Why Millennial women still can’t have it all

WE Millennials often get tagged as the 'lucky generation'.

The story goes something like this: we're better off than ever before, eating smashed avo on toast and travelling the world, while complaining about having to purchase houses an hour from our jobs because we're so spoilt.

The reality is a little more nuanced than that. Yes, we're more educated than ever before - but we had to pay for our degrees, unlike previous generations who could have studied for free. We spend our money on making ourselves happy, but that's because it's hard to see a reason to save when the average house price in some Australian cities is approaching a million dollars.

Naturally, Millennial women are included in these blanket generalisations.

And while it's true that we are more educated, more visible in the workplace, and more empowered to choose how to live our lives than ever before, the situation is still far from perfect.
The fact that our mothers had to get permission from a man to continue working after marriage, or weren't allowed to get a loan or a simple credit card solo, or didn't have a say in keeping their own surname doesn't escape us. But those same women who brought us up to think we could have it all have only built us up to fall. And fall hard.


As the majority of us hit that 30 milestone, Millennial women are left wondering whether there has actually been a dent made in the glass ceiling at all. Over-educated and underemployed, we see Millennial men leapfrog us in the workplace time and time again, regardless of skill set.

We attend interviews and are asked (illegally, mind you) what our baby plans are. Whether we're planning on taking maternity leave in the near future. Even if it isn't said explicitly, we are seen as suspicious for delaying motherhood, like a ticking time bomb of unused parental leave.

I know so many women like this. I'm one of them. We've been working hard to climb the corporate ladder, delaying marriage and motherhood with the promise of something more fulfilling career-wise, until we realise we've hit a wall.

I've seen talented women languish in mid-management positions for years as barely adequate men are promoted around them. When they question the decision to leave them behind, there's never an adequate answer.

If you leave, it's no better - women almost always get offered less in salary negotiations than male counterparts (hello, gender pay gap).

I've turned jobs down because they said to me: "You'd better not take maternity leave!" during the interview. Maybe I don't want to take maternity leave now, but what if I did in the future? How would they treat me then? Would there still be a job waiting for me when I returned?

And on it goes ... Over-educated and under-challenged, unable to find a job with any real promise, but dying to work full time and stretch yourself.

You slowly leak confidence as you start to question your abilities. Maybe you're actually not good enough? Maybe those men were better than you, every time. You start to believe it.

You wonder what those years of university, and an expensive masters degree were for. You wonder why everything you were promised (Equality! Women in management! If you work hard you can have anything you dream of!) might not come to you, no matter how hard you push.

You find yourself childless, your career going nowhere - and you can't help but feel bitter about it as your husband is offered promotion after promotion without even asking for it.

Despite what the media (and Beyonce) has told you, you start to feel like female empowerment is a myth. Sure, the Harvey Weinsteins of the world are being called out, but is that really the best we can do? Does equality in the workplace simply come down to not being molested by your superior anymore?

Did Baby Boomer mothers who told their Millennial daughters they could have it all set them up for a fall? (Pic: iStock)
Did Baby Boomer mothers who told their Millennial daughters they could have it all set them up for a fall? (Pic: iStock)

Discussions abound regarding luring more women into science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM) - as if it never occurred to women before - as if our generation and the one after isn't already aware of traditionally male occupations. As if we simply didn't identify it as an option.

Well, I have a chemical engineering degree. I finished it in the minimum time. I worked hard, completed my thesis, was offered jobs after graduation. So why don't I work in engineering?

Constant, persistent male bullying from my peers. Being called "Legally Blonde", despite my scores. Being told during group projects that I should "do the pretty title page". Once, the three (three!) women in my year were given a talk about working in mining, and how to protect ourselves against rape. No such talk was given to the men about how to not rape someone. When I complained about the constant sexism, I was told I was being a snowflake. Such is the attitude of university engineering faculties.

It's great for the media to call for more women in STEM, but what about when we actually get there? How do they keep us there?

I moved into media, and found it's not much better.

I've seen a counterpart told she couldn't attend the ARIA awards on behalf of the company because she wasn't pretty or skinny enough. I've seen women fired on maternity leave, under the guise of redundancy, only to have their exact job replaced immediately with a slightly different title.

Recently I was interviewed for a senior management job at a media company, and it came down to myself and another applicant (same age, same amount of time in the industry) for the position. I was interviewed by three male directors, all of whom were named Mike*. On their directors board, they didn't have one woman. Yep, there were more guys named Mike than there were women.

I didn't get the job, but they did hire a fourth guy named Mike. True story.

Perhaps the younger Gen Z have it right - studies have shown that pursuing money and traditional success doesn't matter as much to them. There has been an observed increase in early parenthood, getting it out of the way before they get stuck into their careers. Just look at Kylie Jenner.

There is a catch, however: it's also reported that Gen Z have even higher expectations than my generation. Expectations that Z women may find thwarted when they realise that, although they may be equals with their contemporaries, it is still Baby Boomer and Gen X men at the top, making the decisions about their career. And they are overwhelmingly represented in the #metoo problem.

My one piece of advice for women younger than me in the workplace? No matter what your mum told you, you can't have it all.

Not yet, anyway.
*name has been changed.

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