Generation Y: Evolution, Revolution or generational epiphenomenon?

On the one hand, Mazars, an international organisation, specialising in audit and consulting, which relies on the expertise of 13,000 professionals in 69 countries, finds itself confronted with changes being made to staff whilst also managing transgenerational teams. On the other hand, WoMen’Up, the first association to address the issues of gender diversity in business exclusively from the perspective of Generation Y.

Together, they conducted a survey of 1011 Yers from 64 different nationalities. In order to decipher the results, we asked Laurent Choain, Director of Human Resources, Mazars Group, as well as Emmanuelle Duez and Adeline Braescu-Kerlan, co-founders of WoMen’Up, to exchange their views.

Cross-interview between Laurent CHOAIN, chief HR Officer of Mazars and Emmanuelle DUEZ and Adeline BRAESCU-KERLAN, co-founders of WoMen’Up

Laurent CHOAIN, chief HR Officer of Mazars

Emmanuelle DUEZ, co-founder of WoMen’Up

Adeline BRAESCU-KERLAN, co-founder of WoMen’Up

Why have you conducted this survey?


To date, we are the only association by and for Generation Y to work on gender equality in business within France. Our conclusion is as follows: for the past thirty years, when we talk about gender equality in the workplace there are two theses, two strategies and almost two opposing ideologies: for some people, it is a matter of social justice, women account for 50% of the planet’s population and 50% of those in higher education, therefore logically, there should be 50% women on the board of council. For others, particularly within business, it is necessary to legitimate the ‘‘business case’’ with internal policies for diversity: a link must be established between the presence of women, especially at the highest levels of management and the economic performance of the company. It is clear that despite numerous serious studies about this subject, it is still a source of contention.

WoMen’Up defends a completely different vision, one that is very innovative: the business case would be elsewhere; the diversity policies implemented within enterprises would be a contributing factor in the attraction and retention of talents from the famous Generation Y. Why? Because presently, men and women under the age of thirty, the first generation whose mothers were mostly employed, share common aspirations of equilibrium and demand that companies respect the work-life balance. Since young men are taking part in a struggle that was once the reserve of women in such an uninhibited and natural manner, is this not the sign of a true revolution in progress?

We have conducted this study with Mazars to test our initial hypothesis: is achieving balance in life really a major concern shared by the representatives of Generation Y? Does this have a part to play when men and women choose a specific company and also whether or not they decide to stay there? Do men and women of this generation have opinions that are different, identical or equal, especially regarding competition within business?

Laurent Choain:

Mazars is a multidisciplinary and multicultural group. We are present in 69 countries and diversity is an extremely variable reality. We recruit more than 3,000 young people worldwide each year, therefore, Mazars is young by nature. Understanding the motivations of this generation is essential for us. Subsequently, we are a company that provides services, with collective intelligence being the founding principle and it is necessary to be knowledgeable about the expectations of this generation.


How does gender equality function at Mazars?

Laurent Choain:

Approximately 50% of employees recruited are women and 50% are men. But moving up to partner level, we no longer have this balance. We need to work on proven talents, among which we have identified 43% to be women. My generation has moved on from the milestone of equality, men and women alike receive an education and have a profession. I think that the legislations and regulations are in line with a continuous and sincere improvement, even if the results are often expected. It will be a long process, indeed, and it is also the responsibility of businesses such as ours to accelerate the pace.


The results show that there is very little difference between the expectations of men and women, but they also demonstrate the concerns of women who feel that they are in competition with men. 37.8% of these women want quotas. What do you think Emmanuelle and Adeline?


Effectively, even if Generation Y is the intrinsic bearer of change due to their convictions and behaviour, a revolution on the subject of diversity will take time. At the moment, there is a lack of role models in the highest levels of management who young women can identify themselves with and help them to plan for careers in positions of leadership. To address the issue, in the short/medium term, a solution exists, it is not ideal but it is necessary and has already proven itself in other struggles: quotas. In 2012 under the legislative impact, the diversity ratios in boards of administration reached 23.4% compared to 20.8% in 2011. But let’s not forget the men, the cornerstone of the problem that will allow us to permanently transform proceedings: the legislation on paternity leave forms part of a major breakthrough, because in the same way that women need role models to enter into high-flying careers, men need male references in the highest levels of management who will take on a father-like role, a companion, or more broadly speaking, an individual who has had many experiences.


Generation Y: Is this generation the same as the others who had new ideas or will there be a real shift in society?


We believe that what we call Generation Y is more than just an isolated generational effect, it is a culture, a fundamental movement that will intensify with the arrival of the new generation, ‘‘Z’’. This common culture challenges traditional models, especially those of the company. Our generation has been a first-hand witness to the disastrous consequences of unemployment and parents who sacrificed everything for the company before being dismissed in times of crisis. In a fairly logical and positive manner, and far from out rightly rejecting companies, young Yers simply assume that if work is a source of fulfilment, it is just one of many, and happiness lies in the harmony and balance between these different spheres. Logically, they ask organisations to be understanding and to adapt. This aspect emerges clearly from the study.

Laurent Choain:

Mazars is very young by nature; our population consists primarily of Yers and renews itself constantly by the same model of our industry. We must operate like a school in the sense that learning is a continual process. Most of our former members have fond memories and a strong bond with Mazars. My goal as HRD is to make our members highly employable, so that they will become our partners or continue their accomplished careers elsewhere. More generally speaking, I view the Generation Y as a generation in its own right, a source of influence as well as subject to influence, just like all the others.


Your survey shows that young people firstly want to live life to the fullest, maintain a good work-life balance and finally, be financially independent; the opposite of their parents. This appears to be a global phenomenon.

Is it selfishness or individualism?


Generation Y is labelled with a number of attributes, not always flattering, and individualism is one of the highest ranking. This trait can be given two interpretations: individualism that tends to be selfish, in which young people are only thinking about themselves and are no longer committed to the company and others. One can also see a strong trend towards putting the individual, the human, at the centre of choices and the professional and personal spheres. The Yers do not reject the company and do not refuse to get involved, on the contrary, they ask the company to adapt, to evolve in order for it to become a place of fulfilment and balance so that the Yer can fully get involved. Similarly, Yers are two times more likely than their parents to commit to a role that seems just and meaningful. In conclusion, we are self-centred, certainly. Selfish? Allow us to contradict you and respond with the title of the excellent essay by François de Singly, ‘‘Individualism is a humanism’’...


FOCUS: The priorities of Generation Y

According to men, 31% want to live life to the fullest, 21% want to find a balance between their personal and professional life, 13.3% want to spend time with family and 10.5% want to be financially independent. According to women, 31.9% want to find a balance between their personal and professional life, 25.2% want to live life to the fullest, 11.9% want to be financially independent and 10% want to succeed professionally.

Laurent Choain:

Generation Y challenges the hierarchy and functions in a faster and more direct manner. However, if you had asked the previous generations, at least mine already, if they saw themselves on one career path in just one company, they would have mostly answered in the negative. However, I agree with you on one point, Generation Y is very eager in the sense of wanting more varied methods of working. I had to force myself to react in ‘‘professional mode’’ when, for Christmas, my son asked me for a video game that is considered to be violent. Despite my initial reaction, I forced myself to find out what it was about, and I did find interesting dimensions of learning, particularly the historical perspective. As far as in business, to understand, adapt and adopt some of Generation Y’s new cognitive frameworks cannot be avoided.


There is still a difference in opinion of Generation Y between yourselves because Laurent, you talk about a new method of communication and you, Emmanuelle and Adeline, talk about a real movement. Yet this generation has new professional criteria that favours human qualities with expertise placed much further behind.

How can we reconcile the company with these young people?


Instead of reconciliation, we prefer to speak about adaptation. The breakdown is not at all completed, far from it. The company remains a place of engagement and fulfilment. Help managers to understand the new aspirations and change the models to make them more sustainable, because this means being more suited to the new generation entering into the labour market. Help Yers to also explain their expectations and to accept the necessary constraints related to the business world in return. But we are very confident: Generation Y is less WHY than HOW, it will be a propositional force and will bring major innovations to the table.

Throughout the study, small avenues have emerged to allow for reflection, improvement, evolution, revolution and especially the revelation that the reactions of young people from 64 different nationalities are almost identical. Life-long learning, working in collaborative ways, levelling out hierarchies, valuing merits and skills rather than diplomas or degrees and the development of human qualities all pave the way to exploring... together!


Is this not what you dream of offering, Laurent, a university in business?

Laurent Choain:

Yes, I am totally convinced that the company should offer continuous learning, or even issue degrees, it is a dream that I have always had. We’re not there yet, but we’re working towards it at Mazars. We are also working with the concept of flexibility and quality of time spent working, which is very diverse depending on the continents, but now present in China, as in Russia and France. Means of communication completely change our relationship, as you will be aware; we conducted the survey uniquely through the internet and social networks. This is a first for Mazars. But fundamentally, I do not think that Generation Y should be the sole object of our attention, and I’m in agreement with the remarkable work of WoMen’Up on promoting gender diversity: what counts is generational gender equality and social promotion, which is now only offered by two systems: school and the company.