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How to diversify our workforce and increase our relevance

How to diversify our workforce and increase our relevance Allison Mezzafonte

Recent news about a lack of diversity in the media and advertising industry brings up a very important point about diversity and discrimination in the workplace. As Millennials come of age, societal and professional norms that have just "been the way it is" will be turned on their heads. We've witnessed important shifts in the gender demographics of our country: More women are being educated than men at every level, more men will be -- and want to be -- caregivers than ever before, and women are responsible for purchasing most goods in the U.S. At the same time, racial demographics in our country are changing rapidly, demanding equal opportunity. This all comes to a head as Millennials take hold as the largest working generation in the country. Yet despite these important trends, many leaders in our industry have not adapted their office culture to better support the new generation looking to have a productive career. What's more, our industry will struggle to relate to our consumers if we don't embrace new ways of doing business.

Research shows that Millennials of all kinds expect a better work-life balance and are much less loyal to employers that don't provide it. Diversity extends beyond race and gender, though both are still extremely important. Diversity also refers to work styles and career ambitions. Media and advertising companies don't often have structures that enable maximum productivity for workers in a complex market. Being inclusive should also mean inclusiveness for work-life balance and different forms of ambition. This generation doesn't have the same rigid expectation of a long week spent in the office with a straight climb to the top of the organization and it is imperative that industry leaders consider this when shaping the workplace. Creating a more humane culture could create a virtuous cycle of inclusiveness that improves diversity, which results in a work environment that better mirrors today's actual population, something that can surely improve relevance for our consumers.

Embracing a wider variety of work styles isn't just about adding a nap room to your office. A large gap in understanding between today's media bosses and their younger employees is about flexibility, communication, and technology. Millennials grew up in a multi-screen environment where they communicated with friends and family using FaceTime and Facebook. Many old school advertising agencies and media companies still favor the kind of "face time" that happens only in the office.

Tools like Slack and Google Hangout are so popular (and second nature, really) with younger workers because it mirrors the kind of real life/screen life that they used as they came of age. If employers are clear about what needs to be done and why, then allowing employees some modest flexibility to get the work done in a way that feels most intuitive to them should have no impact on the success or productivity of the business.

The majority of Millennials also believe that their current employer isn't helping them enough to develop their leadership skills. For an industry that has largely relied on fraternity-like hazing of early-stage employees, the idea of letting people work flexible hours while also handing them more responsibility seems irrational. But Millennials are happy to take on a bigger workload with more responsibility, so long as they feel like their needs are being met and voices are being heard. Millennials crave meaning in their work. Is it so much to ask for us to provide them with an understanding of the strategy so that they feel like they are a valuable part of the team? Transparency becomes key.

Losing talented people (particularly from leadership or creative roles) because they aren't willing -- or able -- to put in 100-hour weeks in the office is ultimately bad for the business. Sheryl Sandberg may be able to go home every night for dinner at Facebook, but in the middle ranks in most companies in our industry, leaving early while the rest of the team works late is still akin to asking never to be promoted again. Sacrificing health and happiness for the sake of an unforgiving corporate culture is an antiquated proxy for career success and should be reexamined.

Media and advertising professionals today arguably work harder than is actually productive. Many studies show that productivity and creativity actually decrease for people that lack sleep and rest. Changes in the way medical students and military recruits have been treated can provide insight for people in the media industry still clinging to old-school versions of success. Providing people with a chance to rest and recharge away from the office (or to simply make dinner with their family) not only allows the people currently holding these jobs to perform better, it increases retention, and allows a broader spectrum of workers to contribute, including many that would otherwise opt-out. Media is hardly a "life or death" situation, and yet many are expected to work as though we're saving people's lives.

Executives at the top of traditional publisher and agency firms need to emphasize inclusiveness or risk losing a generation of talent. Our media landscape isn't the "Madmen" landscape that it used to be. TV is going digital. People are connected to the internet through smartphones and Fitbits, through cars, and even washing machines. Startup companies are shaking up the flow of dollars from advertiser to agency to media company. Google and Facebook famously care about employee work-life balance, allowing them to recruit great talent. Now they make up more than 50 percent of the advertising dollars spent online. Smart workers will have many interesting places to find to work, and many leading companies in our industry will be left behind if not willing to adapt to our collective new norm.

Allison Mezzafonte is Sr. Vice President, Operations at Bauer Xcel Media, the global digital division of the Bauer Media Group, which has 1,000+ products in 20 countries and an annual turnover of 2.5 billion dollars. Allison is an award-winning...

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