Recently, I was conducting a live presentation on Zoom when I ran into an embarrassing technical challenge. While sharing a PowerPoint presentation on my screen, I attempted to play a video and quickly plunged into a technology abyss. Fortunately, the team member supporting me on this project was a 23-year-old recent college graduate who was able to step (click) in and rescue her Medicaid card carrying boss. What was a stressful, humiliating and near fatal professional moment for me, was a non-event for this Generation Z person for whom digital applications and platforms are as common as the physical limbs on her body. A technical glitch that left me perspiring and apologizing was handled by this “child” with such ease that she didn’t even consider it an incident.
I compare that to corporate board meetings with my colleagues whose average ages are often late sixties and who have difficulty logging into our various digital locations to attend our meetings. Not to mention our need for frequent reminders that we cannot communicate until we unmute ourselves. The need for age diversity is no longer a luxury in corporate America – it has become a matter of survival.
Of course, we can always have young team members by our sides to help us manage our devices and our online experiences. More important, however, are the policies that we must create that govern the social media, cybersecurity, digital communications, firewall and other practices that are best understood by practitioners than theorists. By the time one generation realizes that many employees are posting on Twitter during work hours, they have already established followings on Clubhouse and TikTok. Perhaps more important than knowledge as a qualification for roles in governance is speed – the ability to keep pace with the culture.
The desire to have diversity in corporate governance has been established as being good for business for both regulatory and business reasons. But the greatest cultural shift in the world is probably generational, more than either racial or gender. When my 6-year-old granddaughter sends me a text message from her iPad to ask me if I had a good day, it’s probably time to understand how that iPad could be being used to share insider secrets overheard when she was at my house overhearing me discuss a strategic corporate transaction.
The future has caught us by surprise. While crypto currency is quickly making a new cluster of millionaires, regulators are suing one crypto company accusing it of illegally offering security, as opposed to a virtual currency. This may be the beginning of a floodgate that exposes the inability for corporate America and our regulators to govern in a manner that matches the speed with which the marketplace is moving. And speed is the strength of those that have grown up in the current environment.
I am recruiting, encouraging and training this new generation of leaders that have qualifications that differ from previous generations.