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Millennials balance careers with flexibility

Successful young women approach careers a little differently today than their parents’ generation did. And it is not just that they are really good at using their smartphones.

Women of the millennial generation—those born roughly around 1980—entered the working world in the midst of economic recession. They are on track to be the best educated generation in American history, according to the Pew Research Center. And, perhaps because they work so hard in their 20s on their education and careers, many are marrying and having children later than their parents did.

Amy Averill, a 34-year-old lead mechanical engineer at Harris Corp.’s Rochester-based RF Communications division, had her first child two-and-a-half years ago.

“It’s weird, because I never think that I’m that old,” she says.

Corina Folts, a 33-year-old interior designer at SWBR Architecture, Engineering & Landscape Architecture P.C. in Rochester, had her first baby last year.

“I wanted to be more established in my career, more comfortable in what I was doing and who I was,” Folts says.

Though Daniele Coll-Gonzalez, the 35-year-old former chief operating officer of the Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority, has been raising children throughout her career, she says many of her friends have waited, too.

Millennial women, more so than previous generations, often meet that challenge by negotiating flexibility at work.

“For the longest time work was a priority for me, working 50 or 60 hours a week,” Folts says. “Whatever it took to get the job done, I was able to do that.”

Now she works a more traditional 40-hour week and leaves the office by 5 p.m. for daycare pick-up. Her husband moved to a Tuesday through Saturday work schedule and a later shift so he can do daycare drop-off.

Averill stays home one day a week through a combination of reduced hours and working from home. Her husband does the same, so their son has only three days a week in daycare.

For Coll-Gonzalez, the key to balancing a career and family is another characteristic millennial strategy: technology.

“Millennials don’t really mind having this constant connectivity,” she says. “It doesn’t throw off our work/life balance. … We actually want to blend our work lives.”

Coll-Gonzalez uses technology to communicate with her children’s doctors and teachers outside of business hours. She leaves work at a predictable time every evening, knowing that once the kids go to bed she will get right back to work from her computer.

Millennial women also have needed creativity and perseverance to launch their careers during a recession.

Folts, the interior designer, hit a wall after she earned an interior design degree.

“When I was looking (for work) in Rochester, everyone was looking for someone with experience,” Folts says, “and I didn’t have that.”

She had to move out of state and take a job managing an office, while also assisting an interior designer and architect, to build credentials.

Coll-Gonzalez also worked her way up through the ranks.

Her advice to other millennials, who are sometimes perceived as having an attitude of entitlement, is to put in the hard work in the job you have, even if it is not the job you want.

“Be willing to start at the bottom and to do something extraordinary from where you sit,” Coll-Gonzalez says.

Coll-Gonzalez also believes younger professionals, particularly those just entering the working world, should be tactful about how they ask for flexible schedules.

“What millennials need to do better is present their case,” she says. “What value will the employer get from letting you work from home? … They need to demonstrate that they’re going to give the same level of value, if not an increase in value.”

As both a manager of millennial women and mother to two millennial daughters, Sharon Napier, CEO of Parners + Napier Inc., has some advice for young professional women.

“I think that early in your life, if you really set out and want a career, there’s going to be imbalance at first, imbalance for what you want to go after,” Napier says. “Worry less about leaving at 5:30 or 6 because you want to have a balanced life, and worry more about, ‘Am I getting the experience and exposure to things that I want to build my career?’”

Spend the early part of your career demonstrating your work ethic, she says. Be the employee who stays, on occasion, until 1 a.m. to finish a business proposal.

“If someone needs to come back early from vacation, go back,” she says. “That makes a statement.”

And know that while jobs may be harder to get for this generation, millennials have the advantage of parents and friends who are better coaches and professional role models than previous generations had, she says.

Use that support network, especially for getting your first job, she says.

“This generation, boy they get a bad rap, but all I see are kids who are incredibly bright and incredibly articulate and have role models from their parents that we didn’t have,” Napier says. “I think the sky is the limit for this generation.”

Julie Kirkwood is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

1/16/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email [email protected]

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