How Can We Attract & Engage Younger People in the Internet Industry?

Let’s Talk, Let’s Act is a Euro-IX initiative to talk and act upon current topics in the industry.


The panel is the first in a series of discussions on inclusivity in the industry. Where and how can we as a community make lasting differences and changes?


"There was an assumption that younger people don’t know what they’re doing and are therefore, not heard."

For a few years now, as a community, we’ve been talking about what we can do to attract and engage younger people. With the emergence of Covid-19 in 2020, it’s made it even harder for the new people in our industry to engage with each other and to build relationships.
With the Let’s talk, Let’s Act series, we knew the topics covered should not only bring awareness of the issues faced but also to explore practical changes we can make personally and as an industry. The key issues that needed to be addressed: inclusivity and making the industry less intimidating.

Yolandi Robinson from NAP Africa did a fantastic job moderating the discussion with three panelists; Clarissa Ferreira (Web Squad), Kayla Clifford (Netflix) and Stavros Konstantaras (AMS-IX). The panelists were first asked for one pro and con of being a young person in the industry. The pros included energy, time and the enthusiasm to learn. It was noted in the cons that there was no space for mistakes, and also posed the question 'is it harder now than it was 15+ years ago?’

The panelists found it limiting and hard to engage in discussions with established people in the industry. There was an assumption that younger people don’t know what they’re doing and are therefore, not heard.

The discussion moved onto the topic of mentors and the importance of having guidance and direction for young people in the workplace. Coming out of education and into the internet industry is a big change and we need to do something to bridge the gap between education and the industry. This led to the realisation that large organisations invite interns, they invest in young people, provide guidance and choice very early on in their careers. Is this something our industry can learn? Why are we not already doing it?

The conversation moved to talk about Covid-19 and the impact on the industry. The effects of being unable to meet colleagues and build relationships has had a significant impact and the following key points were raised:

  • For any new entrants into the industry, attending an event for the first time, it can be really daunting and intimidating when it feels like everyone around you has been in the industry for a lot longer and know so much more. 
  • Would it be beneficial to set up a place where young people in the industry can come together and ask questions they don’t feel comfortable asking in public, and could this be used as a place for young people to build their relationships?
  • Doing this online, would additionally give the opportunity for young people who don’t travel to conferences to engage with each other and build relationships.
  • For hiring managers, the easier option may be to hire someone with experience, however, it’s important to think about what a younger person can bring to the team. Remember what it was like to be a younger person trying to break into the industry!
  • For the mature people in the industry (been in the industry for 15+ years), we should nurture and provide guidance to younger people so they can make informed decisions and for the younger, if you don’t get a response the first time try again.

Many of our industry events offer Fellowships (this is for people who can not afford to pay for travel to events). However, most Fellowships have criteria which have to be followed, and unfortunately, do not include new people in the industry or people in different regions. Are there any reasons why Fellowships can’t be expanded to allow new and young people in organisations to attend? This certainly seems like a very viable option for us to start with.

The discussion on mentoring ended with a question from the audience; what does it mean to be a mentor? If someone has the experience and is willing, what do they have to actually do? 

This is a question that we’re not only going to tackle in our Let’s Talk, Let’s Act series but will also explore putting together a best practices document and guidelines.

The topic of young people and inclusivity, attracting and engaging them has not been exhausted, watch out for the next part.
 



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