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Why are there so few young people in the boardroom?

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Why are there so few young people in the boardroom?

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It’s probably fair to say that there aren’t many young people in your typical boardroom.  It’s estimated that the average C-level employee is around 50 years old.

It’s no doubt seen that such positions require a suitable level of wisdom and experience that can only be obtained via years of service.  Is that really the case though?

In Organizing Genius, noted management thinker Warren Bennis chronicles the unifying characteristics of many of the finest teams mankind has ever known.  One particularly noticeable trait of many of these teams is their respective ages.

For instance, when Disney was blossoming in the late 1930’s, Bennis notes that most of the employees were in the twenties, with the median age just 26.

Similar tales emerge from teams as diverse as Bill Clinton’s election team, the early Apple team and even the scientists that converged on Los Alamos to create the atomic bomb.

Bennis reveals that in the vast majority of the great teams he studied, 35 was considered old.  He suggests that the virtues of youth are that you have often boundless energy, combined with a lack of weariness in knowing what is ‘not’ possible.  It makes for a heady cocktail.

Millennials want the responsibility

All of which makes a recent study from INSEAD Emerging Markets Institute so interesting.  It surveyed over 16,000 millennials from 43 countries to better understand their attitudes to the workplace.

Arguably the most interesting finding from the study was that 41% of them reported that it was incredibly important that they be given managerial or leadership responsibility.  It was something they craved.

The report went on to suggest that the best way to do this was to give young people a range of development opportunities.  For instance, providing younger employees with specialist tracks, ensuring that regular, full time positions are opened up so that millennials can rotate both between different departments and different job roles.

What’s more, with the commercial world increasingly globalized, the report also suggested the need for cultural training so that potential leaders build up their cross cultural awareness.  Providing exposure to different geographies is a great way of doing that so that young leaders have experience of different environments and cultures.

Of course, there is always the risk that by doing this, you remove the ‘blank slate’ that Bennis suggests is what makes young people so valuable in the first place.

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