I was at a nonprofit event yesterday where I spoke to Amy, one of my dear blog readers, who is an older (Baby Boomer?) nonprofit leader. She said that she loves my work and advocacy for next generation leadership, but she feels I promote ageism on my blog with my focus on the younger generation.
Do I?
I posed this question to my Twitter fam last night. These are some of the responses I received.

  • @rosettathurman Considering the fact that many #nonprofits leave their miniony jobs to Gen Y I would say that the system is ageist
  • @rosettathurman Boomers have to get used to a new voice & platforms just for us
  • @rosettathurman it’s important to be respectful, but more important to push the envelope. You can do both. You do.
  • @rosettathurman I, with u. The greatest creativity will come from the Gen Xrs & Gen Yrs who are being denied jobs by the current #leadership
  • @rosettathurman I don’t think your focus on Gen Y promotes ageism. It’s important for bloggers to write from their own experience.
  • @rosettathurman Agreement or compromise b/w generations not the aim, understanding & progress 2 the nonprofit’s goals are.

The gist of most of the responses I received was that it’s OK to focus on a particular age bracket on my blog, which may be a little ageist to some people. But ageism is age discrimination.  And I don’t think I discriminate against Baby Boomer leaders on my blog simply because I try to empower younger people to lead. But I do think there was an underlying issue in Amy’s feedback to me: both generations still have not figured out how to talk about what we need from each other to be the best leaders we can be.

Amy was railing against the idea that all Baby Boomer nonprofit leaders don’t want/embrace change and are not supportive of Gen Y leadership. I don’t aim to make broad generalities when I speak of current nonprofit leaders. But I do believe we find truth in sharing our real experiences. I have to admit that the many young leaders who have shared their stories here over the past two 1/2 years point out situations where older leaders have not been supportive of them and many times have “blocked” them from leading. I’m not saying all Baby Boomers do that, but it is a common enough experience for many Gen Y leaders in the nonprofit sector that we can say it should be addressed.
It may be that we discriminate against each other. Many Baby Boomer leaders look at Gen Y like we’re their kids, while many a Gen Y person may scoff at the fact that their boss doesn’t know how to turn on the copy machine. Many other issues compound the complexity of intergenerational relationships and make it difficult to share leadership, including:

The rise of the use of technology for nonprofit efficiency: Gen Y is overwhelmingly more comfortable and proficient as a generation, but that does not mean Baby Boomers aren’t or can’t be. What bothers many young leaders is that their youth is only valued when technology comes up and their CEO wants to know how to use Twitter. For everything else, they are relegated to supportive roles.

Transfer of nonprofit knowledge: Many Gen Y workers feel that they could lead better if only they had an older mentor who would show them the ropes and teach them what they learned along the way. The problem is that few young people are finding those opportunities. May be the fault of the older leader for not reaching out or the fault of the younger leader for not asking for help directly.

Increased competition for nonprofit jobs: Older leaders are now competing with recent grads who are their kids’ age for good nonprofit jobs. Due to the economy, many older workers are not leaving the workforce as expected at a certain age. So now Gen Y is now being put in the position of supervising employees who are their elders. This is causing resentment on both sides. But the recession is hurting young nonprofit leaders, too.

Distribution of power: Even though Gen Y has more education than previous generations as well as ease of using technology, it does not equal to leadership positions. We are still not looked at for top management jobs because we’re “too young” and “inexperienced.” So while Gen Y can “discriminate” against Baby Boomers all we want, it does not translate into younger people taking over nonprofit organizations, no matter how you slice it.

While I do focus on next generation leaders on my blog, I am not at all saying that older leaders should not be equally valued. The problem for me is that for far too long, leadership has been defined in terms of age (over 40), title (CEO) & years of experience (a ton). My blog defies that by saying “Yes, young people can lead, here’s how we can do it and here’s how we can keep doing it better.” What some of my Twitter followers pointed out is that Baby Boomers have been the leadership focus for a long time and it’s now Gen Y’s turn to receive support.
And if supporting my generation is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.