Generation Z Might Alter Your Association’s Priorities

When associations plan how to engage multiple generations, they tend to think first about membership strategies and programming, but they might also need to realign their advocacy priorities and public policy positions.

The Pew Research Center examining the attitudes of Generation Z and Millennials found significant alignment in how the two generations view their world. Majorities of Gen Z and Millennials say increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the US is a good thing for society. Despite current political rhetoric, majorities of all generations agree that legal immigrants have a positive impact on the US. This affirms the need to make diversity and inclusion an association priority.

Business and trade associations that prefer government keep its hands off their affairs might take note that seven in 10 Gen Z members say government should do more to solve problems in this country. Even Republican Gen Z members are more likely to agree that government should do more.  It’s too big a leap from this data to assume future association leaders will welcome government regulations, but they do seem ready to work with government.

Gen Z and Millennials say society should be more accepting of people who don’t identify as either man or woman, and they have more experience with using gender neutral pronouns. Some associations are already adopting gender neutral options in language and on demographic forms. Anyone who has witnessed Boomers in their first experience declaring their preferred pronouns will appreciate the social awkwardness that lies ahead for associations.

Pew found a majority of all generations approve that more women are running for public office; however, women are notably more enthusiastic than men. This could lead to greater acceptance of women in association leadership roles, although women might have to continue to be their own strongest advocates.

The Pew Research Center also analyzed the 2020 electorate. In 2020 nonwhites will account for a third of eligible voters with slightly more Hispanics than blacks (32 million and 30 million). One in ten eligible voters will be Gen Z, between the ages of 18 and 23 years. One in 10 eligible voters will have been born outside the US. Those who actually vote always determine the outcome, but these demographic shifts could signal new directions in public policy priorities.

Associations should be examining their current advocacy priorities and public policy positions through this generational lens to identify and address any areas where Generation Z and Millennial values might differ from those of the Gen X and Boomer leaders now in power. With time and life experiences, younger members might change their views, but the more likely outcome is they will either change their associations or abandon them for organizations that align with their priorities.