Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Let's be honest - does young mean young?

If your association forms a group for "young" professional members, should there be some effort in requesting or ensuring they actually are young? I have to admit I was entirely annoyed when I was in my twenties and invited to a young professionals event only to find most I didn't consider young, even if they thought they were. I didn't go back. And it changed my attitude about the organization as they lost my trust at hello. The hello name tags.

When you're a young professional, there'
s absolutely no problem finding colleagues one, two, three, or four decades older than you are. A real challenge is finding your own peer age group, with a shared experience. I love the experiences of working with many generations that association management provides - both from standpoint of members and employees - they're all crucial to our effectiveness. But when any professional group is given a descriptive label for networking or gathering purposes, should it describe?

I've heard the cliches that we're all "as young as we feel" or young is a "state of mind". Um, okay. But it's actually potentially a certain age group too. And if I'm a young member, and you tell me you're a young group, and you really aren't (by the standards of the young member) - then why. I
f you don't really mean "young", then why intentionally put that label on the group? Skip the word if it doesn't apply.

As we look at building relationships with our younger members, associations are deciding if should provide specific networking groups (online, live or both). Let's be honest. I want their trust.


Lisa Junker said...

Great post, Cindy! It's a very interesting (and often contentious) dilemma, especially with regard to young professionals groups. In my last association, the arguments for including people who weren't really young in the young professionals group all came from older people ... not from the younger people. If the younger people have no problem with opening up their group to older people, then I'd say go for it; the "young at heart" label can work really well. But if the young members really want their own space for discussions, without older members as part of the group, it should be their call.

Anonymous said...

Cindy -- Thanks for opening up this topic. Our association has provided a "first timers" orientation and get-together at our national conference, and it has undergone various transformations from year to year.

Your comments -- and those Lisa added -- make me think that we've assumed that event would serve the purpose of reaching out to "younger" association members. Yet first timers could be anyone, at any stage of their career. And "younger" association members might not be "first timers."

Sometimes the very answer we're looking for is right in front of us but we fail to see it.

Thanks for giving us better light where we needed it :)

Maddie Grant said...

Since this is clearly directed at YAP, I am happy to respond to your question. The group was created as a forum and network to support young association professionals and to nurture and encourage their already proven abilities to be strategic. Did I and my fellow (young) admins request that they actually be young? Yes - young in age or young in imagination. The group has a spirit of openness, experimentation and innovation which means no limits - no age limits, no silos, no rules. The rules are specifically that there are no rules (beyond the common sense ones like no spitting and no pulling hair). So, yes, I agree that some people may think "young" is a specific age range. But what might that be? Is 30 too old? Is 40 too old? In this industry, a "young association professional" is really anyone either starting out and learning that there might actually be a cool career to be had here, all the way up to upper-level Gen-X execs who want to figure out how to navigate those top rungs while perhaps being younger at this stage in their careers than their predecessors were when they got to that same point. There is no doubt that there is a serious crisis brewing where there is a tiny and shrinking pool of talented Gen-X-ers willing to take over when the HUGE crowd of boomers start to retire. But Gen-Xers need to engage, encourage and trust their Millennial colleagues in order to create an industry that will innovate and thrive. And we like to have fun, and connect, and IM, and Tweet, and post videos and photos on Facebook, and party, and buy T-shirts with logos, and think up cool titles for ourselves, and dance, and drink, and get to know each other online before we meet IRL. The day I am too old for any of that is the day I crawl under a rock and die... or start an "old farts on Facebook" group.

Anonymous said...

The first two comments understood my post, the third crafted a bit of a personal rant. Here's my response to the third comment:

There are many association execs who appreciate diverse opinion about how to handle a wide variety of issues that impact associations - for consideration within their own association. Many associations are discussing if or how to deliver programs to demographic segments of their diverse memberships, including an age demographic.

Conversations inside many organizations actually aren't about you personally. But if something I write challenges anyone who reads it to step back and consider decisions they've made, even if it's to decide they much prefer their own approach - well that's the reason I blog. The ability for someone to believe any particular post "speaks to them" might be considered a skill - but there's actually a universe of shared experiences out there. As unique as you may perceive yourself to be, there are thousands of organizations engaged in similar conversations about how to serve diverse memberships. No need to fret.

Separately: As I've said in other posts (but not this one), I believe it's a huge professional mistake for anyone to post pictures or videos of themselves "partying" online. That includes teenagers and association professionals.