Lost Opportunities by Assuming all F10s are Young Professionals
When CSAE coined the term F10, it did so with the intention of it representing young professionals aged 22 to 32, within the first ten years of their careers. However, depending on the context used, the focus on F10s is sometimes their age (and status as young professionals) but at other times on the first ten years of their career. Frequently, the latter is further qualified by the addition of "… in the association/not-for-profit sector." It is this last distinction that I want to address here.
When associations and not-for-profits conflate young professionals with people functioning within the first ten years of their career in the sector, they are actually intermingling two distinct demographics rather than identifying one group. The assumption that people newly arrived to the sector must also be young professionals is a mistake -- I personally stand as proof of this.
New Arrivals: Moving Beyond Young Professionals
If we separate the "first ten years of one's association / not-for-profit career" element of the F10 term from its young professional component, we are forced to become aware that an entire demographic of professionals may have been neglected by the latter's inclusion.
I know with absolute certainty that when CSAE produces "F10" content, it assumes the young professional component is included. As a result, much of our content in this regard was created under the assumption that its target audience has many common characteristics of youth. This can include a lack of hands-on, overall career experience, the trepidation of moving beyond education and starting one's career in the "real world," compensation (financial and otherwise) trajectories and expectations when just starting one's career, and aspects of one's personal life that will influence career decisions we tend to solely attribute to young, recently graduated professionals.
So, what happens when someone is older than 32 but just starting their career with associations and not-for-profits? Moreover, what if they undertook adult education and are recently graduated from school despite being outside the usual 22 to 32 timeframe, quite possibly radically shifting their skill set away from previous job experiences?
When I joined CSAE as Manager, Content in August of 2016, for example, I was a month away from my 41st birthday. I had previously worked as a Content Manager, but that role had been in the corporate sector. My new position at CSAE was my introduction to the association and not-for-profit sector. Although I had plenty of experience with content creation, marketing, and other elements directly tied to my role with CSAE, my lack of familiarity with the particulars of associations meant I still had a lot to learn.
Unfortunately, the assumption that "first ten years of one's career in the sector" and "young professionals" go hand in hand meant much of the available material I hoped to use to educate myself was only partially useful (at best.) It certainly wasn't easy to find because much of it assumed an obvious connection to newly minted, young professionals and the shared characteristics of their age. Typically, the relevancy of information targeting people in the first ten years of their career in the sector was secondary to the focus on age.
Thankfully, I enjoyed a benefit few others in my position can access: I work in the office where much of this content is created. I could visit a few doors down to get the answers I needed. But what of others who exist outside of the 22 to 32 age range and are new to the associations and not-for-profit sector? Are they left without sufficient recourses for finding their footing?
Is Your Association Accessible to Non-YP F10s?
When an association considers its job descriptions and onboarding process for new staff (and, logically, volunteers filling professional roles), is it making detrimental assumptions? Does it take for granted the belief that roles filled by people unfamiliar with the sector will also be young professionals?
Again, as someone outside the 22 to 32 age range who has interviewed for positions beyond the realm of previous careers, I have experienced a look of surprise when the interviewer realized I am older than the candidate profile they expected. Certainly, my skills and education matched what they were looking for, but my age threw them off and skewed away from their expectations. I am certain I am not alone in this experience.
The corporate sector suffers from a common prejudice in that it often looks at an applicant's age, compares it to whether or not the position is considered an "opening" role, and takes a pass. Why? Because jobs that are offered as an initial stepping stone further into the company all-too-frequently assume older people are too far along in their careers for such progression. They are concerned an older applicant is just looking for something short-term until they can get a preferred position elsewhere. Or maybe the older applicant is thought of as too old to bring a "fresh perspective" to the job.
Is this unfair?
Is this similar to some of the assumptions behind how F10s are defined in the not-for-profit sector?
My reason for bringing this up is simple: is the conflation of "young professionals" and career experience into one definition creating a preconception that indeed causes organizations to inappropriately address their audience and even miss opportunities? Are associations misidentifying and pigeonholing older applicants because they overlook the fact that non-22 to 32 year-old professionals can transition into the not-for-profit sector just as often as young professionals?
But What About F10s As Is?
All this being said, let's now walk things back a bit. Consider why the conflation of young professionals and career path entry occurred in the first place. (It certainly wasn't because the sector discriminates against professionals older than 32, overall. It is, in fact, rather top-heavy with this demographic.)
Just because organizations should consider that someone new to associations isn't also a young professional does not mean that CSAE's original conflation of these two elements is without value. Despite older professionals joining the association and not-for-profit sector being able to draw worth from much of the same information, there is also value in the new, young F10 demographic in its own right. Let's face it: there are still many characteristics that crossover between youth and starting their first career that do not necessarily carry over to someone who is older and starting a new career after putting a previous career aside. There is still good cause for focusing on F10s as young professionals in the first decade of their career.
The important lesson to consider is not to ignore other age groups when providing information conceived of as initially relevant to young professionals we label as F10s. If the focus is on age rather than career, to the point of exclusivity, organizations end up leaving behind important audience (and even market) segments. Do not make the mistake of believing that just because someone is older that they know everything their role requires when first joining the association sector, thus focusing such information on the young to the exclusion of all others.
When considering the role age plays in an association sector career, Sarah L. Sladek's book, Knowing Y: Engage the Next Generation Now has a lot to say. Inevitably, the association sector changes hands from one generation to the next, and it is best to be prepared for when this happens.
Regardless of age, an association executive working in the sector can always learn more. Doing so not only makes them better at their job, but also marks them as someone who is ready for career advancement. Consider what getting your Certified Association Executive designation can do for both your prospects and performance.