Millennials – lazy, entitled, unfocused and ill-equipped for leadership positions at America’s top companies and institutions. Well, that’s according to some naysayers who warn of the impending wave of millennials into the workforce. Is this criticism correct in its portrayal of millennials or is it simply a hyperbolic yet predictable grievance of one cohort to another?
Well, Believe it or not, millennials will comprise more than one of three adult Americans by 2020 and 75 percent of the workforce by 2025 – according to a study conducted by the Brookings Institution.
If these projections, as well as the stereotypical assumptions associated with millennials, are correct then that leaves less than a decade for the current leadership to train the next generation of leaders.
Jamila Abston, a CPA and partner at Ernst & Young LLP, is not only pushing back on this fear of millennials in leadership positions she is also an example of what a millennial leader can accomplish.
Originally from Mobile, Alabama, Jamila considers herself a proud Southerner who excelled inside and outside of the classroom. Growing up she was studious, but was also pretty active in extracurricular activities at school and in her community.
Not only did Jamila graduate Valedictorian of her high school she was also a member of the student government association, advanced chorus, and the Shakespeare Club. On top of her academic success she also worked at The Gap in her local mall, played the piano, and was a Girl Scout from second grade through high school! So much for millennials being lazy.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jamila to get her thoughts about millennials in the workforce and how to better prepare this generation to take the reigns in the coming decade. The following are some questions and answers showcasing Jamila’s thoughts and opinions of millennial leadership as well as her own experience in her career.
How was your college experience? Did you always want to go into accounting? Did you have internships?
My college experiences were fantastic – all three universities added to my professional and personal development. I earned my undergraduate degree in Accounting from Florida A & M University (FAMU), my masters in Accounting at the University of Virginia, and my MBA from Yale University. I had accounting and marketing internships during my time at FAMU. Originally, I wanted to be a corporate lawyer, and my dad convinced me to major in Accounting as a back-up plan in case I didn’t like law. Once I began my accounting career, I never ended up pursuing law school, and I think it all worked out as it should have!
How did you get your first job out of college?
My first professional job was with Ernst and Young (EY), and EY recruited me on campus while at FAMU.
What are some struggles you’ve had in your career and how have you overcome those obstacles?
Completing the CPA exam while travelling for work (and often travelling internationally) was a challenge! It took serious commitment, late nights, and most weekends for two years before I finished all four parts of the exam.
How were you able to get into leadership positions during your career?
By asking for the opportunities, taking on challenging assignments, and aiming to perform consistently with excellence.
What qualities made you successful?
Inquisitiveness, discipline, persistence, ambition, and flexibility.
What advice would you give to those entering the workforce who are looking to get into those leadership positions?
Be open to taking on hard projects and venturing into unknown territory in order to “earn the stripes” for a new role. Oftentimes, challenging experiences are the ones that teach us the most and give us a new set of skills to be best prepared for promotion.
Why is it so important to have younger leaders at any organization?
Young leaders typically bring out-of-the-box ideas, informal technology expertise, and energy! With young leaders at the table, the idea of “that’s the way we have always done things” gets challenged regularly and that is a good thing!
What are some misconceptions about millennials in the workforce?
People believe that millennials are non-committal and uninterested in putting in the work it takes for a successful career. In reality, most millennials are hungry for challenges and get excited about mentorships and the possibility of growing in an exciting environment.
How can millennials stand out in the workforce?
By seeking to understand the workplace culture, welcoming constructive feedback, and bringing a positive outlook to assignments – big or small.
What do you think millennials are looking for out of their careers?
Challenging work, flexibility, leadership roles on projects, and the opportunities to share their ideas.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Go for your dreams and enjoy the ride! Commit to becoming a life-long learner and find great mentors. Be confident, don’t be afraid to fail and trust yourself.
What questions do you have for your older self?
How will my career transform over the next 20 years? Will I always be this excited about my work? How will my priorities change over time? And how can I add more hours to each day?