Boardroom talk: Age diversity the new gender diversity?

Posted in : HR Updates on 4 July 2018
Joanne McAuley
Clarendon Executive
Issues covered:

Much has been made of gender diversity in recent times but rarely does the issue of age in boardrooms come in for such intense scrutiny. And if the argument for board gender diversity is that females offer different viewpoints, then surely the same can be said for a variety of age groups.

Clarendon Executive’s Joanne McAuley explores age diversity as part of the broader diversity conversation and suggests that any board can create a diverse group and realise the benefits that come from a cross-section of perspectives, experiences and expertise.

Any diversity conversation must address all diversity factors, not just gender but also age and race. Gender diversity has had much airtime recently with the recent implementation of the pay gap regulations, but age is something that until now has escaped much of the spotlight. Age diversity in the boardroom is the focus of the article below and something I sense, in today’s increasingly agile and entrepreneurial business climate, beginning to creep further up the corporate agenda.

Age - just a number

In general, the age structure of boardrooms does not vary significantly by company size, or industry segment – they tend to be dominated by older white men. While companies in the IT sector are more likely to have younger directors, we tend to see the vast majority joining their respective boards when in their late forties or fifties, indicating a direct link between age and tenure and the long-held notion of “earning your stripes”.

Whilst much is to be said for experience and wisdom in business, there is a growing recognition among the most progressive of organisations that instead of worrying about whether a person has been on the board before, they ought to be concentrating on whether that person brings the emerging functional skillset required. Equally, there are also cases where the older generation of employee has the most energy, with some of the youngest employees displaying admirable maturity.

When assessing leadership and board positions it can be wise, albeit difficult, not to make any definitive assumptions based on age or experience. I would not be surprised if in the future we see boards consist of a multigenerational demographic with representation from employees in their thirties right through to those in their seventies. Having the optimal mix of skills, expertise and experience is critical to ensuring the board is equipped to guide the business and strategy of the company.

Benefits of an age-diverse board

Many of the benefits of an age diverse boardroom could be said to apply to any type of diversity.

More representative - Just as younger generations are credited with having good working knowledge of business technology, more mature members of a workforce have the advantage of traditional business skills. This diversity gives businesses the advantage of being able to communicate and deal with clients across all age spectrums. For example, one client may prefer the fast pace of email correspondence, while another may appreciate the tradition of a formal business letter. A diverse workforce can cater to both types.

Mentoring – Whilst the younger members do not have board experience they can be mentored around areas which they have had less exposure too, such as governance and risk. Older board members can train younger professionals in the ways of the company, passing down accumulated years of experience.

Continuity – By developing these members it allows for continuity when the older more experienced members step down. In a workforce dominated only by young professionals, there is no opportunity for generational mentoring; in a workforce dominated only by mature employees, workers eventually retire from the company, leaving behind few people who are familiar with the company's history.

Improving age diversity

Age diversity in the workplace leads to better innovation in the overall company culture. There are certain qualities and traits that cross generations and age brackets. It is vitally important to identify the qualities required within your organisation, and recruit specifically for them, regardless of age.

Traditionally, most directors are mature, experienced and, in many cases, fill this role after retirement or near the later part of their career when they have more time to give. The perspective these directors bring to a boardroom is vitally important. Still, age diversity on boards help the organisation to benefit from a variety of perspectives, fosters board development and learning as well as creativity and innovation, with many studies finding a positive relationship between the age diversity of a board and corporate performance.

Age diversity does not mean adding youth to a board simply for the sake of being diverse. Age diversity also does not mean having a board comprised entirely of young directors. Diversity means representation from across age groups. Some companies may wish to consider adding directors in younger age brackets, while others may wish to add directors able to provide perspective based upon decades of experience in the boardroom or in relevant fields.


This article is correct at 04/07/2018

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Joanne McAuley
Clarendon Executive

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