One of the most insightful panel discussions in the inaugural Advancing Diversity Week was #AskGen-Z: What Inspires Them and What Has to Change in the Media Industry. It was hosted by MediaVillage's own In the Loop and #AskGen-Z columnist Kelly Kozakevich and featured six Gen-Z panelists who are currently working in the media, advertising, marketing and entertainment industry. Topics discussed ranged from what these young people look for in an employer and what they value in companies, to the work and the changes they wish to see in their respective industries. Gen-Z and young Millennials have proven to pursue careers aligned with their own passions and interests over conventional employment and look for employers that value those passions and encourage them to push the envelope. (You can watch the panel in its entirety in the video above.)
Gone are the days of college students following linear career paths and climbing the vertical ladder. Indeed, the fast fadeaway of that concept was backed by several industry leaders on Advancing Diversity Week panels.
Kozakevich kicked off the panel by sharing that Gen-Z is the most gender, racially and ethnically diverse generation in history and that a common thread among the generation is the value of experiences vs experience. "They're more likely to change jobs and maybe even careers multiple times," she noted. "Across all industries, the average duration of first jobs is now only nine months, and more than 60% of our panel today are likely to leave the advertising business in the next few years."
Accordingly, the first question she posed to the panel was, "What can leaders do better to inspire you to stay?"
"To retain employees from younger generations, leaders have to examine how they are taking care of their employees and assess whether or not they are meeting their needs," shared Sammy Yates, Director, Branded Entertainment & Marketing at The CW.
"When companies demonstrate they don't prioritize employee well-being, it raises red flags," added MediaVillage Client Relationship Coordinator Alondra Carmona. "I will always pick the company that values me and aligns with my passions. Say I'm under a lot of pressure or going through something personally and it's affecting my work. If I go to my manager or supervisor and tell them, 'Hey, I need a quick break just to get myself together,' and they say, 'That's not acceptable,' then that's a huge issue."
"I think something that is imperative for established leaders is to look to the next generation and provide opportunities," said Abigail Bazile, Account Manager, Strategic Partnerships, Urban One. "How are you breaking barriers for this next generation to come and what role model aspects can I look towards you on that can be reflected in my career trajectory?"
Kozakevich then asked, "What's the difference between an employer saying they're committed to inclusion vs. what they're doing to provide an environment in which you feel you belong?"
"We definitely want our leaders to be more action-oriented with their rhetoric," replied Xavier Conaway-Washington, Negotiator, National Video Investment at Zenith Media. "We want to see them back up all the work that they claim they did, that they want to strive towards, and really show that they value us and see us as the future because some people may just forget about all the struggles that we went through. Our generation does not forget, and we feel kind of left out, if you aren't really following through."
"Xavier really hit the nail on the head," Connor Laurent, Analyst, Global Consumer Banking at Citi, exclaimed. "Leaders need to be focused on not just talking the talk, but also walking the walk by creating employee resource groups, initiatives and programs. At the end of day, our generation holds leaders and companies accountable for things that they're going to say. If they're not doing that, then they need to be held accountable for not fulfilling."
"If you work for a company that does not reflect the value you place on social responsibility, how important is that to your decision to work at that company?" Kozakevich asked.
"I started off in the nonprofit world, and I did a lot of communications for them, so social responsibility was a big part of the whole organization," Carmona shared. "I made sure that it was something that I wanted to work towards and strive toward. These days, it can be hard to come by jobs and time. If I were in a situation where I couldn't turn down a job out of necessity, I'm going to pick the company that I align more with."
"I couldn't agree more," Laurent chimed in. "I think it would be very difficult for me to work for a company that I did not have much of an interest in, or that didn't have much social responsibility, diversity and whatnot. It's now much more important than it ever has been to support your employees and do the things that you said you were going to do. I don't see myself working for a company in the long term if they don't have much social responsibility."
On the subject of flexibility among employers in regards to working conditions, compensation, benefits and other terms of employment, Carmen Machalek, Sales Service Representative A+E Networks, had this to say: "We're in such an interesting time right now where some jobs are still remote and others are hybrid between home and the office one or two days a week. It's a huge perk because it offers flexibility with scheduling and, in some cases, better compensation than you would've gotten at the office two years ago.
"I think that's something people really look at when they're going into the workforce, especially from college," she continued. "Providing that flexibility, investing in the future generation and creating spaces for employees to grow is imperative in making sure they stick around."
Kozakevich closed by asking what parting words of encouragement the panelists had to share with their fellow Gen-Z'ers as they enter media and advertising.
"Employers and consumers alike really value authenticity, so don't be afraid to be yourself," The CW's Yates advised.
"Work hard. Have fun. Don't listen to the doubters. Use them as fuel and capitalize on your strengths," added Citi's Laurent.
"Learn something new every day and be open to networking not just up, but across," Urban One's Bazile suggested. "Build those relationships and don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Taking risks on yourself allows others to take a chance on you."
"Know your value going into the workplace," said A+E's Machalek. "You know what you can do. You know what your skills are. Be confident in your worth. Know what you can bring to the table."
"When you're in a room where people don't look like you, it can be very terrifying to speak up, but be loud," Carmona asserted. "Make yourself heard."
"Manage your expectations," concluded Zenith Media's Conaway-Washington. "Be patient. Not everything will work out the day, week or month that you wanted. Know your own worth and lean into those things that make you unique. That will make you fly."
In a separate Advancing Diversity Week panel, Career Opportunities in Media and Advertising, Publicis Media's Executive Vice President Diversity, Equity and Belonging Brian Vaught advised Gen-Z'ers entering the workforce to "be open to the possibilities of what your career can look like. It's a lattice, not a ladder."
Similarly, during the Gen-Z Town Hall, 4A's President and CEO Marla Kaplowitz remarked, "Careers aren't built vertically anymore. People are zigging and zagging all over the place. You have to try, ask and be ready to grow for that next experience."
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