Tapping into the next generation of talent

In 1998, McKinsey & Co. coined the phrase, “the war for talent,” tying an organization’s future success to its ability to attract, develop, motivate and retain talented employees. Twenty years later, the war for talent is shifting to the next generation of talent entering the leadership pipeline.

“I am impressed by the new generation,” said Publicis Groupe’s Chairman and CEO Arthur Sadoun, articulating the consensus sentiment at the Women’s Forum Global Meeting 2017 in Paris. But it won’t be any easier to win the war for talent. Millennials are challenging to organizations, noted Amanda Leacy, Global Managing Director of Accenture, but she added: “I’m hugely optimistic about the future.”

Developing the next generation of leaders is a challenge for everyone, agreed April Feick, Vice President of ExxonMobil. But she, too, added: “I think it’s an opportunity.”

To get the most out of the next generation, particularly the next generation of women, organizations are tending to their image as modern organizations, addressing education and changing their hiring practices.

Bringing sexy back

Inga Beale, CEO of Lloyds of London, acknowledged that getting young people interested in insurance is challenging, because “it’s not very sexy.” Insurance is “still full of men in suits,” she said, and women are far less likely than men to want a career in the sector.

Insurance would be more attractive to youth if it were presented as “de-risking investments in the future” — allowing companies to go ahead with risky ventures that fuel human progress around the world.

“We’re looking to attract new types of talent,” like data scientists, medical experts, and experts in cyber economics and anti-terrorism, Beale said. Recent natural disasters like the hurricanes in the Americas and the Mexican earthquake show where insurance fulfils its strong social purpose. This should be attractive to youth, “we just haven’t done a very good job of selling it.”

Start-up culture also appeals to many Millennials, which makes the talent market challenging for companies outside the tech sector. Asked whether big companies like ExxonMobil could replicate the excitement of a start-up, Feick she said no — but they could still make a big difference. “We are listening to young people,” she said.

Educating for success

At ExxonMobil, Feick added, “we see our biggest opportunity as the STEM education area” — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. At a time when there is a shortage of people with STEM skills, ExxonMobil has created a foundation to support STEM education around the globe.

Photo credit: Women’s Forum/Sipa Press

The focus of education is also changing in subtle ways. We are not training young people to be critical thinkers, said Magatte Wade, founder and CEO of Tiossan. With increasingly sophisticated robots challenging workplace dynamics, youth need to know that “if you’re not going to exercise that brain of yours, they’re going to be able to take your job.”

Wade is the entrepreneur-in-residence at KoSchool in Austin, Texas. She said the school’s custom-designed programmes had resulted in unusual gains in the pre-university Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). The primary focus is on coaching students to be more effective in learning how to learn. This has been a boon to young women, she said, adding, “I am amazed every day at how strong and confident our young ladies are.” The approach has proved so successful that KoSchool plans to open new branches in San Francisco and Senegal.

Changing the hiring culture

Turning to the hiring practices of the future, Christine Bisanzio, Principal at Heidrick & Struggles, noted that Harvard had looked into how a man’s potential is assessed compared to a woman’s during hiring interviews. When a man is interviewed, the interviewer is already unconsciously thinking about promoting him and this colours the questions, she said. A woman is questioned differently — along the lines of “what could go wrong if she gets the job?”

“Women need to make an effort to answer in a self-promoting way,” Bisanzio said.

At Applied, said CEO Kate Glazebrook, “We use behavioural analysis to try to remove bias from the selection process.” Simply making an application name-blind does not work because men are better self-promoters, she said.

Tests can include task-based questions like challenging candidates to say what they would do in a certain situation. Such tests are not only “less likely to fall prey to gender biases,” but they also give the candidate a better idea of what the job consists of, Glazebrook said.

“I would throw the CV out the window,” said Accenture’s Leacy. Accenture found that hiring more women was difficult not because of a lack of talent — 60% of graduates are women — but because not enough women were applying. They went out to universities to look for “curiosity, creativity, resilience,” and found they could get women to apply.

Accenture also realized that its job descriptions were too masculine, Leacy said. She suggested using digital hiring platforms like HireVue that allow people to tell their stories. More important than a CV, she said, is finding “people who have a very high learning agility — that grit, that perseverance,” and people who can communicate and be resilient.

Of course, for systems of education and hiring to change, then those who have been in positions of power within those systems must also change. “We must foster a truly inclusive environment where men advocate for and support women in their teams to realise their full potential. I expect all men to be accountable for creating that culture,” said Publicis Groupe’s Sadoun.

This story is drawn from sessions at the Women’s Forum Global Meeting 2017.