Diversity in the boardroom has been a big discussion point worldwide in recent years. With disruption in almost every sector of the economy, and the pace of technological changes, businesses need to adapt and respond quickly to keep up and survive. Having decisions made by a narrow demographic with a narrow perspective makes it difficult to adequately respond to complex problems that affect an increasingly diverse population.

Most boards of companies, institutions and organisations are controlled by a narrow group of the population – the ‘pale, male and stale’ demographic. The loudest voice on diversity has been around the low female representation on boards; however, there are other demographics of stakeholders that are under-represented, including younger people.

Benefits for younger people

It is important that young people have access to decision-making processes. The Youth Affairs Council of Victoria points out that our society is enriched and better decisions are made when all members of a community can participate in decisions that affect their lives.

Jacinta Allan, Victorian Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs, adds that “A greater understanding and respect is developed, greater self-worth can be generated through learning new skills and belonging to a community, and better decisions are made. These experiences then have the potential to impact positively on society as a whole, and work towards creating strong and cohesive communities.”

The Council has published a handbook titled Young People on Boards and Committees, which explains that the main reasons people get involved on boards or committees are:

  • To make a difference;
  • To improve the opportunities, services and profile of other young people in the community;
  • To do something new;
  • To support other young people;
  • To develop skills and gain experience in an area;
  • To follow an interest;
  • To have some fun; and
  • To open up new social opportunities

Benefits for organisations

Young people are a large, fast-moving demographic that almost every business needs to embrace. Current buyer-centric marketing techniques require businesses to first understand what their customer wants as an individual. Selling a mobile phone to a 20-something is different than selling one to a 70-something. Including young people can help ensure that services, products, events or decisions are more relevant and appropriate to the younger part of your stakeholder base.

Other benefits include:

  • Young people bring a different perspective to the decision-making;
  • Generally young people are more digital savvy;
  • Young people represent the largest part of the workforce and will soon be the largest investor base;
  • Young people’s leadership styles are inclusive and collaborative;
  • Diversity on a board impacts an organisation’s ability to attract and retain staff and customers (particularly millennials)

Things to consider for young people seeking board roles

Becoming a board director at a young age can be a massive career boost; however, it also requires the right preparation.

Kylie Hammond from Director Institute Next Generation Directors has the following tips:

  • Do adequate research to fully understand how your area of expertise will complement the board, and whether you will be a good fit.
  • Develop your professional identity by participating in the decision-making at meetings and in committees.
  • Build a powerful professional network. Most new directors do not have to search for their first board role. Most are invited to interview for one, and having a strong professional network is crucial for this.
  • Fine-tune your professional expertise and strengths, which will in turn speed up your career growth.

There are also five areas where mistakes made by young people trying to get their first board role, according to the Future Directors Institute:

  1. Having the wrong mindset

    Thinking a board role is something you do after you’ve had a long and successful executive career.

  2. Overconfidence

    Getting on a board is hard work, and takes commitment and focus but being on a board requires that you keep up the effort and, certainly, disprove the stereotype that young people are lazy and feel entitled.

  3. Not having clarity and focus.

    Know which type of boards you want to be on and why, and how you differentiate yourself from a crowded candidate market. Have a quality resume and LinkedIn profile, referees and testimonials. Develop your unique value proposition.

  4. Not developing a supportive network.

    Along with your professional network, develop your own network of friends, family, colleagues and peers to advocate for you too.

  5. Not doing your due diligence.

    While it can be flattering to be asked to join a board, and even a boost to your ego, make sure you do your due diligence on the organisation and board. The board have been doing their due diligence on you but, as with any successful relationship, it has to be a good fit for you too. Make sure it is a place where you will thrive.

Good governance requires that there is discussion and thought in decision-making. Do your board a favour and look at how to include young people on your board and support them.