Is there room in the boardroom for Generation Y

Question-Mark-HeadAs globalisation and the fast pace of the digital economy speeds up, customer expectations shift, and the impact of social media rises, the global market place is now more complex than ever before. Businesses that want to stay ahead of the competition – especially in customer-facing sectors like finance, retail and media – need Generation Y to help them understand and respond to the big trends that are already shaping the future: understanding tomorrow’s customers; responding to the desire for more responsible business; and gaining a competitive edge in emerging markets.

Rapid cultural change has been matched and it driven by rapid technological and demographic change. Today’s consumers are heavily influenced by social media, which has given them more access to information about how companies do business than ever before. If the industrial revolution gave power to corporates, the digital revolution has empowered the consumer. Companies that fail to respond to Gen Y’s desire for good business find their brands tarnished and their valuations plummeting. Generation Y business leaders can add value by acting as cultural translators, helping their colleagues navigate the new business environment.

As traditional models of business leadership break down, demand for Gen Y leaders who understand these changes will only rise. Globalisation has created increasingly complex decision-making environments which require new skill sets and fresh perspectives that were simply not around when many of today’s board room executives entered the labour market. Simply accumulating decades of experience in a corporate silo no longer means you will become a successful leader. In the fast-paced, digitally-enabled, multi-cultural and multi-lingual market place, every company now needs to balance Gen X’s experience with Gen Y’s dynamism, inherently global outlook, digital aptitude and understanding of responsible business.

So who are Generation Y? Sometimes referred to as millennials – employees who entered the workplace after 2000 – they are broadly classified as those born in the 1980s and early 1990s. They are characterised as a tech-savvy group, whose members are visionary, highly ambitious and not afraid to fail or to speak their mind. Mark Zuckerberg and Sergey Brin are among the elite few who have become standard-bearers for this generation.

The influx of these fresh, talented individuals, many of whom find themselves among the business elite at a relatively young age, has proved a magnetic draw for organisations. Some businesses in pursuit of greater diversification have sought to bring Generation Y on board through such strategies as reverse mentoring (junior staff advising seasoned executives) or mergers and acquisitions, thus subscribing to a meritocratic culture that helps push aspirational young people to the top table.

The problems of ‘generation integration’ in the boardroom do not only lie with senior executives. Being a director, particularly of a large multinational, is not just about applying a standard set of procedures that might occasionally benefit from a shake-up and youthful energy.

Understanding that it can take time for individuals, particularly those of a different generation, to ‘click into’ the language of a board and have their point heard by colleagues is crucial to avoid this imbalance of power developing.

Integrating fresh young talent into businesses has always been crucial but is not without its challenges. Each generation can disrupt custom and practice within an organisation, but the hope is always that this disruption can be a catalyst for something better to take its place. This is where it gets interesting, because Generation Y has not just opened up new markets with revolutionary products. Over the last few years we have also seen the huge impact of their input on core traditional industries.

A final view on the way Generation Y can disrupt traditional industries is akin to a new industrial revolution. While such rapid change may make some feel uncomfortable, an even bigger upheaval is right round the corner. Just behind Generation Y is Generation Z. Born after the mid-1990s these are the first generation of ‘tech natives’, who have grown up never knowing life without the internet. Their impact on the workplace could make Generation Y seem like a mere blip in comparison.

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