Why it pays to have Gen Z women on business teams

For most CEOs, HR partners and operations directors who have never given much thought to Gen Z, those born between 1995-2010, data from a new report should be their wake-up call: Pay attention to the “innovation generation” if you want to drive growth and global competitiveness.

The report, released in a live briefing with leaders from KKR, the NASDAQ and accounting firm EY, is based on six years of data analyzed from student business plan competitions held at UCLA, Rice University and the University of Connecticut. At these schools, like many others, students are provided real-world learning opportunities to develop business ventures and compete for prize money – ranging from $3,000 to $100,000 – based on the viability of their plans.

Although women comprise just 22 percent of participants in these business competitions, 51 percent of the ranking teams (placing first, second or third) were comprised of a woman founder.

And more to the point, among the first-place winning teams, 32 percent had a woman CEO.

It’s about strategy

David Noble, professor and director of the Werth Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Connecticut, said the study shows that “women are less likely to get involved in entrepreneurial programming before they have a well thought-out idea and team. They’re waiting to a later point to show up and get involved.”

How can you recruit, motivate and empower Gen Z, also know as NextGen, women in the workforce?

Include NextGen women on teams

It’s not enough to have women in your firm; be sure they’re involved in innovation and meetings. They are highly ambitious and look for purpose in their work.

Despite inequality in access to capital, EY found that 30 percent of women-led companies are targeting growth rates in excess of 15 percent over the next 12 months, while their male counterparts will see only 5 percent growth.

Invest in STEEM, not just STEM Education

STEM creates the doers, but the extra “E” for entrepreneurship that will foster the development of leaders with mindsets that will enable them to navigate the future of work.

Jackie Taylor, a partner at EY, says her firm is advising companies to embrace “intrapreneurship” — the concept of harnessing entrepreneurship, but within a traditional company — to drive innovation.

“Intrapreneurship is also a great way to engage and retain NextGen employees,” she added.

The earlier women start, the better

Jody Bell, 16, developed a business plan through Girls With Impact and then launched her venture, In Case of Deportation, to provide one-stop immigration deportation guidance for youth, by youth. She now has a giant leg-up for both her college and future business career.

“I can guarantee you that there are other high schoolers equally as driven,” Bell said in discussing the report’s findings. “If we give them the skills, they will become the future leaders we need right now.”

Jennifer Openshaw, a nationally known financial innovator and Dow Jones columnist, is CEO of Girls With Impact, a tech-enabled mini-MBA turning teens into tomorrow’s CEOs and entrepreneurs. To partner, go here. Watch the Academy in Action.