Mentorship is critical. Often, mentors are individuals with years of sage experience that have held senior leadership roles and guided their mentees to successful careers. But at what point does a mentor need to step aside and consider letting their mentee lead the organization?
The COVID-19 Pandemic ignited fires around the globe within various cultural, political, financial, and societal issues. It created a chain reaction of activism, spikes in philanthropy, and the most stable employment (for those who have remained employed) period for Millennials who have the notorious reputation (though, questionable on how true) of job hopping for promotions and career advancement every 18 – 36 months.
While there is debate over the efficacy of these claims and why they occur, one thing is true—the pandemic changed how work occurs within corporate and nonprofit sectors.
While the world “returns to work,” as if many have not been logging longer, albeit different, hours, the first issue that arises is an older generation of leadership distrusting individuals that advocate to continue WFH.
The returning to the office divide
As seen by the CEOs of JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and WeWork, if you want to WFH, you obviously do not want to “hustle,” “support an aberration,” and must not be “uber-ly engaged.” In my own organization, our senior leaders are excited we’ll finally “have those hallway conversations to spark creativity again.” FY20 – 21 was my most productive yet and entirely remote.
This shows, according to the Wall Street Journal, that managers—who are trending older and staying in jobs longer (in my own organization’s unit, only one manager role is held by a “geriatric millennial” aged 36 – 41)—simply do not trust workers. This includes many Millennial and Gen Z employees.
This distrust likely stems, in part, from a lack of those demographics leading teams. We know when voices are missing from the conversation, those critical viewpoints are left out of the conversation—intentionally or otherwise. Ageism is a double-edged sword, with older individuals (55+) struggling to be employed and younger individuals unable to advance.
Giving up on becoming a leader
CNBC recently noted older Millennials are even considering tossing in the towel and not seeking leadership or management roles. As philanthropy leadership tracks the same trends, combined with the already high burnout rates of nonprofit professionals, the industry is careening towards a cliff.
One might argue this will force nonprofits to become more efficient (ha!), increase collaboration (haha!), or even weed out those offering redundant services (hahaha!). The reality is it will cause extreme damage to mission delivery and the causes we serve.
A major focus this past year has been on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which are critical and long overdue, especially in many silos of the philanthropic and nonprofit world.
Senior leaders need to remember those pillars must focus on age as part of their diversity. It is critical to note that just having an individual that “checks a box” on the team does not solve the problem. It means that individual must be heard and empowered to lead.
I am not afraid to use my voice—as a Caucasian male, I often, at least, can speak—but am frequently dismissed as “young, idealistic, or unaware.” As frustrating as my own experiences are, I can only imagine being a female BIPOC Millennial trying to break through to upper middle-aged white leadership.
Where do we go from here?
So, do we just give up hope? Do we cede the ground and allow for a leadership crisis to arise in the coming years, one that threatens the very foundations of our organizations and the missions we serve? Or do we continue to advocate for change? Do we, as Brené Brown says, “rumble” with our leaders and work to have difficult conversations that propel our organizations forward? Or do we prepare for the next great exodus and jump to a role where we have authority and can implement change?
The answer? We continue forward. Millennial leaders and the upcoming Gen Z leaders must have the opportunity to “be in the room where it happens,” whether they are in formal leadership roles or simply learning.
Our more experienced colleagues should help prime younger generations to take the reins now, to ensure the sustained health of our organizations.
We should never force individuals out—that’s agism on the opposite end of the spectrum. But we must be prepared to make room for emerging leaders to gain the experience they need to carry the banner forward.
I have spent my whole life in philanthropy (though, I did not always know it) and working to be a leader. Leadership does not always correlate to a title, but leaders can hold titles—and those titles are critically important for the functionality and success of our organizations and our mission.
Millennials are resilient advocates, but it is time to let them share in leadership roles as well—not as “junior” leaders, but as true, valued members of boards and management teams.