OPINION | There are too few young people on our corporate boards. Here’s why this must change

By Benjamin Juru

For so long, young people have cried for a seat in the upper echelons of political and governmental setups, with some calling for “Youth Quotas”.

This conversation and movement is premised on the fact that it is young people who will ultimately inherit and live in the future being created today and hence the natural call for them to have a say in matters that will influence their societal and economic outlook.

This call has been encouragingly received even across the African continent, where we have witnessed young people being given ministerial posts in countries such as Botswana and Namibia, among others.

However, despite the growing acceptance of young people’s involvement in policy formulation across the political landscape, the same has not translated into the corporate boardroom.

While the dynamics are admittedly different, the conversation for youth inclusion at the highest level in corporate setups is not misplaced. The premise of this article is not that young people are deliberately excluded, but corporates would immensely benefit if young people are afforded a seat at the table. Given that, I will try to share a few pointers on why we need to dissect this important matter.

The future is digital

‘The future is in digital’ is almost sounds cliché. Yet its stark reality has just hit us with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic exposed the lethargic culture of our local brands in adopting digitalization. Well, the reality is that digital will continue to evolve even as technology advances and the race is for the swift!

Today’s generation of young people are without a doubt different from previous generations; today a two-year-old can easily navigate a smartphone and play games on their own. What these realities show us is that our future customer is unravelling before our eyes; smart, intelligent, impatient and extremely demanding.

How does a corporate entity prepare for a future without its possessors?

With full respect to the older generation, it is my considered view that the strategic planning of the business should be jointly formulated with young people given not only a seat, but a voice also. Today, you have older generation folk who cannot use a smartphone or a laptop being entrusted with designing the future of the organisation. This is not the best strategy in my view.

Designing and preparing the organisation for the future requires a digital native mindset, and businesses could well benefit from having young people sitting at the upper echelons of the corporate level. The customer is now more tech-savvy and speaks fluent digital, and we need to change with them.

Young people have zest, youthful exuberance and are naïve

Evidently, young people do not boast of a 40-year career spanning different industries. What they offer is a youthful zest and exuberance, which is often accompanied by a level of naivety. This type of energy is what will differentiate brands now and going into the future.

How many local products have you seen on the shelf and wondered why the packaging is old, outdated and belonging to the 20th century. A youthful injection into the upper echelons of the organisation will help with an accelerated speed of thought and a youthful execution which gives fresh impetus to the brand. The naivety in youth is exactly what some of our local brands need; the daring approach to go the road less travelled.

The rise of GenZ implies that your current and future customer possesses these characteristics (a serious lack of patience, a disdain for brick and mortar, a strong appetite for convenience). Corporates today and more than ever need that agility in speed to market, youthful executions and a digital centricity to succeed.

In conclusion, this piece sought to start a fire of conversations on this important discussion. While we advocate for youth inclusion, we are not blind to the fact that political or governmental set-ups are uniquely different. My positing is that we need a collaborative and bold approach where young people are entrusted despite their apparent lack of experience at the top level.

How will they get 20 years’ experience at the top if we do not gamble on them today? So many of today’s unicorns were started by young people, and it is about time we take a closer look at this issue.


Benjamin Juju is a digital marketer

Twitter: @benjiejuru