Maha El Hawari, Client Commerce Director at VMLY&R Commerce, sat with Communicate to discuss being in a strategic managerial role at just 30 and how younger senior executives change the agency workplace.
Younger people are increasingly taking on more senior roles. Why do you think is that?
Because of the fast-paced world we’re in, especially in a place like Dubai, the type of experience we gain and the exposure we get to our clients and the region – we cover the GCC, Levant, North Africa – allow us to advance faster in our career and to mature earlier in life. Ever since we start from junior positions, we get thrown at sea and we’re expected to be proactive, to start learning, to look for answers, and to solve problems. There is also a stroke of luck – making the right decision to join the agency, the type of people that you need, maybe the type of clients that you have. And we’re very work-focused.
Some people resent labels such as ‘Millennial.’ Do you think there is an actual common denominator for people of your generation?
Yes, definitely. I’m not going to define myself by this label but there are common traits. We overwork ourselves. We are trained to not disconnect. We have that FOMO [fear of missing out] aspect. We find satisfaction in delivering a great job, so we get invested in it and because of that investment, we sometimes stretch ourselves and reach burnout. But the minute we reach that burnout stage, that’s it. We are a bit more demanding, so when we reach a point when we must put our foot down, we start exploring other options, other opportunities.
We adapt to where we’re at, but we also seek change and are always moving around. We want to see more opportunities, to see what’s out there, to discover something new. And we look for challenges; we’re not satisfied with the status quo. The minute we feel comfortable, it’s time to push ourselves and to test new waters.
That’s why, at least when it comes to advertising, the turnover is very high.
How much of a role do you think Millennials’ natural affinity with tech plays in giving you access to senior roles earlier in your career?
As Millennials, we’re also very connected – to our phones, to our laptops, to the TV... Wherever we go, we have news popping in. So, we’re exposed to more information.
And we’re born in an era when advancements happen fast; if we do not ride that wave, start new things, or try new tools, we fall behind. Technology also became an essential part of life. It’s not an accessory, it’s not an option. At work, it’s in the way you deal with your employees; and your brand will not succeed if you don’t introduce an innovative technology to engage with consumers.
How do you think this all changes the agency workplace?
A few years back, we used to have a hierarchy that we needed to respect. There were certain boundaries and limits that you couldn’t cross. Now, it’s becoming more fluid because managers and directors are younger, so we have closer generations working with each other. And they trust us. The younger generation pushes the older generation to innovate and bring something new.
The fact that we’re not willing to settle for anything but the best and want to move around whenever we feel like there’s a status quo also shakes things up. And the fact that you can work from home and the office helps too. You don’t need to be plastered to your desk, for instance; you can be working in the garden all day.
The number of younger people coming into senior roles over people that are older than they are is growing. This can create frictions. How do you manage?
I had to learn on the job, to be very honest. It was the first time that I had to face that issue and it’s critical.
The most important thing, first of all, is to show respect. You cannot be dominating; you have to make the other person feel comfortable. So, start by establishing this safe ground. Reassure the person that you are not here to make their life more difficult, that you can learn from their experience and that they can learn from yours. I’m here because I have a specific skillset and to share this knowledge because I want everybody to become better. At the same time, I have the humility to accept that they know things than I don’t. So, sometimes, it’s okay if I’m wrong. I know that doesn’t mean that I’m going to look weaker. This helps me foster a safer, more stable ground within the team. Honestly, it took me time to learn that because there is a level of insecurity when you join a new workplace and you have to prove yourself. But I learned that if you take a defensive approach, it’s going to add a bit more friction instead of solving the issue and helping you build a more efficient way to work. Trust is a very big factor here. So, I’ll trust that you will do great and that we want the best for each other. It’s a learning process.