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Creating An Inclusive Environment at Your Nonprofit: Age

In March, The Community Foundation Serving Richmond and Central Virginia gathered alumni of its Emerging Nonprofit Leaders Program (ENLP) and current members of its 10th class at the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia.   Jonathan Zur, President and CEO of Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities led the group through a robust discussion and brainstorming session on ways local organizations and leaders can take action to create a culture of diversity and inclusion in their nonprofit organizations and across the sector.

In a recent blog post, we shared that diversity is the presence of difference generally related to one’s identity and might include ability status, age, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status or other factors that make a person unique.  Inclusion is the accepting, respecting, and valuing of this diversity.  Working to achieve diversity and inclusion in the workplace should be a fundamental part of fulfilling the mission of any nonprofit. It creates an environment of involvement and connection and allows for the richness of ideas, backgrounds and perspectives to be harnessed to create value for the organization, clients and the community.

To begin moving towards active inclusion in the workplace, nonprofit leaders must 1) examine their own lens to have a deeper understanding of their perspectives and perceptions to create a framework for approaching and addressing their own bias – whether that be conscious or unconscious.  Nonprofit leaders must 2) ask and encourage tough questions to create deeper dialogue within their organization, especially with staff who come from different backgrounds than them.  This will allow the leader to develop a clearer understanding of how experiences affect work styles, behavior, communications, and relationships and eventually form an atmosphere of greater trust.  Nonprofit leaders must 3) acknowledge institutional bias, which are the practices, policies, structures and traditions that push some people up and others down based solely on identity. It’s important leaders realize that institutional bias may exist in their own organization causing barriers towards inclusion and ultimately, equity and justice.


Local Barriers and Suggestions for Interventions

What are some of the barriers that organizations, leaders and staff create in local nonprofit organizations that prevent diversity and inclusion (in both the workplace itself and with clients and the community)? What are actions steps that they can take to intervene and overcome these barriers, leading to a more inclusive nonprofit environment?  The Emerging Nonprofit Leaders group analyzed several different “Identities” in relation to their own organization and below are the findings.  This week we focus on one of nine identities – “Age”.  In later posts, we will focus in on the others – ethnicity, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status or other factors that make a person unique.  Make sure to read our previous post on Ability Status.


Ageism is the stereotyping or discrimination of a person or group of people because of their age.  Typically, ageism refers to older individuals but more recently, the definition has broadened to include “any prejudice or discrimination against or in favor of any age group.”

Local nonprofit leaders saw a few patterns and occurrences in the workplace – particularly relating to ageism perceptions and the negative implications they can have.   The group discovered that individuals are often grouped into categories related to interests and abilities based on age.  For example, younger staff were considered more tech savvy, while older staff were thought to be uninterested in technology and not willing to learn.

Other occurrences included assumptions and perceptions based on age related to one’s viewpoints, work styles and work ethics.  Younger participants reported having issues with their perspectives not being valued or taken seriously, as well as having a perceived “lack of experience” and not being given the opportunity to give input or perform.  Older participants reported that their perspectives were considered outdated, and therefore not valued, as well as feeling discriminated against in the hiring process – with assumptions being made that “an organization can’t afford to hire me”.

A recent article in Profiles in Diversity Journal confirmed many of these sentiments saying, “Within each generation is a relatively benign but present ageist view on the surrounding generations. Boomers think Millennials are careless and, although educated, only educated topically; they can do their jobs, but take away their computers and they won’t have a clue, unlike Boomers and Generation X. Millennials tend to think of Boomers and Generation X as behind the times as well as technology-resistant and inept. What all generations need to understand is that that everyone benefits from generational diversity in the workplace.”

The group had many great ideas on interventions to overcome some of these barriers to move towards generational diversity and inclusion in the workplace.  One of the most important tactics is education against stereotypes in the workplace.  Another suggestion is to create occasions (facilitated or not) for intergenerational conversation topics, or go a step further and create intentional intergenerational project teams.  Read this article by the Nonprofit Times on 8 Steps to Creating an Age Diverse Culture for tips to get started.

Other ideas included creating opportunities like mentorships and/or internships to promote intergenerational interaction and relationship building.  The Young Nonprofit Professionals Network RVA (YNPN RVA) has tips for mentors and mentees for Building Relationships, and this article by Next Avenue explains the concept of “Reverse Mentorships” where an older worker might seek out guidance from a much younger worker.  If you’re looking for advice for creating an internship, you can check out ConnectVA’s many articles on related topics, as well as our “Connect to Students” page which shares contact information from each local school/department for finding interns.

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