I’m Headed to SXSW 2017

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In a few weeks, I’ll be in Austin, Texas. I’ve been selected to speak at the 2017 SXSWedu Conference & Festival, March 6-9. I’ll offer a mentor session on diversity, millennials and PR; and on Wednesday at 12:30 p.m., I’ll be signing copies of my book, The Original Millennial, too!

The SXSWedu® Conference & Festival fosters and celebrates innovations in learning by hosting a diverse and energetic community of stakeholders across a variety of backgrounds in education. The annual four-day event affords registrants open access to engaging sessions, immersive workshops, interactive learning experiences, film screenings, early-stage startups, business opportunities and networking. Through collaboration, creativity and social action, SXSWedu empowers its global community to Connect. Discover. Impact. SXSWedu is a component of the South by Southwest® family of conferences and festivals.

If you will be at #SXSW or #SXSWedu, add my session to your event schedule.

For more information, please visit http://sxswedu.com.

Why Cultural Fit Could Destroy Your Diversity Efforts

Culture is important. In fact, it’s what sets one organization distinctly apart from another. Your organizational culture is one of the most critical elements for having well-harmonized teams in which all the members fit.

Cultural fit has its merits. Industry gatekeepers prize cultural fit as a hiring imperative. Organizations use cultural fit for competitive advantage by relying on the idea that the best employees are like-minded with matched personalities, skills and values. Cultural fit supports the assessment that when people are different from the majority, and do not fit in group it becomes difficult to work with them and integrate them into the team. But there are serious limitations with the value of balancing fit with diversity and inclusion.

We’ve been deliberate to communicate the importance of workplace diversity yet overlook the concrete problems that are likely to emerge if homogeneity takes priority over genuine inclusion. Cultural fit, when misused in hiring for personal comfort, likeness, preference or chemistry, becomes one of the biggest threats to diversity in the PR workforce.

When done carelessly, the concept of fit becomes a dangerous catchall used to justify hiring people who are similar to decision makers and rejecting people who are not. Hiring for fit can keep demographic and cultural diversity low, force people into a given prototype and reinforce the myth that skill and talent is exclusive to a dominant group. This creates situations in which our organizations look diverse in appearance but are deceivingly homogenous. Sameness in profile, even with very different backgrounds, can breed the kind of culture that leads to uniformity and irrelevancy in the workforce, uninformed or overconfidence decisions among teams, and exclusion of high-performing candidates.

When done thoughtfully, the concept of fit becomes a progressive attempt to highlight contribution. Hiring for contribution can make our organizations more productive and profitable by redefining cultural fit to be closely aligned with business goals. This creates organizations where people with different perspectives, attitudes, and aspirations can work positively together. Achieving diversity through contribution is sign of future innovation. It signals that organizations committed to evolving to where they need to go are ready to trust high-level contributors to take them there.

To use cultural fit more effectively, we must decide that contribution has more value. Focusing on contribution in hiring shifts an existing organizational culture by taking the energy up a notch and setting the stage for creativity to flourish.

Instead of looking for someone who fits neatly your organization’s culture, seek to discover how this person will introduce something new and unique to your current culture. Instead of asking someone to match closely with your existing culture, seek to determine whether they are likely to energize your culture and nudge it in the right direction. As a result, your organization can become a home for big ideas and better growth.

Assess what your organization is doing well and what important measurable goals you can crush. Assess what is not going well and is a battle to achieve. Determine which aspects your organization’s culture directly affects how you reach those goals. Ask what qualities and differences are likely to influence the existing culture in a meaningful and positive way. In doing so, you reframe the concept of fit by developing a cultural profile based on contribution.

While there’s nothing wrong with asking the question, “Is he a culture fit,” it shouldn’t be completely synonymous with, “Do we like him?”

The beauty of diversity is having people come together to work on a common goal. We can’t lean on cultural fit to the degree that we become afraid of the perceived conflict in putting together different people or begin to treat diversity efforts like a chore that needs to be managed. The next time someone asks, “Are they a culture fit”, carefully consider what the answer might be. This approach could destroy all that we’ve what we have been striving for in championing diversity in our industry. When we rely on contribution, we create an opportunity to shift a culture with diversity and make inclusion a real concept.

What Makes a Great Mentor?

I will admit. I have some amazing mentors. They each come from different walks of life and parts of the country, have different areas of expertise and serve a different purpose in my life. Having a diverse group of people who pour into me regularly has made a major impact in my personal and professional development.

That’s why I make mentoring a priority and work really hard to help young professionals. As part of that desire to teach and groom others, I am happy to serve as an advisor for the diversity and inclusion committee with The Plank Center in Leadership for Public Relations. This group’s purpose is to be a catalyst for other professional organizations, to help identify and bridge gaps, and assist organizations seeking to adopt best-in-class practices in the area of diversity and inclusion.

We are devoting resources to diversity and inclusion research and we are launching an online research library designed to help students, educators and professionals locate public relations research on diversity and inclusion, leadership and mentorship.

We will celebrate our efforts and honor leaders in the industry this week at an annual Milestones in Mentoring Gala. The gala recognizes the dedication and impact of individuals who have fostered relationships with their organization, community and profession.

Though I am still early in my career in comparison to the majority of my industry’s leaders, I don’t think its ever too early to mentor. My mentors have been responsive, tough-loving, open-minded, free-hearted and innovative, and I try to model them in the way I mentor.

What about you? What things do you think make a great mentor?

Aerial Ellis plank center diversity inclusion

Where Are The Leaders?

Millennial Leaders

So many headlines seem to focus on the idea that millennials are not poised to lead. We are incompetent, shiftless and non-committal. We show up late. We act entitled. We demand more than we earn.

These generalizations don’t change that fact that millions of original millennials are employed and show up to work every single day ready to achieve. These assumptions don’t diminish the thousands of problems being solved by original millennials who revolutionizing the way business is done.

While we should expect to see an influx of millennials in leadership positions over the next few years, you’re probably asking “where are they?”

In my new book, The Original Millennial, you will discover that original millennials are valuable, loyal, high-performing leaders. You will learn lessons of leadership for your own life and career. You will take away inspiration and hope that future is in good hands with an original millennial at the helm.

As we countdown to the release in just a few weeks, you may pre-order my book today for only $8.99. This gets you access to exclusive interviews with millennial leaders before the book is officially released.

Share this post with a millennial!

What’s Life Like For Students of Color at a White College Campus?

Collaborative Conversations on Race

I attended an HBCU and was engulfed by the black experience in college. Not until I began teaching at a predominantly white university did I begin to examine the experiences of students of color who spend their college years as an racial minority.

I am happy to lead a discussion on Tuesday, September 20, 6 p.m. that allows our students of color at Lipscomb University to share what life is like on a majority white campus.

Join me for this candid chat!

Did you attend a predominantly white university? What was your experience as a person of color? As a white person, what opportunities did you have to experience life on campus through the lens of a student of color?

Participate in the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #culturalcomm

#blackstudents #latinostudents #diversity #inclusion #intercultural #communication #crosscultural #race #ethnicity

The event is free and open to the public.

To learn more about the Collaborative Conversations series at Lipscomb University, visit: http://www.lipscomb.edu/leadership/news-events

Sneak Peek from The Original Millennial Thought Leadership Series

Have you pre-ordered your copy of my new book, The Original Millennial?

Early adopters who pre-ordered the book have been receiving exclusive content from The Original Millennial thought leadership series. Here’s a sneak peek from the book featuring an amazing original millennial!

MEET BRANDON FRAME:

Brandon Frame, founder of The Black Man Can, has devoted his career to combating negative images and shaping perceptions of Black men and boys in more honest and multidimensional ways.

A Connecticut-native, Brandon founded the digital platform in 2010 to promote and advance positive, reinforcing images of Black males. Since then, The Black Man Can has grown into a full-fledged institute that provides motivation and mentorship to boys of color across the country. In addition to founding The Black Man Can, Frame is the Director of Business Partnerships and Program Development of Hartford’s High School, Inc. He has received numerous awards and honors including Top 40 Under 40 by The Hartford Business Journal and BET Honors Next In Class.

WATCH BRANDON’S INTERVIEW

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To begin receiving exclusive content PRE-ORDER a copy of the book for yourself or to share with millennials you know, love or mentor.

TWEET TO YOUR FOLLOWERS:

Calling all #millennials! Join The Original Millennial thought leaders series now for only $5.99 http://bit.ly/theOGmillennial @theOGmillennial

Your contribution to this project is an early investment that will empower leaders of the millennial generation years to come.

Pick My Panel for SXSW

I am so excited to have an opportunity to do a book talk at SXSW 2017 in Austin, TX for my upcoming release, The Original Millennial, but I need your help.

You have to vote for me! The proposals with the most votes will be considered to present at the conference next year. You may log-in and vote now through September 2. Will you vote for my proposal? Click below.

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After you vote, follow @theOGmillennial on Twitter and tweet this to your followers:

Pick this #SXSW panel: Leadership Lessons for The Millennial Generation
http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/61297
We are on COUNTDOWN for the official release of the book. PRE-ORDER today!
Your contribution to this project is an early investment that will empower millennial leaders for years to come.
Thanks!

Grooming Millennials for Senior Management

I’m often met with shock when I tell people that I’ve owned two PR agencies.

Sure, I’m a millennial, but I started my PR career at a relatively young age. When I ran Urbane Imagery from 2004-2012 I hired two millennials in part-time senior roles, and when I was in charge at duGard Ellis Public Relations from 2012-2015 we had seven millennials on staff, two of whom had director titles.

Millennials understand how the biggest misconceptions surrounding our generation may annoy agency leaders. We’re portrayed as being overconfident, self-centered, self-entitled and preoccupied with our hand-held devices to the detriment of face-to-face contact.Unfortunately, the culture at many PR agencies is not conducive to cultivate millennial employees for senior roles.

However, underneath myriad labels, millennials posses key attributes that PR agency owners need in order to enhance the longevity of their agencies and embrace social media marketing.

As millennials move into the management ranks PR agency owners have an opportunity to leverage our energetic, ambitious and entrepreneurial spirits for the continued success of their firms.

With that in mind, here’s three tips for how to groom millennials for senior management:

1. Explain why. Millennials need to know “why.” We are curious problem-solvers. We need to know why precise operational procedures are in place. Why a distinct strategic solution is implemented for a particular client and why billing and accounting policies are structured in a certain fashion. Why do managers need to explain things frequently? Because providing clear explanations reveal the thought process behind your leadership decisions and creates knowledge-sharing opportunities. Rather than assigning repetitive tasks, take a moment to give millennials focused responses as to how their contributions fit into the bigger picture (and the bottom line). Explaining “why” lets millennials know that your agency has a business imperative to make their career growth a priority.

2. Learn how to coach failure. Millennials don’t fail well. We often have expectations to win at every turn. The desire to win comes naturally to us, so senior agency executives need to show us what to do when things don’t work out. “Get millennials to use their critical thinking skills by talking through what went wrong and how to improve the conversation for the next time. Make failure a teachable moment. Point out the hiccups and make recommendations for a fix,” said Jamal Hipps, chief creative officer at MPYER Marketing & Advertising.  This allows agency owners to assess potential leadership behaviors and attitudes among those millennials who are most willing to harness their strengths and openly address their weaknesses.

3. Provide for a sense of ownership. Millennials embrace ownership. We like to say, “I led that project” or “That’s my campaign.” We desire quick promotion, rapid progression and various interesting tasks and assignments. But, for owners and managers, it can be unnerving to relinquish control and critical decisions to millennials. Don’t fret. First, test responsibility by sharing all your projects and letting millennial employees choose which ones they want to tackle. Then, by providing needed resources and being available for questions, managers can offer millennial team members ownership of specific assignments/projects. Remember, millennials are the most ethnically and socially diverse generation to enter the workforce, not to mention the first generation weaned on social media and online communications. They don’t call us “digital natives” for nothing.

As the face of current agency leaders changes, millennials will need to step into the second tier. It is up to agency owners to transform us from swift and savvy technicians to strategic and visionary leaders. The above recommendations are your blueprint.

Let us know what you think we might be missing here.

 

**This post is an excerpt from my thought leadership series, The Original Millennial. Pre-order the book here.

How The Millennial Generation Has Redefined Diversity

A client came to me once and said, ‘Aerial, how do we get our millennials talking? They bring value to our organization and seem have a deep appreciation for diversity but we just don’t know how to engage them. Is there some kind of internal communication strategy we need to implement?”

I belong to the millennial generation so I understood the necessity behind their inquiry. An obsession with Generation Y, also know as millennials, has overtaken all aspects of culture. Millennials are likely the most studied generation to date. Brands and organizations have formed a fascination with how to relate and connect to millennials. Media and scholars have developed a 21st-century style of urgency to understand this demographic. Not since the baby boomers has a generation been the target of such fixation and the growing generational gap is redefining how we think about diversity and inclusion.

 

Millennials Leading a Cultural Shift

Not only are millennials the largest generation to date, we are the most traditionally diverse generation in history. A culture shift in the population shows that of the 80 million millennials and counting, 60% classifying as non-Hispanic white in comparison to 70% of the previous generation. That percentage is projected to continue a decline as ethnic minorities (blacks & hispanics) will account for 60% of the population by 2045. Of millennials in the US, 59% are white and 27% have immigrant backgrounds. The ethnic profile of the millennial is far more blended that than of previous generations. In addition, there are millennials who come from an increased percentage of single-parent homes, blended families, and families with same-sex parents than ever before (Broido, 2004).

Authors Neil Howe and William Strauss described the generation as an ethnically diverse generation who are team players, optimistic, confident, trusting of authority, rule-followers, achievers in school, and generally achievement-oriented in everything they undertake. Furthermore, millennials will make up an estimated 50% of the workforce by 2020 ultimately changing the face of organizational leadership.

Here at the 2016 NOW Diversity Workforce Diversity Breakfast Forum with panel of young professionals for The Millennial Report on Workforce Diversity – myself, Kinika Young (Bass, Berry & Sims), Marcus Johnson (Edward Jones) and Luke Marklin (Uber) and Q&A facilitator Jonquil Newland (News Channel 5) giving insight on how millennials are changing the workforce. (Photo Credit: NOWDiversity.org)

Millennials Needing Expression and Acceptance

For millennials, walking into an organization and seeing all types of people is a norm. Diversity of race and gender is a given and in some cases a must. While older generations likely consider demographics, equal opportunity, and representation as the frame for diversity, millennials are much more concerned about the diversity of thoughts, ideas and philosophies as we contain an unending curiosity to understand differences and explore opportunities for collaboration.

There is a growing segment of millennials who are refusing to check our identities at the door while many organizations are remaining unchanged in their response to our need for expression and acceptance. This need is not just an expectation we hope to receive for ourselves but one we want to see granted to other cultural groups as workplace demographics evolve. Our appreciation for share of voice is aligned with an appreciation for cognitive diversity.

This means organizations are forced to rethink and redefine their approach. Instead of using the phrase ‘diversity and inclusion’ to describe race, age and gender in a traditional fashion with no ties to business growth or evolution, the millennial generation has compelled organizations to consider a combination of unique traits to overcome challenges and achieve business goals as the diversity of experience and the inclusion of thought become increasingly more crucial to future innovation.

Millennials Commanding Inclusion and Innovation

As millennials move into leadership, a transformation in traditional diversity and inclusion models will challenge past approaches and break barriers that have hindered the progress.

Connectedness is part of our generational DNA and breeds the kinds of transformation organizations of the future will command. While there is much work to be done, the millennial generation is a likely catalyst to show how advocacy, learning, and leadership can collectively leverage opportunities to see greater inclusion and innovation.

If making a commitment to diversity and inclusion truly means allowing an individual to bring his/her true and whole self to work, organizations must ensure millennials, along with other culturally advanced cohorts, can work in a collaborative environment that openly values tangible participation from individuals who have different ideas and perspectives that can have positive impact on business outcomes.

This post is an excerpt from my thought leadership series, The Original Millennial.

Pre-order the book below.

The Original Millennial Aerial Ellis