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Put A Millennial Worker In Every Boardroom

Posted on January 4, 2017 at 12:20 PM

UK business has shown a strong tendency until very recently to protect its boardrooms from change. This is odd, because by its own admission, businesses are needing to change very fast to keep up with a rapidly changing world.

In 2016, it felt as if every other week the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) put out a survey or a report saying UK business desperately needs new skills for digital transformation. There were clearly many reasons for this, given the danger of a politics of opportunism around the issue of immigration.

But repeated assessments of the state of play regarding digital skills in the UK (covered repeatedly by me on Forbes) suggests that there is a problem.

There is also the fact that the average age in UK boardooms in 2016 was 59.6 years old - today's UK non-executive directors are, in fact, older than their 2006 counterparts.

I am indebted for that insight to Spencer Stuart' excellent annual research. Its 2016 UK Board Index also shows that change is possible. Over a quarter of directors joining the top 150 FTSE boards have not previously served on the board of a listed company as a non-executive director, it says. Of these first-time directors, 39.6% are women so clearly increasing diversity involves changing long-established written and unwritten rules and ways of thinking.

Assuming the need for plc experience as a pre-requisite for any kind of role in the boardroom seems frankly, daft, in 2017.

The battle to champion the value of true cognitive diversity continues - that much is obvious as we have had to rely on our discovery of 'unconscious bias' as a reason why change does not occur more easily. But why on earth would business looking to digital transformation not acknowledge the value of younger thinking ?

It seems to me it is the same thinking that dismisses the idea of 'workers on boards' out of hand as somehow, patently ridiculous.

Perhaps it is the language that creates the barriers for UK business. 'Workers on Boards' screams trade unionism to those almost 60-somethings in our boardrooms. Perhaps we should change the conversation and call them 'employees' instead, and talk about engagement, inclusion, and the role of business in society.

And then there is the critical factor: skills, which include a fresh approach to thinking. Also perhaps the need to listen and recognise that there may be  a shift in values for a new generation.

Engaging and listening in the boardroom every now and again to a diversity of views could be a very good way of ensuring that tackling company culture does not become an enormous problem, years after damage is done.

So as we battle for business to retain a human face on #FatCatWednesday, don't dismiss the importance of real employee inclusion.

And you never know - a millennial in every boardroom might help spark the conversations that open the door for that critical digital quotient in corporate governance .

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