Diversity comes in all shapes and sizes and has been and continues to be the subject of much debate in business communities across the globe. As an Executive Recruiter I have been asked to identify candidates who are diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, gender and even geography. One type of diversity that has more recently begun to receive subtle yet perceptible attention is age diversity.
What, you may ask yourself! Age diversity in a country where federal and state laws prohibit questions about age?
The age diversity I am referring to and it is definitely on the minds of some even if they don’t yet realize it, is more broad stroked and refers to generation diversity. Or, to put it more technically, diversity of demographic cohort.
In the 2013 PricewaterhouseCoopers Annual Corporate Directors Survey it was reported that the average age of board directors is 68 and mandatory retirement has risen to 72-75. This, at a time of breakneck speed of change in how companies utilize social media and the continued online and mobile revolution. Can you begin to see why age diversity is becoming increasingly crucial in corporate boardrooms (not to mention elsewhere as well)?
Starbucks seemed to have realized this back in 2011 when they appointed then 29 year old Clara Shih to their Board of Directors. She is a former Google, Microsoft and Salesforce.com employee who founded Hearsay Social, a software company that helps large corporations bolster their brand across major social media networks. Full disclosure, at the time of the appointment I was perplexed by this. All of my training and experience had led me to believe that board members, by definition had to be in the latter years of their career, regardless of what other type of diversity they might bring to the table. Yet, a few years into the appointment we know that Shih has helped Starbucks adapt and understand mobile, social media and undoubtedly she provides important insight into the millennial generation as well.
It definitely takes a unique individual to assume a director role in the earlier stages of their career and the opportunity will not be appropriate for most. However, one cannot deny the fact that individuals in their late-20s and 30s have a completely different paradigm of the world. The reality they have grown up in is far more complex, global and fast paced than that of yesteryear. Insight into this “world” can be very powerful. There are intrinsic and implicit realities that influence behavior, consumption, purchasing decisions and basic expectations. Isn’t it preferable to have first hand insight than to speculate?
An argument can be made on the other side for the fact that board directors need years and perhaps decades of experience before they can adequately direct a company strategically. Additionally, one of the main responsibilities of a board is to plan for CEO succession and the ability to advise at this level takes many years to develop. All of this is very true; however I am not suggesting that the board be made up entirely of 20 or 30-somethings, rather that a consideration be made on a case by case basis as to whether the board might benefit from a director who came of age in a world where tweeting does not refer to birds and the term mobile phones does not simply refer to cordless!