the original millennial aerial ellis millennial leadership

The Opportunity for Millennial Leaders

By 2020, millennials will represent 50% of the global workplace, making us a huge influence on how business works.

Organizational leaders are becoming increasingly concerned that they soon will be unable to find the talent they need to succeed, with a shortage of suitably skilled workers as the single biggest worry. Businesses are competing fiercely for the best available talent to replace the retiring boomers in the upcoming years. Every year, more and more of that talent will be recruited from the ranks of millennials (PwC, 2011).

the original millennial aerial ellis millennial leadership

That means building leaders from the millennial generation can no longer be a delayed strategy for decision-makers in the workplace.

Reason 1: Millennials are critical to organizational success and sustainability

Reason 2: Millennials can quickly learn the ropes then come for the boss’s job

Reason 3: Millennials have options. We can decide we don’t want to work for someone

Reason 4: Without millennials, organizations will start to wane.

A report by PriceWaterhouse Coopers provides some insight into the minds of millennials. In 2011, the corporation carried out an online survey of 4,364 millennials across 75 countries under the age of 31 or under and had graduated college between 2008 and 2011. Seventy-five percent were currently employed or about to start a new job while 8% were unemployed at the time they responded to the questionnaire. The rest were self-employed or returning full-time to continue their education. According to the survey, 76% of respondents with a job said it was a graduate role, while 12% had a job that did not require a degree. The survey said that 54% expected to work for between two and five employers over their entire career.

This isn’t attributed to low attention spans and bouts of boredom millennials are believed to possess. This is a direct result of organizations determining that millennials aren’t high-level contributors because we’re not “one-size fits all.” We spend an average 1.5 years to 3 years working at a company. But working for two and five employers over a 40 to 50-year career suggests much greater longevity with an employer than that the perceived length of millennials’ employment, the survey said.

Millennials are vocal about what we want for our lives. Our careers are top priority. In fact, our generation sees a bigger picture for our work, leveraged by technology, freedom and creativity. This means we have the ability to add meaningful value to our work from anywhere at anytime, and we must be allowed to exercise that value in ways that others respect it.

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Here are immediate opportunities we can take as leaders:

  • Ask your employer for the resources to pursue education in your chosen field and opportunities to keep learning through training, workshops or tuition reimbursement. Also, be prepared to invest in your own training outside of the office to make your skills as marketable and transferable as possible. Ask for time with your manager for an explanation for how your specific contributions add to the company’s bottom line and how the team benefits from the efficiencies you can create.

 

  • Ask management for leadership and personality assessments to better understand your traits as an intrapreneurial leader. Seek a professional coach and internal mentors who can advise you along the way. We are comfortable with transparency and want management to practice it as they are grooming us. We get the basic ingredients for success, but can gain valuable guidance as the benefit of some unconventional advice. Be prepared to make improvements along the way based on the feedback you receive. And, don’t be offended, even if you don’t agree with what comes out of the evaluation. Use it to your advantage. When we ask management to help us, we should reciprocate a tone of clarity and openness, with a respect for inclusion and diversity.

 

  • Ask if you can mentor fellow millennials in the workplace who may need to be coached on the company’s culture. Offer to be a reverse mentor to baby boomers or Gen X-ers as an effort to build relationships with senior colleagues that could raise the bar on employee engagement and productivity. If you seek leadership in the workplace, ask for an honest assessment of your communication weaknesses and make sure you are working to inspire confidence, showing interest in the professional development of your coworkers and communicating with clarity and transparency.

When we define and prove our value as leaders, we create leverage to ask for more of what we want and the work we want to do.

It’s Complicated: Explaining The Role of Race in Police Brutality

*I originally published this in June 2015. In wake of more deaths approximately one year later, I am sharing this again…today.*

 

I’ve opened the past two semesters talking about police brutality on the first day of class in my Cross-Cultural Communication course at Lipscomb University. This is a required course for communication and journalism majors to grasp the challenges of communicating in today’s complex society so we go there and get pretty deep. Building communication strategies to address obstacles and opportunities within a client’s organizational culture is something I know very well but grappling with the thorny issues of our times with a room full of college students means I must dig deep and go all the way. There are a wealth of topics I could start the semester with instead but it just so happens the biggest story in the news at the time concerned violence, race and injustice – in fall we dealt with cases of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, and in spring, the cases of Eric Garner and Freddie Gray. It looks as if perhaps this coming fall in August I will unfortunately and again have new content on the same topic – now with the incident in Mckinney, Texas and who knows what else between now and then.

For all of these tragic instances, a firestorm of commentary and disagreement ensued across news media and social media, and protests arose all over the world. Some students wonder how this could happen in the United States. For others, unfortunately, police brutality and discrimination are all too familiar. Yet for a large majority of my students at our private, Christian, predominately white University, police brutality and the racial disparities that accompany the topic are foreign concepts. They are often confused but curious and compassionate in their attempt to make sense of tough issues that even us mature adults struggle to comprehend. Naturally, they are faced with anger, frustration, sadness, disbelief and lots of questions.

“The victim had to be doing something wrong, right Professor Ellis? Wouldn’t the news media tell us if something was done unfairly?”

“Professor Ellis, wasn’t this an issue during segregation? Why are we seeing so much about it today?”

“But Professor Ellis, does this mean most cops are racist or that we should fear them?”

“So Professor Ellis, how do we fix stuff like this?”

My answer to them: “Well, it’s complicated.”

 

I could share with you how I lecture on the basis of these questions but that’s a 2000-word essay, not a blog post. I tell my students we have many things to consider…

  • We’d need to consider how racism has always played a key role in our country and how it became embedded in our criminal justice system. We also need to talk about juries, how difficult it can be to find the truth and how media coverage and social media conversations impact the perceptions of what we believe is true. We’d need to consider the origins of racism and the repetitive narratives of injustice, violence and poverty in communities of color to examine the correlations.
  • We’d need to look at the public’s general perception about the problem of police brutality and its history in America from the civil rights movement of the 1960’s to the transition from community policing to military policing in the 1980’s. We’d need to examine data that shows if you are black you are far more likely to die at the hands of a police officer than you would if you are white, and how that knowledge has perpetuated a relationship of conflict between police officers and the black community. We’d need to talk about how the outrage makes people feel hopeless and inspired to react in protesting or even rioting.
  • We’d need to examine the disturbing trend in the news media where a person is often criminalized when they have been killed by a police officer rather than insisting they deserved to a chance to be charged, brought to trial and have remained among the living. We’d need to research at the trend of citizen journalism becoming a powerful catalyst for the narrative of injustice as a tool for breaking news. We’d need ask if we can discern by only looking at the mobile phone footage of a bystander how an unarmed citizen is to blame for the overcorrection, extra force or lack of control displayed by police officers.
  • We’d need to assess how police administrators are training officers and addressing criticism since police brutality has gotten so much national attention recently. We’d need to consider that what a police officer could despise more than anything is when their authority is challenged, regardless of your color, and that could get you thrown in jail or met with excessive force. We should acknowledge that there are officers and administrators who understand how this crisis is impacting public trust and are trying to handle the issue with care and concern because their profession requires that they put their lives on the line everyday.
  • We’d need to consider our role in calling out injustice as a social and moral responsibility when the dynamic of the unknown convicts us to acknowledge stereotypes and reveal blind spots. We’d need to be honest about the relative silence over unfair treatment when it doesn’t impact us directly. We should admit we are imperfect people who have a tendency to limit our perspective, opinions, beliefs and comfort zones to be in agreement with those who relate to us most. We need to remember that what affects one affects us all, or at least it should.

I told you. It’s complicated.

I have the next generation of FOX news anchors, CNN producers, national radio hosts, online news editors, public information officers, non-profit leaders and crisis PR practitioners in my classroom. They will shape public opinion and determine how we consume messages through media. These students are studying to go into newsrooms to write stories and headlines about issues they’ve never witnessed personally, go into communities that may not look like the places they grew up in with cameras to capture the conflict of people who don’t look like them, go into companies to help generate awareness among a target audience whose lifestyles they can’t relate to, or go into organizations to help senior leaders to communicate about issues that might make them uncomfortable.

If I don’t get real with them, who will?

Now, I could be the kind of professor that ignores the cultural sensitivities that surface from answering these questions or I could be the kind that challenges students and myself to explore our self-identities and look at how fit they into the world. This is where we must consider our younger generations who are confused but curious about their role in improving our society in ways that enlighten and empower them. Violence, race and injustice – the anchors of the cultural discourse around police brutality – aren’t the easiest concepts to grasp and are no longer the kinds of one-time shallow conversations we can sweep under the rug. Ignoring the facts dehumanizes us. They have to be talked about on an ongoing basis every time a story comes out.

I challenge you, whether a professional, professor or parent, to start having open discussion about cultural issues with the young students in your communities. Address your personal biases internally, dig for more than what is reported through media, be okay with the discomfort of disagreement when a different opinion is expressed, search for a historical context connected to these issues we’ve increasingly seen in the news, seek meaningful conversations with people who’ve experienced the cultural struggles that you haven’t, and empower a young student to intelligently assess their role in doing something about the issues.

I’d like to hear from you.

How has your perspective of race and police brutality been impacted by recent events?

How has media coverage of the current events heightened your cultural sensitivity to racial issues and police discrimination?

How do you intend to help the next generation of leaders understand and address difficult issues like race, violence and injustice?

A Chat about Women of PR in Leadership

1 out every 3 public relations professional is a woman. While the public relations industry has become a female-dominated field, the leadership roles across the board are held by men. And, the wage gap is even wider. Agencies like Burson-Marstellar and Hill-Knowlton are pushing initiatives to lessen the divide.

Understanding the importance of this discussion, the PRSA Diversity & Inclusion Committee, in partnership with the Association of Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, hosted a Twitter chat during Women’s History Month to explore workforce gaps in the PR industry and discuss how we can better work to develop women leaders.

Here are highlights of the chat in a Storify story. https://storify.com/aerialellis/women-in-leadership-pr

PRSA women leadership diversity Aerial Ellis

PRSA women leadership diversity Aerial Ellis

Inclusion Must Honor the MLK Legacy

As we return to work after observing the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, we must pause to honor his legacy and reflect on the impact of his work as it lingers throughout our communities.

If we consider the presence of that legacy being carried out in our organizations, we would immediately consider the practice of diversity and inclusion.

Sadly however, many organizations spend more time talking about how they can and should improve workplace diversity than taking any measurable action toward workplace inclusion.  Statements and declarations, committees and councils, trainings and assessments — all sound great. None of those things truly move the needle toward inclusion. When policies are not matched with strategic efforts, results will never come about.

In light of this much needed work, I was happy to create and coordinate the annual MLK Diversity Breakfast hosted by the Lipscomb University Department of Communication and Journalism and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on Friday, January 15, 2016 in partnership with the Council on Workforce Innovation and National Organization for Workforce Diversity.

This event is aimed at inspiring interactive conversation among local leaders who are champions for diversity and inclusion by sharing ideas, addressing issues and rethinking practices that affect our multicultural communities.

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(Aerial Ellis opening the 2016 MLK Diversity Breakfast at Lipscomb University.)

The MLK Diversity Breakfast is an opportunity for area professionals to gain a greater understanding of how to communicate about diversity and inclusion as a priority within their organizations and have access to a network of colleagues who collectively celebrate the cultural progression of the Nashville community. Our keynote speaker is a C-suite or civic leader connected to the practice of cross-cultural communication with a passion for the ways in which diversity and inclusion impacts business and community.

This year’s event featured Rose Jackson Flenorl, Manager, Global Citizenship, FedEx Corporation as keynote speaker. Flenorl directs and implements the company’s community outreach strategy in the areas of disaster relief, safety, environment, education, and diversity. She leads a team of professionals committed to representing the heart of the corporation by executing strategic programs and maintaining relationships with national and international non-profit organizations. Flenorl provided insight on the global corporation’s work in serving an evolving base of multicultural consumers, strengthening its pipeline to recruit, retain and advance diverse talent, and supporting minority business owners and community initiatives through citizenship engagement.

Last year, our inaugural event featured Anthony Carter, Chief Diversity Officer at Johnson & Johnson. Take a look at our 2015 highlights.

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(L-R: Rose Jackson Flenorl of FedEx – 2016 keynote speaker, Jacky Akbari of Now Diversity)

In addition to the breakfast, Rose Jackson Flenorl spent time talking with our communication and journalism students about the path to success in the industry. Discussions about diversity allow our students to better identify bias and stereotypes, discover advocacy with an objective lens, and communicate across global cultures as future journalists and public relations practitioners.

Though her visit, I believe all were able to consider diversity as a social action that challenges those norms, values, styles and patterns of thinking that can inspire more inclusive conversations.

If organizations strive to live up to the tenets of Dr. King’s vision, they must honor his legacy through actions that show real progress toward workplace inclusion. Initiatives must not only embrace employees for their individuality but also celebrate the differences that contribute to the success and innovation in the workplace regardless of gender, creed, color or sexual orientation.

Beyond commemorative events and celebrations, we have an obligation to act. Inclusion at any point should always be our goal. In this new year and moment of cultural reflection, I challenge you to thinker deeper about the ways Dr. King’s legacy can inspire and shape your organization’s practice of inclusion.

See a few highlights from the 2016 MLK Diversity Breakfast.

Five Things PR Pros Can Learn From #BlackTwitter

If you hadn’t heard, the Los Angeles Times recently added a reporter to cover #BlackTwitter.

What is #BlackTwitter?… I’m glad you asked.

Over the past few years, Twitter has become a platform for breaking news, public discussion, trending topics and cultural concerns. On occasion, a hashtag will emerge among the chatter. The hashtag #BlackTwitter has grown as one of the most popular colloquialisms associated with African-Americans who use Twitter, many of whom are tastemakers, public figures and intellectuals collectively setting the tone for daily dialogue related to real-world issues that would have been seen as rather taboo or sensitive for mainstream media.

Conversations around the murder of Michael Brown or scenes from ABC’s hit TV show “Scandal” are examples of how the hashtag reflects the variety in which African-Americans are passionately tweeting among themselves to raise awareness, celebrate interests and disrupt the narratives of mainstream media. Searching the hashtag means you will find discussions about everything from the calling out of a celebrity for making a cultural offense to running jokes about stereotypes shared among African-Americans.

PR pros are increasingly seeking ways to drill closer to the lifestyles, behaviors and sentiments of ethnic communities with social media as the source. Though hashtags have risen in popularity, use for audience research can be selectively evaluated and subjectively filtered. This is a critical place to pause and caution PR pros to think deeply about strategies designed to tap into a diverse ethnic community through social media.

Black Twitter Aerial EllisHere are five things PR pros can learn from #BlackTwitter:

African-Americans use Twitter frequently…

There’s a hint of consumer insight to be gained from #BlackTwitter. African Americans use social media more than any other ethnic group and access Twitter by roughly 22 percent as compared with 16 percent of whites, according to a study from the Pew Research Center. The study also revealed that 73 percent of all African-Americans using the Internet are on Twitter. Brands and organizations can build and benefit from access to this population and the dynamics of engagement that await discovery.

But this isn’t a solely “black thing” – it’s simply the nature of online communities…

The great thing about social media is that it provides a space for conversations that have been long had offline to find a home online. The essence of conversations within an ethnic group that derived mostly from their unique experiences is now open to observation for all. As in any online community, members are more likely to bond around a core commonality, follow each other, develop their own terminology, and create consensus around commentary. The knowledge of values and complexity is unlimited with #BlackTwitter because conversations can change overnight. However, this dynamic allows diverse groups to dominate conversations with an authentic voice.

Because their influence motivates movements…

The presence of African-Americans on Twitter established a history for the #BlackTwitter hashtag and the subcultures it birthed. When African-Americans felt mainstream media overlooked or ignored issues that impacted their community, they took to Twitter. For instance, the hashtag #BoycottSororitySisters was created by VH1 viewers to express their disappointment and embarrassment with a new reality show that chronicled the lives of African-American sorority sisters focusing on stereotypes among the women instead of the sisterhood and service these organizations are known for. After the backlash, brands such Hallmark, Honda, Domino’s and State Farm used Twitter to announce that their advertisements would be pulled from show and VH1 later confirmed the show’s cancellation.

That’s why newsrooms are watching…

Whether for profit or production, media has shown an increased interest in ethnic communities. Although there remains a deficiency among people of color working in newsrooms, outlets are getting smarter about how the history of diverse groups is researched and how the issues of race, gender, and identity within a community are reported. Content creators have to be responsible enough not to surveillance tweets for subject matter or copy and paste screenshots but instead work with users to tell broader stories through interviews and leverage access to the relationships of users to build diverse connections. Content creators should also be keen on the differences between a trending topic and a story of substance.

And remember, anyone can use a hashtag.

Careful not to use #BlackTwitter as a window into this consumer base from the comfort of your laptop without a true historical context of the audience and the issues they tweet about. Ethnic groups are not monolithic. Trends among people of color especially can be hard to assess. One member’s voice cannot cover the complete sentiments of the whole. Acknowledge the patterns but recognize that perspectives, interests and needs of a group cannot be teased out of a hashtag.

It’s enlightening to see the cultural phenomenon of #BlackTwitter proving the power of people-centered platforms but it’s more important that PR pros explore the intersectional issues discussed by people of color via social media through the advancement of inclusive conversations.

A New Reality: Women of Color Meet at C2 Miami

As organizations adjust to cultural shifts within their businesses internally and search for ways to connect with multi-layered audiences externally, diversity becomes a major topic for senior leaders. A new reality for women of color in the communications industry leading the conversation around issues of diversity and inclusion is now before us.

I had the exhilarating experience of attending the ColorComm C2 Conference last week in Key Biscayne, Florida. Women of color in public relations, marketing, advertising, media, and digital gathered from all across the country to share experiences and learn from one another to enhance their personal and professional development.

The three-day event for women focuses on leadership training, executive positioning, business development, and expanding financial literacy. The event also attracts leaders in diversity and inclusion.

I asked some of the nation’s leading women in the communications industry their thoughts on diversity and inclusion, and they all agree on one thing: the practice must be a priority.

Hear what they had to say.

With a star lineup of speakers including women’s activist Gloria Steinem and CNN’s Lisa Ling, the women dived deep into discussions about diversifying the communications industry, remaining professionally competitive, navigating promotions and achieving work-life balance.

This event exchanged rich moments of wisdom, intellect and sisterhood. Click below to see the great rundown of highlights from social media with the #C2Miami hashtag.

Aerial Ellis

I’m definitely counting down to #C2Miami 2016!

Are you a women of color in communications? How do you think diversity impacts our new reality?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave your comment here and tweet me @aerialellis using the hashtag #PRdiversity.