Words: Toba Shahabi
When I started racking my brain for ideas on what to write on such a widely discussed topic for this blog post, it dawned on me how many different areas I would be able to tick a box for when it comes to diversity, and specifically, diversity of thought… I’m a young South Asian muslim woman, a foreigner, a refugee and also a Briton all in the same breath – madness.
I am passionate about diversity and rather than picking a topic I write frequently on, I wanted to talk about the value associated with age, or the lack of it, in companies from a Millennial’s perspective – a generation that seems to be a topic of conversation in its own right! The thought sprung to mind after watching a film called ‘The Intern’. For those that haven’t seen it, the story line is based on a company that rejects the idea that ageing means a reduction in value when it comes to employees. The film proposes a 65-year-old as an intern at a tech-based fashion start-up who ends up bringing a unique and new perspective to the company – SHOCKING! As a 24-year-old sat watching, it made me think, and that’s what I want to talk to you about today.
Taking a step back, the dictionary term ‘millennial’ is by definition a generational term, but often has a multitude of meanings. It can be used with positive connotations; ‘forward thinking’, ‘activist attitude’, ‘creative problem-solving’. Take founder of Gymshark for instance. Ben Francis, a millennial student-turned-entrepreneur who used social media influencers to accelerate his brand and has created a monumental following of gym goers in six short years, turning over $41m in revenue. How did he do it? He had a passion for sport and saw a gap in the market for affordable AND well-designed gym-wear. But is he just an outlier with rare traits, rather than yet another example of the potential in our generation?’
On the flip-side, often the term ‘millennial’ becomes associated with a few ‘bad traits’ which are then generalised as the norm for a whole generation.
“I feel the working norms have shifted and alongside them, young people’s access to opportunities have increased as companies take the step towards being more digital”
Unfortunately, some classic negative stereotypes prevail as a default with older generations. One in particular is that millennials are less hard-working and more entitled than their predecessors. Critics accuse us of, for example, expecting high-pay without the talent or experience to warrant it. Personally, I feel the working norms have shifted and alongside them, young people’s access to opportunities have increased as companies take the step towards being more digital. Namely, the continuous development of the internet, e-commerce, the exponential growth of social media and the creative job explosion. These have all enabled people, especially young tech-savvy millennials, to take chances and experiment without having to invest too much money. Being able to learn any skill we want to online, means opportunities are very accessible to us, so why wouldn’t we!
So what does this mean for employers?
I believe this depends on how responsive a company is to the needs of its employees. Working in media, I feel fortunate that structure and hierarchy isn’t as rigid as some stereotyped sectors such as finance might be. Being less ridged allows creativity some breathing room. So what is the hold up? I think many larger media organisations, due to historic norms and ‘corporate’ pressures, seek to accommodate this need for flexibility and individual expression day-to-day, but are being pulled back by policies and decisions that contradict the intention. A good example is ‘time-served’ based promotions, which value time in a role, aka age, rather than contribution and skills. Whether intentionally done or not, such decisions send clear messages to millennials, who may decide to opt out of the company ‘game’, and find an employer or an opportunity that rewards their skills, commitment and willingness to take risks.
“You’ll find that the innovation and enthusiasm… engages more than just your millennial employees”
I believe the media industry often provides an environment that nurtures millennial talent and is benefitting from becoming more flexible. By recognising that the value in our industry lies in our people, and the strength of both the group and individual output, finding more ways to harness the millennial mind-set is key to maintaining a high-performing company and one that represents the communities we advertise to. Investing in young people from different backgrounds and empowering them to dictate their own fate by rewarding original creative thought and promoting what is most valuable to deliver a competitive edge, as opposed to repeating the promotional structure that is sadly a natural and common approach for some at the moment.
It’s time to be the opposite of the stereotype! Give millennials the boundaries you need to, but as few as possible, then give them the freedom and support to take risks and you’ll see some impressive results. You’ll find that the innovation and enthusiasm this creates engages more than just your millennial employees. Try it.
Toba Shahabi is Create Production Executive at Clear Channel UK