How to Harness Diverse Millennial Talent

Having spent 20 years working for marketing and advertising agencies that relentlessly chased millennials, Tru Pettigrew, founder of the consultancy Tru Access, now focuses his efforts on partnering businesses and millennials so both parties can benefit. Through his consultancy, Pettigrew hopes to bridge the cultural and generational gaps that block corporations from communicating with millennials. Deeming this divide “Culturational Chemistry,” Pettigrew believes a better understanding of diversity and inclusion will spur cross-generational collaboration.

Do you think workplace diversity and inclusion impacts the youth unemployment rate?
Yes, I do. We often look at diversity and inclusion through a lens of gender and race. In addition to gender and race, we have to realize that generational diversity and inclusion is also a large part of the diversity and inclusion challenge. There are perceptions, stereotypes and biases that continue to have a negative impact on youth unemployment. Much of the older generation leadership in organizations do not understand or agree with the mindset, perspective or approach of the millennial generation simply because this generation has different expressions and expectations. The generation gap is compounded by a cultural gap when it comes to multicultural millennials.

Why does diversity and inclusion play an important role in the young workforce?
Diversity and inclusion plays an important role in the young workforce for a number of reasons. One reason is because millennials represent [one of] the largest consumer segment[s] in America, and by incorporating millennials into the workplace, it provides organizations with a stronger sense of relevance and connectivity with this audience simply from a consumer perspective. It also provides a different perspective and approach to problem solving. Different generations see things differently and do things differently based on their experiences and exposure. It is because of those differences that we achieve innovation and make new discoveries. Incorporating fresh young talent into the organization also helps to ensure long-term sustainability of effective leadership that is immersed in and well equipped to carry on and grow the organization’s legacy in a way that is consistent with the company’s mission, vision and values.

How does stereotyping contribute to the skills gap in the workplace?
Stereotyping contributes to the skills gap in a way that is a direct result of the expectation gap. The expectation gap is one of the biggest issues in achieving strong cultural and generational chemistry (aka culturational chemistry). When you buy into a stereotype of an individual or group, it directly affects your behavior toward them. You tend to set your expectations based on the stereotype you have of that person versus what is necessary or relevant or even fair for the task. The person on the receiving end of the stereotype threat then establishes low expectations of you to treat them fairly based on the behavior you project toward them. Much of the skills gap is based on lack of proper training due to low expectations as a result of the unfair perceptions born out of stereotypes. When our experience with people doesn’t meet our expectations, we usually lower the expectations instead of investing in them to help raise the level of the experience.

How can companies help bridge the stereotypical skills gap among young employees?
Companies can help bridge the stereotypical skills gap among young employees by properly managing expectations early on. Companies can do themselves a great service and leverage some incredible talent by taking time to understand expectations as much as they seek to have their expectations met and/or understood. Companies should make sure they clearly communicate expectations and success measures. They should take the time to understand what their millennial employees expect from the organization and properly manage those expectations. Millennials represent a new era with new expressions and expectations. Understanding this helps the company to better position itself to leverage the unique value this generation offers. Once this is established, put these young people in the best position to succeed based on their gifts, passions and expectations. Align them with experienced veterans on the team they can learn from and [who] can develop them in areas in which they are already gifted and passionate about. Consistent and ongoing feedback is very helpful also. The annual review is a thing of the past. They should never have to guess or wonder if they are doing a good job or not.

What’s your advice to businesses looking to hire young employees?
When hiring young employees, make sure they are a good fit mentally, physically and emotionally. Look for knowledge, talent and passion. Being good enough isn’t good enough with this generation. They need something they can be passionate about. Ensure that his or her passions and values are in line with what the company does and what the company believes in. And talk openly about the generation gap and include them in the bridging process. When it comes to millennials, where there is no inclusion there is no commitment.

Jessica DuBois-Maahs is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive magazine. She can be reached at