Jolt Your Cor­po­rate Board With A Mil­len­nial Like Star­bucks

ForbesWeekly - - NEWS - BY AVERY BLANK, CON­TRIB­U­TOR

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 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. 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 non­prof­its, 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.

Still, the trend to­wards older boards per­sists, even though the Pew Re­search Cen­ter re­cently found that mil­len­ni­als (ages 18 to 34 in 2015) are now the largest gen­er­a­tion and la­bor force in the U.S., sur­pass­ing the Baby Boomers (ages 51 to 69). One in three work­ers are mil­len­ni­als. As an ex­am­ple, the me­dian 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.

Ad­vo­cacy, in ad­di­tion to be­ing a means by which mil­len­ni­als can get on boards, can be used to make it a win­ning strat­egy for the fu­ture. Key forces are shap­ing the need for mil­len­ni­als on boards, but it will not be rec­og­nized, sup­ported or im­ple­mented un­til peo­ple speak up.

In­vestors and stake­hold­ers, mil­len­ni­als and or­ga­ni­za­tional lead­ers need to speak up. They can take their cues from the push for women on boards, where women like the Board­list founder Sukhin­der Singh Cas­sidy and EY lead­ers

have com­mit­ted time and re­sources to cam­paign for gen­der board di­ver­sity. In­vestors or share­hold­ers and stake­hold­ers must put pres­sure on or­ga­ni­za­tions and ex­ist­ing board mem­bers to change poli­cies and prac­tices. Mil­len­ni­als must show that they want to con­trib­ute. They, and par­tic­u­larly fe­male mil­len­ni­als, must rec­og­nize their value and de­sire to be on a board. Lead­ers of com­pa­nies and or­ga­ni­za­tions must be open to the idea and ap­pre­ci­ate their un­der­stand­ing of tech­nol­ogy, con­sumer pref­er­ences, new busi­ness mod­els and cur­rent com­mu­ni­ca­tions styles.

Speak­ing up now and mak­ing mil­len­ni­als on boards main­stream is an or­ga­ni­za­tion’s strate­gic op­por­tu­nity to se­cure their fu­ture. It is the re­spon­si­ble thing to do.

Clara Shih is CEO & Founder of Hearsay So­cial and Mem­ber of the Star­bucks Board of Direc­tors

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