The next Sir Martin or Sheryl Sandberg is among us, but retaining them won't be easy

Crissy Sealy, business director of Team Red at Wavemaker and Media Week 30 Under 30 2017 alumna, shares her lessons from the ladder.

When asked to describe my "career-defining moment" I realised that distilling it down to one person, experience, or moment in time is impossible. To be entirely honest, it has to be a conglomeration of all three.

The last year has been incredibly defining for me: I was listed in Campaign’s 30 Under 30, promoted to become the youngest business director at MEC UK, and shortlisted as Rising Star at the Media Week Awards. That said, I consider my career defining moment to be the exact same thing that makes me question my right to be in it: the recession.

I could list many campaigns that ignited my love of media and advertising when I was a student. There was no "falling into it" for me. I studied fervently to get my degree, and spent a year abroad at business school in Seville in a class of Marketing Masters students who mocked my pronunciation of "GRP". I envisaged that, when I had earned my honours, I would walk straight through the doors of JWT and be snapped up. How wrong I was, blissfully unaware, sipping on sangria, and dreaming of my future career.

The UK had been in the midst of recession for 12 months prior to the start of my job hunt and, on the advice of my university, I took a marketing internship to build my hire-appeal in such an unpredictable job market. Ironically, it was through the bar job I was working at on the side to pay my rent that I finally got a break (and an interview) when I was introduced to someone who then worked at Carat. I was so grateful for that introduction, and I never looked back.

The point behind this is that we must address the industry’s ethos when it comes to the millennial workforce. The future of our industry lies in the hands of the next generation, who will make up an estimated 50% of employees globally by 2020. Instead of categorising millennials negatively to command, direct and control, it is my opinion that the focus should in fact be on coaching, developing and guiding those who will inevitably become the next industry leaders.

Our challenge as an industry is how to hire, and retain, the right talent to occupy those roles. The next Sir Martin or Sheryl Sandberg is among us, but there are some practical steps we can take to identify and retain them.

Value non-traditional skill-sets

To future-proof our industry, we must look beyond the benefits of a good grasp of Excel and a bachelor’s degree. The one factor that distinguishes the millennial generation from their Generation X predecessors is technology. Computer programming exists as a module in the National Curriculum, and with it comes a generation of school leavers who know more about algorithms than algebra. Apprentice programmes and hiring people from technology-based degrees and industries, will enable media companies to compete against the Googles and Apples of the world, who lead the charge in millennial recruitment.

Personal growth has a higher shelf value than salary

Deloitte has reported a direct correlation between the support of leadership ambition and loyalty. Despite demanding a shorter "climb" to the top, the expectation of fulfilment in your role is greater than a six-figure salary. MEC UK’s Abi Morris recently spoke about "Holacracy", and the deconstruction of hierarchies and silos to allow for shared responsibility regardless of title. This, along with the respect of the work/life balance, supports the inherent millennial need for space to grow as people (professional and otherwise).

Job roles must be fluid, and offer an abundance of opportunities

Sheryl Sandberg describes the "ladder" to career progression as a "jungle gym". Communications companies must be prepared to allow for growth outside of traditional job roles. In turn, roles should be less specific, allowing for secondments, training outside of the day job, and project-based work to keep younger employees engaged beyond the two-year average tenure.

MEC’s philosophy in tackling this issue is an exemplary shift in employer behaviour: a job is no longer for life. By understanding the millennial need for change, and allowing for freedom of movement within both MEC and sister WPP agencies, it is retaining its younger talent way beyond the average tenure. Millennials are a symptom of the world we now live in, short-termism is countered only by the employer’s understanding that once the job ceases to stimulate mentally, they move on.

A diverse workforce is a stronger workforce. The IPA and Campaign have set a target that by 2020 15% of leadership positions will be held by non-white employees, and 25% new joiners will be from BAME backgrounds. A greater breadth of intake across gender, sexual orientation, race, age, and body shape will solidify the future of our industry. Diversifying our industry will encourage greater balance, creativity and most importantly, inclusiveness.

It sounds simple, but by making our industry easier to penetrate we have more opportunities to induct those who will continue to build and sustain it.