As a female, I am thankful to see the growing attention being paid to the importance of gender diversity on governance boards. As a millennial, I am puzzled about why generational diversity on boards is little discussed or practiced.
How do we get millennials on boards? The issue must become mainstream, and that will require advocacy such that the issue is seen as a winning strategy for the future.
Former Chairman of the Board of General Motors GM +0.36% John Smale said that a board’s main responsibility is “the successful perpetuation” of the organization. To preserve an organization does not require the ability to predict the future but rather the ability to think systematically and strategically (see technology policy expert and innovator Alec Ross’s book, The Industries of the Future). The strategy is to have a cross-section of thinking and expertise and that includes diversity of age.
But for millennials to get on boards for public or private companies or non-profits, the argument cannot hinge on diversity. The issue must be looked at through a strategic planning lens. Call it risk management or a security, succession, or organizational resiliency lens. The knowledge and perspective of millennials are critical to an organization’s existence.
The average age of independent board directors is 63.1, and companies like Sierra Bancorp and boat-maker Marine Products have a board age average in the mid-70s. Online furniture retailer Wayfair and software provider Opower have boards that have an average age in the 40s. However, at least one Board of Directors of a well-known company,Starbucks SBUX +1.07%, includes 34-year old Hearsay Social CEO Clara Shih.
Still, the trend towards older boards persists, even though the Pew Research Center recently found that millennials (ages 18-34 in 2015) are now the largest generation andlabor force in the U.S., surpassing the Baby Boomers (ages 51-69). One in three workers are millennials. As an example, themedian age of multi-national professional services firm EY’s workforce is 29. Even more impactful for businesses is the $200 billion in direct purchasing power of the world’s two billion millennials. Millennials are a force to be reckoned with.
Including millennials on boards is not about fulfilling the entitlement stereotype that comes with the term, it is about organizational survival and business continuity. Boards need the experience and knowledge of millennials to understand the needs of customers, innovate to satisfy the desires of users, and contribute to a vision that will inspire employees and others to join and stay with the organization.