Telum Talks To... Chris Lewis from LEWIS about Gen Z and the future of the workplace

Telum Talks To... Chris Lewis from LEWIS about Gen Z and the future of the workplace

Global marketing agency LEWIS revealed findings recently from its new global research on Gen Z and the future of the workplace. Conducted in support of the global HeForShe movement and the upcoming HeForShe Summit, the research sought to understand the expectations of Gen Z regarding company values and the leadership of CEOs.

The findings revealed that Gen Z place significant importance on company values and diversity programmes in the workplace, with gender and race diversity and equality being the top priority. The report emphasises the expectation and need for appropriate Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programmes in the workplace as a show of commitment towards driving positive social impact.

Some key findings from the research include:
  • 67 per cent of respondents believe company values are more important than the CEO / leader (vs 61 per cent in Australia).
  • 41 per cent would work for a company that is not gender or racially diverse, but only if it had a strong DEI program (vs 36 per cent in Australia).
  • 46 per cent said that if two candidates had the same qualifications, they would be in favour of the candidate that results in greater diversity in the company (vs 38 per cent in Australia).

Telum spoke with Chris Lewis, Global CEO of LEWIS, about the research findings and the implications for the PR and communications industry.

Why is the fight for gender equality particularly important to LEWIS, and why has LEWIS chosen to support the HeForShe movement?
The first thing to remember about gender equality is this: it’s not just a fight for social justice; it’s also a matter of business efficiency. In his book Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?: (And How to Fix It), Professor Tomas Premuzic points out the problem. Women have skill sets above their confidence levels and, broadly, men are the other way around. Overconfidence in men has been responsible for many of the corporate disasters that we’ve witnessed in recent times. In the last ten years we have heard about scandals in the automotive sector, religion and financial services. All these are led predominantly by men. This has manifold practical applications in business and it is a powerful argument for a more gender-balanced approach at the highest level.

Were there any particularly surprising findings from the research?
It was surprising that there was such a difference between Gen Z entering the workforce and Gen X, who are leaving it. Values really matter to the inbound cohort. This would have been almost unimaginable a few years ago. Again, there are solid business reasons why a corporation might want to be aware of this. The Gen Z cohort is much smaller than previous generations by volume. This means that there are likely to be more jobs than people in this group. This means, in turn, that employers cannot afford to discriminate against talent for whatever reason. Moreover, employers that do not appear considerate are likely to be excluded from job searches. It’s just not enough for the older generations to say, “In my day, I was lucky to have a job”. Talented young people have more options now than at any time and they include wanting to work in organisations that have cause-focused cultures.

The other surprising factor was complacency. Many senior leaders dismiss equality as “part of the woke agenda”. LEWIS has grown from start-up to one of the largest agencies in the world. We are not communists. Gender and other equalities are vital to the next generation of colleagues and those at the top need to wake up and realise this is not just a fad.

Responses from Australia suggest we are behind other parts of the world across several measures. What role do you think the PR and Communications industries Down Under can play in addressing and changing that?
If there is a reason why the Australian communication industries might lag, it’s possibly due to the size compared to, say, the US. The bigger the sector, the more aware of these issues they need to be. There is nothing in the Australian market that suggests it is any less sophisticated than other markets. Australia holds a unique position in the Asian theatre. It is resource-rich, well-run, well-educated and still has vast potential to come. Of course, its relationship with other players needs to be carefully managed. China, for instance, is a long way ahead on gender equality than countries like India. China owes its industrial miracle to the fact that its manufacturing industries are dominated by women. Manufacturing jobs in India are still more likely to be done by men. What has triggered growth in China is not just about investment or resources or planning, it’s the fact that China is one of the most gender equal countries in the world.

Going forward, how does LEWIS intend to address these findings within its own senior leadership team?
Balance is something you seek but never achieve. The largest leadership cohort within LEWIS is already working mothers and the best experts are working mothers. Gender equality, though, is not achieved by having all-female boards. Nor is it achieved by having women on boards that are forced to behave like men. Balance is the key. There are techniques that can be used. For instance, ensuring that the Chair consults with all meeting attendees; allowing equal time for all participants; and making sure the loudest voice doesn’t dominate. These can all make a difference.

Nor is equality just about gender equality. Recently, the company opened all its positions to non-graduates. Diversity and different skills sets in the team promotes strength. So, excellence is actually made up of diversity. This must include those who are intelligent, but maybe not conventionally so. Several senior positions, including Global Creative Director, are held by non-graduates.

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