When breaking into any industry, junior talent faces a unique set of challenges. To start, they’re going in as a “blank canvas” to an organisation. A lot of junior talent are first or second-job individuals and have either come from higher education (university or college) or straight out of school.
This means that behaviours, morals, and working styles are picked up on via osmosis in the workplace, as well as the knowledge and skills that they’ll acquire (and the speed at which they will progress).
To start, there is often an age gap between junior talent and those in positions of power within an organisation or institution. With this age gap comes the phenomenon known as “gatekeeping”.
Gatekeeping restricts access to knowledge and is rampant in professional settings where junior talent is at their most vulnerable. Though gatekeeping is often aimed at junior talent, the outcomes impact everybody.
Gatekeeping isn’t something new, either - in most environments, a newcomer (especially if they’re a young person) is often put at the bottom of social and professional hierarchies until they work or “earn” their way to the top. Gatekeeping intentionally keeps someone uninformed and keeps them in a powerless position. It can be seen as a manipulation tactic if it is used to isolate someone and ultimately hold them back.
When the necessary knowledge, skills, and values aren’t passed down to talent coming into an organisation, they can’t thrive or grow in their position. Apart from this impacting their ability to learn, it can also affect morale as well as your organisation from growing effectively.
How can you abolish a culture of gatekeeping in the workplace?
#1 Do a true deep dive into your leadership team
Your leaders are going to be the individuals setting examples for the rest of the business, as well as training and developing future leaders within your organisation. They are integral in shaping behaviours, attitudes, and work ethics within their respective teams. However, not everybody is cut out to be a leader.
To be a great leader you have to possess multiple qualities not just at a technical level, but at an emotional level too. So many individuals find themselves in leadership positions by default, not necessarily because it’s the best path for them.
To prevent gatekeeping (and ensure that you have the best leaders in the business driving your organisation forwards) you need to do a deep dive. Who is great at leading teams? Who can work well with juniors? Who is a key decision-maker at an operational level? These are all crucial questions you must ask yourself before putting someone in charge of someone else’s career path.
It’s OK to not have a team full of leaders managing people. Leadership comes in many different shapes and forms, so deciphering the internal infrastructure of your leadership team will enable you to create an environment that is nurturing and will ultimately give junior employees a great opportunity for progression.
#2 Completely eliminate power tactics
This will come hand in hand with deciphering who will be in your leadership team (as well as their core responsibilities). Of course, it’s important to establish boundaries within teams and especially with junior employees who have just joined.
There doesn’t necessarily need to be a “pecking order” to show hierarchy - instead clearly communicating how individuals should act and interact are important. Power tactics such as micromanagement, favouritism, and embarrassing people at work (including “banter” and jokes) can create a toxic workplace and result in difficult power struggles across all layers of the business.
#3 Provide in-depth training and development
To ensure that everybody is progressing and developing within the business, you should ensure that there is in-depth training on offer to all individuals - especially juniors coming in. Not only does this guarantee knowledge distribution (and reduces the chance of gatekeeping happening) it’s also the right and logical way of doing things. A company without robust training and development opportunities is a red flag!
#4 Don’t punish someone for being young, naive, or having little knowledge
We all have to start somewhere. Remember, you were a junior once too. Punishing someone's (through gatekeeping) knowledge is pointless. People are in an organisation to learn, they’re there because they want to build a career and ultimately grow with you. Punishing someone for not knowing enough, making mistakes, or simply being a young person is toxic and pointless.