Diversity and inclusion (“D&I”) have become hip and popular buzzwords in our contemporary transatlantic lexicon without much reference to generational diversity. Just about every business, public sector entity and educational institution in the United States and the European Union proudly gives importance to D&I in their guiding organizational principles; branding; print media and social media campaigns and strategic business plans. Despite the fact that diversity and inclusion are oftentimes the first words rattled off the lips of transatlantic business and political leaders, the meaning of D&I is far less accessible and at times, downright elusive.
True to form, the meaning of diversity and inclusion is diverse in itself — it means different things to different folks.
What does diversity and inclusion mean to you?
Chances are that you associate diversity as an issue specific to women and minorities. And you wouldn’t be wrong: oftentimes, when we encounter the term D&I conceptually in the media; business and management literature and public discourse at large, we mean institutional and organizational-specific efforts aimed at promoting the representation and in some cases, advancement, of historically marginalized and underrepresented groups such as women, ethnic minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer (“LGBTQ”) individuals.
Generational diversity should be part of D&I’s DNA
While it is critically important to ensure the adequate, meaningful representation of women, minorities and LGBTQ individuals in visible, influential decision-making roles, all too often, we neglect to consider another key type of diversity: generational diversity. We argue in this piece that generational diversity is perhaps the most overlooked, yet the most important type of diversity when it comes to tackling the most urgent geopolitical challenges on the modern day transatlantic political agenda.
Specifically, we contend that successful resolution of the most pressing geopolitical challenges of our time requires involving members of younger generations such as Millennials and members of Generations X, Y and Z in key decision-making roles.
Climate change requires young folks at the table
One of the most salient issues on the contemporary transatlantic political agenda is addressing the manmade environmental calamity we refer to as climate change. While members of the youngest generations in our society have not been alive long enough to have meaningfully contributed to the manmade climate crisis in the form of carbon footprints or other popular metrics, they will most certainly bear the brunt of the consequences of inaction on climate change. For this reason, it is fundamentally important to include the voices of the young in debates and discussions regarding climate change. Yet, quite paradoxically and save for a few exceptions, the people who stand to be most affected by extreme weather patterns and other discernible, tangible manifestations of climate change such as higher rates of disease; displacement and food and water shortages in the future are hardly found around the negotiating table.
Teenage activist Greta Thunberg, members of the Sunrise Movement and Peter Buttigieg, Democratic Mayor of South Bend, Indiana who earlier this year launched a bid for the 2020 Democratic nomination for the U.S. presidency, are attempting to raise awareness of this vexing, pernicious problem. Buttigieg best articulated this puzzling paradox when he mentioned “intergenerational justice” on the campaign trail. Buttigieg argues that intergenerational justice can be achieved by including a representative or advocate of younger generations in policy discussions regarding climate change. In other words, Buttigieg is making the case for generational diversity because before we can achieve true intergenerational justice, we must have generational diversity.
It’s not enough to have women, minorities and LGBTQ folks represented at the climate change negotiating table, we need to add the words “Gen X”, “Gen Y”, “Gen Z” and “millennials” to our D&I alphabet soup.
Younger generations must have a say in their collective economic future
Another area that could benefit greatly from generationally diverse political leadership is the financial health of the U.S. and the E.U. Let’s take a look at the ballooning, unsustainable debt levels in United States and the E.U. to explain what we mean. In the U.S., the national debt is nearly $23 trillion and growing. Under the Maastricht Treaty, E.U. member states are not permitted to carry debt levels exceeding 60% of their individual economic outputs. Yet, as of May 2019, over 20 E.U. member states had debts that surpassed the prescribed limit set forth in the Maastricht Treaty. And worse yet, as of May 2019, there were five E.U. member states whose debts simply exceeded their total economic output levels.
As of May 2019, Italy held the infamous title of being the most indebted E.U. member country. While debt levels in the U.S. and E.U. continue to increase at astronomical, reckless levels, real political and moral courage to tackle the problem head-on is shrinking. Rather, the prevailing view among political leaders in the U.S. and the E.U. appears to be to pass the buck, so to speak, to younger generations who will be tasked with the herculean task of reckoning with massive debt and related economic issues in the future, such as cuts to pensions, entitlement programs and other government services and potential declines in the standard of living. Members of younger generations should have a real say in their economic future – it’s time we include younger folks in robust, consequential debates and discussions regarding debt.
A European blueprint for generational diversity
While it is abundantly clear that we need to broaden the classic D&I definition to include generational diversity if we are ever going to attain elusive intergenerational justice, it is less clear how we might actually achieve generational diversity in the political context. In general, we believe that Europe provides a potential aspirational blueprint for the United States. In Europe, for example, France and now Slovakia have young leaders committed to ambitious climate and anti-corruption reforms that could potentially promote intergenerational justice in the long-term. Yet, in the United States, young politicians, such as New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Peter Buttigieg, are political anomalies. And it is almost unthinkable to envision a Millennial occupying the U.S. presidency.
We offer three potential proposals to promote generational diversity in the U.S political system:
First, the national leadership of the Democratic and Republican parties in the United States would do well to extensively recruit members of younger generations to run for elected office at all levels – federal, state and local.
Second, the U.S. Constitution should be amended to lower the age requirements for running for the U.S. Senate and the U.S. presidency to 25 and 30, respectively. We recognize that amending the U.S. Constitution is a radical solution that will be tremendously difficult to achieve from a pragmatic perspective, but the crises of our time require bold and innovative solutions.
Finally, cultural attitudes in the United States need to be gradually changed – Americans must go beyond age on a page and look at real indicators of leadership such as intellectual ability, integrity, character, courage, grit, wisdom and compassion.
The European blueprint is an imperfect one – we must be careful not to conflate youthful leadership with leadership that necessarily advances intergenerational justice and progressive values. Austria under 32 year old, hardline, far-right Sebastian Kurz’s leadership is a cautionary tale in this regard. Yet, the European blueprint is a good place for the United States to draw inspiration.
And inspiration is always the first step on the road to inclusion.
Keerthika M. Subramanian, Esq. is a corporate and securities attorney at Mintz Levin and Visiting Clinical Lecturer in Law at Yale Law School. Nadja El Fertasi is a former Senior Executive at NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCIA) and Founder and CEO Thrive with EQ. The views expressed herein are solely the views of the authors and not their respective employers, former or present.