for displays of confidence.”

“Young women don’t lack for personal confidence or ambition,” Henderson writes. “ College-age women are now every bit as narcissistic as their male peers … but when they do behave assertively, they may suffer a whole other set of consequences, ones that men don’t typically experience.”

So how can we encourage Millennial women to sidestep the confidence gap and fearlessly display their ambition in the workplace, and in turn advance to leadership positions that should be rightfully theirs?

Feedback Wanted
Mentoring is key and many companies and women’s organizations are making it a priority. Millennial women are especially eager for mentors in the workplace. In fact, according to Randstad’s Engagement Study, nearly a quarter (23%) of Millennial respondents said mentorship and sponsorship opportunities were beneficial in helping women advance to leadership levels – compared to 16 percent of Baby Boomers.

Chu noted that since Millennial women have grown up in an era of Facebook, instant messaging and Twitter, immediate and constant feeback is what Millennial women expect. “They are hungry for knowledge and want to know how their contributions influence the success of the company,” Chu said. “They are the first generation to actively seek coaching and want support for continuous learning.”

I reached out to other women leaders to get their thoughts on confidence and the importance of mentorship. They’ve provided excellent insight:

Women Need Role Models, Advice
At the Women’s Network in Electronic Transactions ( we recognize the importance of supporting the development of future women leaders and that is specifically why we developed our mentoring program, pairing our younger members with our more seasoned leaders in the payments industry. has unveiled a new online mentoring program where we can enroll 100 women in our nation-wide mentoring program beginning this year. Our goal is to continue to grow our mentoring program so women can find role models and gain advice on reaching the pinnacle of their personal and professional success.” –Lisa Shipley, President, and EVP Managing Director, Transaction Network Services

Know Thyself
“At the heart of self-confidence is ‘knowing thyself.’ Many women we interviewed for the book “Inspiring Women: Becoming Courageous, Wise Leaders” stated the importance of knowledge of self-being and that it’s the key to maintaining their confidence in their personal and professional life. Another recurring theme among the women we interviewed for the book was the confidence factor and the fear of making mistakes related to perfectionism. I love Brene Brown’s quote, ‘Perfectionism is nothing more than a form of armor we use to protect ourselves from being judged.’” –Martha Forlines, Leadership Coach and Consultant/ Speaker, President, Belief System Institute, Author of Inspiring Women: Becoming Courageous, Wise Leaders

Mentoring is a Cornerstone
“At HBA (Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association), members are encouraged to participate in our mentoring program as either a mentee or mentor. Developing future women leaders is a strategic imperative for HBA across the US and Europe.” –Lynn Prothero, Regional Business Director at Lundbeck and Director of the Advisory Board for Healthcare Business Women’s Association (HBA), Atlanta Chapter.

Gen Y: Keep Them Engaged and They Will Succeed
A Harvard Business Review article titled “Mentoring Millennials” took note of this rising generation and their desire for mentoring. “Millennials have high expectations of their employers—but they also set high standards for themselves,” the article stated. “They’ve been working on their résumés practically since they were toddlers, because there are so many of them and so few (relatively speaking) spots at top schools and top companies. They’re used to overachieving academically and to making strong personal commitments to community service. Keep them engaged, and they will be happy to overachieve for you.”

Millennial women will help usher in a new era in the workplace and they certainly bring with them a bright future – with their ambition, strong work ethic, progressive views on women leadership and innovation. Effective business leaders will recognize the specific needs of this generation of women and provide them with the mentorship, feedback and other tools they need to succeed.

To read part one of The Confidence Gap, click here. 

Michelle Prince is Senior Vice President Talent Management for Randstad North America. She provides strategic HR leadership in the areas of talent management, employee engagement, organization effectiveness, and leadership development. Michelle has a passion for supporting the professional development of women. She is an active mentor for Pathbuilders, Inc., an Advisory Committee Member for the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association Atlanta Chapter, and was a founding member of a corporate women’s networking group. Michelle brings global experience and best practices from a variety of industries including Technology, Financial Services, Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices. Michelle earned a BS from Binghamton University, an MS from Rochester Institute of Technology, and is currently a doctoral candidate with the University of Phoenix.