I want you to close your eyes and imagine the boardroom. Okay, now open. What did you see? If you had the same image in mind as I did, it was likely one of a conference room with board members wearing suits. Most of them were probably men and close to, if not already, in retirement.
Fun fact: Most boardrooms are filled with one type of persona. The average age of board members is 61 and they are typically in the top 5 percent income bracket! The irony is they are advising companies for a consumer base that has dramatically changed since they first joined the board—and, more importantly, doesn’t represent consumers today who are more diverse than ever before.
Just take Millennials alone, who make up for more than 30 percent of today’s population. They have more information available to them and have different spending habits than the generations before them. For one, they prefer digital as their top destination for shopping. They also have a lower net worth, according to Deloitte Insights, and are postponing buying homes and getting married. Yet our typical 60-plus board members grew up with the opposite values and spending habits.
That’s why I’m a proponent for companies to complement their experienced board members with those who are their digital target customer.
Do you have a digital seat at your table?
The biggest gap I have found on boards is having a member from the lens of digital technology. I don’t see this as a nice to have. Just look at consumers spending 5.4 hours a day on their phones, or if you have an 8-year old daughter like me who already knows how to download apps, to know this is a necessity. You need the person who understands the needs of your customer from the digital perspective, and therefore who can help your business grow and remain competitive.
As an example, I was recently asked to join the board of Cures of Colors. It’s an amazing initiative focused on educating our children around social injustices such as racism, mental health, and more through coloring books. When meeting the CEO, she said you would be a perfect fit, but I am just not sure for which type of board seat. She needs a Treasurer to help with financial decisions. That’s not me. She needed an Operational expert who could focus on helping with book manufacturing, fulfillment, and delivery. Again, not me.
But what she quickly realized in our conversation is that her customer—children and young parents in their 30s and 40s—would discover Cures of Color through its digital and social media presence. She asked me to join as the Chair of the Board and help her guide the digital strategy. A month later, the organization is launching its first set of books on COVID and its second on mental education available as both print and digital coloring books!
The wisdom of generations working together
I will vouch that wisdom comes with age when I look at my dad. The two of us recently decided to invest in investment properties together, and in the process he taught me the art of patience and controlled decision-making. As we searched, I noticed he would look in local newspapers, call agents, and drive by properties with for sale signs (and then knock on their door). I instead set up automatic notifications from Zillow, walked through virtual open houses while sitting on my couch, and scheduled Facetime calls with property agents. What I learned is we need both mindsets to make a great team. And that’s what a board needs too.
We can’t win when boards skew to one age demographic. We need everyone represented. Adding someone who challenges the way things have always been done and thinks of ideas from a different perspective will help create that balance and lead your company in a direction that is customer-centric, competitive and will remain relevant for years to come.
Our boardrooms need to be digitally disrupted. The most important step is to find the digital leader who can help you the most. You can tap into your network, use LinkedIn, or even explore technology communities. It’s important to step out of your comfort zone to find this seat at your boardroom table. It’s not only critical for your company, but it’s also critical for your customers.