Authored by blog artist: Kayla Schnuelle
Why won’t millennials join our civic organizations or be on the Fair Board? What needs to change to have age diversity? Why don’t millennials attend evening meetings…are they at the bar? Why do young people think they need to go to the ‘city’ to do things?
It is no surprise that millennials are the next generation to move into leadership roles and actually many are already leading. In Nebraska Millennials already account for 27.7% of the population. This info-graphic (also attached below) shows that millennials compared at the same ages and life stages to generations before aren’t much different from other generations in behaviors and priorities. It also shows that millennials will make up 50% of the global workforce by 2020. That is only 4 years away and there is some urgency in thinking about the transfer of leadership in our rural communities. If we don’t make this a priority in the next 10 years then knowledge and historical information will be lost and many things will literally fall of the map because of lack of leadership transfer planning.
Truth time: Are the majority of your civic organizations and city/county leadership positions held by adults that are 55+? Have you discussed how to transition these leadership positions and the civic knowledge? Are you making an effort to fill vacant positions with talented 20-40 year-old adults? Are you striving to have age diversity in your community’s leadership positions?
It doesn’t matter how you responded but it does matter how you move forward. I believe that the transfer of leadership should be part of a community’s strategic plan. I don’t have the research on this but I believe that the top predictor of ongoing community viability is progressive leadership. And it is also no surprise that communities NEED young and emerging leaders to take leadership roles and have confidence that they are capable of the job. The ideas, creativity and energy that comes from young leaders is contagious and can reinvigorate a community.
Good news! When I speak to existing rural leaders in communities, mostly baby boomers, there seems to be a shift of thinking. Where I had once heard negativity around this transition of leadership there seems to be a paradigm shift. The narrative is slowly becoming, “how do we keep our young talent” and “why don’t they get involved in our civic organizations.” This shift of thinking is amazing but without action it is meaningless.
- Networks— young leaders need a network!
- Network of support for ideas–if they join a board or you ask them to the table, you better give them a chance to share their ideas freely. You might not always agree but that doesn’t make new ideas wrong, just different.
- Network of friends– you retain young families by helping these millennials grow networks of friends and colleagues in your community. As part of the community structure, this is also part of your responsibility.
- Growth–There has to be opportunities to grow skills, abilities, compensation…etc. Growth is essential to the makeup of millennials and it isn’t all about money. I would actually make a bold statement that says it may be more about flexibility and professional development opportunities than it is money.
- Experiences— We want experiences and the chance to make a difference. Give us projects or opportunities and let us develop the plan and execute it. We know how to work but we also use technology to work smart so allow us to use our own tools to create something.
- Structural Change — There may need to be a shift in how ‘work’ gets done. Offer flexible work or volunteer arrangements so they can organize in a way that satisfies their personal lives. If you want millennials at the table, ask them what works for them. We are busy and we strive to have work/life balance.
- Are their some board meetings that can be done via Skype or over the phone?
- Can there be virtual meeting options every once in a while?
- Can the meeting be 90 minutes instead of 3 hours so we can pick up our kids from the babysitter?
- New Thinking— Millennials are digital natives and most use this as a tool. With new leadership there will be new ways of thinking. I challenge you to create an atmosphere of idea generation and a welcoming space for new ideas. Not all ideas are good ideas but a safe space to share ideas is essential. If you don’t, they probably won’t come back.
From personal experience as a working parent that also commutes, it is nearly impossible for me to find time for evening and weekend meetings. Logistics aside, it also is excruciating to sit through long drawn-out board meetings or weekend retreats that aren’t intentional and well planned. I would much rather be spending time at home with my boys. With that said, I also seek opportunities to engage in bigger, holistic projects that have a clear beginning, middle, and end where I can utilize my leadership skills and build something cool.
Bottom-line: Millennials have something to offer to your community, organization or network. Some will step forward and ask to engage, others will wait for you to ask. Either way, you have to be flexible and you might even have to allow a parent to bring a kiddo to an evening meeting. If you want them, you might have to create space for them!
INFO GRAPHIC ON MILLENNIALS: