The 'gender diversity' debate continues to be a hot topic in business. As a result, more companies are putting practices and actions into place to increase the male - female ratio at the top level. This is without doubt a positive development, but many seem to be overlooking an equally vital issue: age - or 'generational diversity', with one in six board members in the UK over the age of 64.
Advertising group Omnicom recently announced that they will be adopting a mandatory retirement age policy whereby directors will have to step down before reaching the age of 75 - intended to make room for a new generation in the boardroom. However, it is unlikely in practice that this new generation will fall inside the Millennial category - the 2014 Board Practices Report found that more than half of the companies surveyed, reported their youngest director to be older than 50.
The lack of Millennials in the boardroom poses a real risk, not just to businesses, but to society as a whole. Millennials - aged 18-35 - make up the world's biggest demographic group and are expected to make up 50% of the workforce by 2020. They are unknowingly dictating the direction of change - be it in the context of technology or business strategy and models - and so it is essential for us to take their experiences, knowledge and expectations into account when making decisions on the direction of our own businesses.
So how can we break this generational glass ceiling, when the opinion remains that a seat on the board is gained through wisdom and experience - both of which are seen as a product of years and years of service?
In our organisation we believe the answer is mentoring and nurturing young talent - a meritocratic solution. We have put in a place a "Mirror board" - consisting of bright, young employees under 30, elected by their peers to become accessible change agents of the business. We actively seek their input on decisions that affect them and the agency as a whole. The Mirror board's opinions and initiatives are crucial in allowing us to stay at the forefront of business - after all, it is this generation that are driving the consumer trends, purchasing behaviours and media consumption of tomorrow.
While placing rising stars on a shadow board is a brilliant way to retain the brightest employees, we are still keen to promote talent to the board itself - not as an age or experience driven criteria, but as just reward for their hard work and valued point of view. Younger people make up such a large percentage of the agency and understanding their perspective is really important to us. For example, those on the board in their early '30s, give us an invaluable insight into the 'digital native' - they look at the world differently and have a different set of expectations. It's this sort of insight that allows us to be a better employer, business and partner to our clients - all discussions that are had at board level.
Whilst there are numerous benefits to allowing and encouraging access to the boardroom for this new generation, in rectifying the issue, we must bear the 'millenial' label in mind. Positive discrimination is harmful too and we must recognise that some individuals in this age group aren't keen to be associated with their whiney, self righteous peers that give the group a bad name.
In order to maintain a strong and competitive position in your market; gain the valued points of view of the younger generation and to ensure your board is representative of your business and society, it's dangerous to ignore the advantages of a younger boardroom. We, at least, feel that in identifying the bright young sparks and giving them a voice, not because of their age but in spite of it, is how to redress the balance.
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