Revelations From Gen-Z: A Desire for Action and Big Lessons Learned

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What are the workplace expectations of Gen-Z? And what kind of advice would they give to people involved with entry-level hires -- or younger members of the agency workforce? Those topics were front and center during a conversation featuring Wren Lee (they/them), an entry-level junior experience designer at Publicis' Sapient office in Boston. They revealed some important insights during an interview with Ambar Vidals, the 4As Foundation's Senior Associate, MAIP. An edited transcript follows.

Ambar Vidals: You've been involved with several organizations -- among them the Multicultural Advertising Intern Program (MAIP), O4U (Out for Undergrad, focused LGBTQ undergraduates) and Publicis' MCTP (Multicultural Talent Pipeline), to name a few. All of these programs have diversity top of mind. How did they shape your view of the workplace and set expectations when it came to your first full-time job?

Wren Lee (pictured at top): I was happy to be a part of these. Something I liked in MAIP and MCTP is that everyone who came to talk to us was so honest and open about their experiences and expectations. I don't appreciate when people try to hide things.

Talking about work-life balance stood out to me, especially now during COVID. People are trying to set boundaries and havepeople respect them. Something I got out of MAIP was how you set those boundaries; how to say "no" and have time for yourself. Because that's something I didn't have in college. I was very much wake up and have breakfast, but from that point onwards I was doing school or work stuff.

I learned a lot about being realistic about how you can respect yourself and uphold your mental health. These are things that I've taken into my workplace. One of my co-workers during my internship told [me,]"I block off an hour for lunch on my calendar so you can't book with me." And I thought, "That's so smart." Now I do that, too.

Vidals: What are some key lessons you'd like to share with other Gen-Z entry-level talent?

Lee: A big thing, especially with MAIP and MCTP, is growing your network and realizing its importance. I remember one of the main MAIP speakers said that your network is your net worth. Until graduation I didn't realize that talking to people, networking and making connections are super important.

Hearing from different senior-level folks, I realized you want to take advantage of opportunities as a young person, especially in advertising and marketing where there [are] so many different roles.

The biggest piece of advice that I've learned is to explore your interests, especially if you are young. [If you] want to go for a year to do something else completely different, go for it. You have time and flexibility. Now with the pandemic you can try different roles remotely. You don't have to be in New York, L.A. or Chicago. You'll learn what you like and don't like, more about yourself and how you work.

Vidals: Remote events have allowed entry-level talent to attend leadership conferences from home. In your opinion, why are such conferences important, especially for Gen-Z?

Lee: I think that online conferences are democratizing knowledge. That brings me a lot of joy because people who might not have been able to attend a leadership conference are now able to have opportunities to learn.

Social media is also democratizing knowledge and giving it to people who might not have been able to access it otherwise. I'm a strong believer in "share knowledge and spread as much information." It's empowering to have all that ability and control over what I'm learning and when I'm learning it.

Vidals: What would you want to see more of during these conferences?

Lee: I would love to see more concrete action steps. For example, networking [is] important, [but] what is a way that I could word this LinkedIn connection request? Gen-Z has a bias for action. We're go-getters, [and] we want to do things.

Vidals: What's one uncommon piece of advice that you would give any Gen- Z professional starting their first full-time role?

Lee: There are two interconnected things. One, I've had to take to heart that you're more than your job. I was in a group chat, and someone said, "It's just a job; it's just advertising." You are more than the person you bring to work. You have friends, family and connections. I [know] I am a writer, a creator, a storyteller, a partner, a friend -- all these different things. That plays into your mental health, and if you're not feeling great mentally, you're not going to do productive work.

That leads to my second thing. The decisions that you make are right for you at that moment. Maybe you have to take a slightly lower salary to be in the city you want to be in, to be with that company you want to work for. I have to remind myself constantly, when I made "X" decision, that person has grown, that person has changed and is a different person now.

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