Preparing boards for the millennials

Blogs Millennials Christie Hunter Emerson Csorba Arscott

Christie Hunter Arscott and Emerson Csorba are both World Economic Forum Global Shapers. Here they offer five ways to attract millennials to your board – and help them succeed when they get there

Millennials are already the most represented generation in the workforce, and within five years it’s projected they will make up the majority. By 2017, they will be the generation with the strongest buying power, so companies cannot afford to ignore them.

This has pushed multigenerational engagement to the forefront of the conversation when thinking about workplace culture.

Jimmy McLoughlin’s Director article, ‘Gen Y enters the boardroom’, in which he advocates millennial engagement at the board level, specifically through non-executive directorships, is among the most forward-looking.

Our aim here is to build on this growing public discussion, as seen in a recent contribution to the World Economic Forum Agenda entitled ‘John, Robert, William and James—or the case for a more diverse boardroom’.

Preparing for the future of work, specifically through the creation of more diverse boards, is a challenge. We outline five steps that can be taken in order to develop millennial representation and become an industry leader in workplace culture.

  1. Focus on awareness, not just access

We often hear companies saying they’ve increased access to a role by opening it up. Unfortunately, access is not equalised unless awareness is.

Business leaders should seek out publications and professional associations that cater to millennials, women and minority groups.

Successful penetration of these underserved markets will help companies engage with these demographics, positioning the visionary ones as leaders in workplace culture and talent attraction both now and into the future.

  1. Identify and address bias in your selection process

Business leaders must review their selection process with an eye to identifying any unintended bias towards traditionally engaged groups. For instance, the following questions are worth asking for any board or leadership team:

  • What are the questions asked throughout the process? Do they advantage people from particular backgrounds, gender, age or ethnicity more than another?
  • Who is selecting? Do you have a diverse panel of decision makers and are they aware of their own biases and preferences?
  • What is the selection criteria? Is it focused on experience or does it include potential? Is it broad and flexible enough to encompass high-potential applicants from a range of backgrounds? 
  1. Redesign your selection process to identify ‘potential’

How does your board measure potential?

While there are many different ways, Claudio Fernández-Aráoz suggests “mining a candidate’s personal and professional history”, “conducting in-depth interviews or career discussions” and carrying out “thorough reference checks to uncover stories that demonstrate whether the person has (or lacks)” five main qualities: motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement and determination.

Each board should invest time in understanding which predictors of potential are most important to them and then develop, customise or outsource an assessment of applicant potential.

  1. Prepare existing board members

The more board members understand their own unintended biases the more likely they are to create an inclusive environment where new members can thrive.

Google recently launched an implicit bias experiment for their workforce and many others are following suit.

Such processes are valuable in preparing boards to capitalise on the way in which workforces are transforming.

  1. Prepare the new board member

Invest in a programme to position new board members for success. For example, Sheryl Sandberg and Marc Andreessen have just launched a bootcamp for women and minorities to prepare them for board roles.

Companies that invest in these programmes will establish themselves as the most dynamic spaces for millennial talent.


Integrating millennials on boards requires vision, foresight and a clear focus on asking the right questions.

Boards are an important component of this conversation, and the companies that display leadership at this level will attract the most talented and dynamic millennial leaders and be enviably placed for long-term success.

Read more on millennials

Businesses must embrace the millennials to survive

The recession generation – what’s behind today’s teenagers’ mindset?

Generation Y in the boardroom

About author

Christie Hunter Arscott

Christie Hunter Arscott

Christie Hunter Arscott is a consultant, a Rhodes Scholar and a World Economic Forum Global Shaper. Emerson Csorba is a Director of Gen Y Inc., a University of Cambridge Trust Scholar and a World Economic Forum Global Shaper.

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