Much has been written about Millennials and the way they are influencing workplace skills with their social media fluency and technological savvy. Those aged 18 to 33 have set a high bar and it’s only getting higher.
The good news? While technical proficiency is a must-have for anyone entering the workforce, employers are beginning to wake up to the fact that it’s often the things that can’t be taught in a weekend catch-up class—the “soft,” human skills—that are so valuable.
And it just so happens that women tend to have these skills in spades. We are hardcore soft skills experts who can unleash all manner of transformative power into any business lucky enough to engage us.
What’s more, for many women who have opted out of the workplace, these skills have not gone away—they have gotten even stronger. Whether you have been home with your children, overseeing independent projects, heading volunteer committees, or taking care of an elderly parent, you have been developing skills that are critical in today’s workplace.
1. Active Listening
While Millennials are pegged as digital natives connected 24/7 to their phones, they also crave connection and meaningful relationships. In an office environment, they, like most employees, want to feel that their colleagues and bosses know and care about them. They want to understand the organizational strategy and purpose and how their part fits in.
Technology cannot do this work. Leaders must invest the time to listen, connect, and build relationships. If they don’t, the data is clear. Turnover goes up, which is very costly to the bottom line. This is just one example where human wisdom is better than a skill set. And women, who have spent their lives learning to be good listeners (even when sometimes we would have been better served to speak up!), are brimming with super-wisdom.
2. Providing Feedback
Companies have begun to get rid of the annual performance review—and not a moment too soon. These reviews are expensive, time-consuming, and something that both managers and employees often dread; given the rapid pace of change within any organization, waiting until the end of year to provide assessment means lost opportunity.
In more enlightened companies, managers are expected to provide on-going, informal feedback. They are required to have conversations and build relationships. Survey data has shown the correlation between managers who are providing feedback and increased employee engagement. Engaged employees are happier, don’t change jobs as often, and are more productive—all good for the bottom line.
You don’t need to be a social media guru with 30,000 followers to provide feedback and help your employees grow and developm, or to meaningfully contribute to the daily web of conversations that are part on any working team. In fact, the less time you spend glued to your phone, the better conversationalist you might be. And again, while it would be nice if women weren’t always expected to be in charge of every relationship’s subtle communication, in the workplace, understanding what people are really saying is an ace in the hole.
3. Modeling Sustainable Work Practices
A Harvard Business Review study of over 19,000 people found that “when leaders actively support more sustainable ways of working … the result is a significant positive impact on employees’ engagement, stress levels, retention, and job satisfaction. When leaders model in their own behavior sustainable ways of working, the effect on those they lead is far bigger.”
This is emotional intelligence at work, not a business school lesson-learned. A manager recently told me that when she goes home, she spends time with her kids from 6-9 p.m., and that she won’t actively be on email. And even though she goes back online at 10 p.m., she makes sure her team knows that they don’t have to respond right away to those late-night emails. You don’t need technical skills to know how to lead. You need to know how to relate to people.
Companies like Patagonia, LinkedIn, and Huffington Post are all inviting so-called soft-skills to the table. Neil Blumenthal, CEO of Warby Parker, says, “We know in this day and age that almost no work gets done outside a team setting,” and so he actually, explicitly hires for empathy.
Not only is this good news for those returning to the workplace, but it’s the right thing to do for this human business.
Erica Keswin is the Founding Principal of Organization Performance Relationships, a boutique consulting firm that works with businesses to intelligently integrate technology as they cultivate meaningful and productive relationships. Follow her on Twitter at @OPRConsulting.